Getting business done efficiently in today’s diverse work environment demands new attitudes and skills. For many assignments, forming teams can benefit a project by capturing the knowledge and insights from participants with expertise and diverse understandings of the issues. Teams have become particularly attractive to businesses immersed in the global economy, where competitive pressures have motivated them to rethink and restructure their organizations.
Businesses are continually looking for faster and better ways to create and market new products and services, solve complex problems and identify strategic opportunities. Today businesses rely on teams for inventiveness, cooperation, risk-reduction and problem-solving. Clearly, businesses believe that more heads are better than one. Given the benefits that teams offer, it makes sense to adopt teams at all levels.
Whatever your function in a business, you might find yourself as a member of a product development team, a customer retention team, a supplier evaluation team, a safety team or an employee policy team. During your term of employment, if you are assigned to work in such a team, make sure that its purposes are clearly defined.
When businesses form cross-functional teams, employees from different departments cooperate with one another to share information and work towards a common goal. Sometimes when participants struggle to build relationships with other participants, the team falters. This often happens when team members work in different locations, have different knowledge and diverse cultural norms, and speak different languages.
Why Diversity Is Important
Because of the advantages to organizations of diverse workforces, markets and stakeholders, developing a multicultural mindset makes sense. For employers, diverse workers are better prepared to recognize and respond to changes that challenge and shape business markets and opportunities. Furthermore, teams consisting of people with diverse experiences are better prepared to identify new ideas and insights that lead to better solutions.
Another reason why multicultural team skills are important is because the physical distance between coworkers is often separated by geographical, linguistic and cultural boundaries. These days, working on a team frequently entails collaborating with colleagues across the country and around the world. Members of these teams have the difficult task of coordinating their work assignments, building trust and rapport, and communicating details productively across time, languages, cultures and geographic zones.
Multicultural Teams: A Top Priority For Business
Given the challenges that team members face, developing, managing and functioning effectively in multicultural teams should be a top priority for today’s business leaders. Training becomes essential. The need for business leaders who can thrive in multicultural teams increases exponentially when colleagues, suppliers, customers and other team members are spread over the globe. For a company to be successful in the global marketplace, its managers must appreciate individual differences. Similarly, while English is the global language of business, managers must recognize that not everyone communicates in English or shares the same cultural norms.
8 Strategies for Building Powerful Multicultural Teams
Working in multicultural teams often involves working in virtual teams where meetings occur via video or web video conferencing. Often the advantage of meeting face-to-face doesn’t exist. When working in multicultural teams, use the following strategies.
#1. Establish Rules
Introduce each member and indicate the reason why each one was chosen as a member. Decide when to hold meetings and exchange contact information. Communicate a clear, inclusive vision for the team by stating the overall objective and making everyone aware of each member’s role, responsibilities and expectations. Make everyone aware that the team’s success relies on all members mutually trusting and respecting one another. Thus everyone’s opinions and insights are valuable and everyone must participate.
#2. Lead by Example
Leading by example builds trust, camaraderie, and a shared sense of purpose and morale among team members. Saying one thing and doing something else is destructive and sparks feelings of betrayal, mistrust, disappointment and avoidance. If you are a team leader, your job is to provide guidance, encouragement and perseverance. Being a responsible and effective leader rests on leading with your own actions.
#3. Respect Differences
Team members must see the value of diversity in terms of unique ideas and experiences, as opposed to characteristics such as race, culture, nationality, language, gender, religion and physical attributes. Each member must identify and respect individual differences and create a shared sense of purpose without reducing the uniqueness of any individual members. At the same time, members must acknowledge that individual differences can sometimes prevent people from cooperating. In such a situation, they must work towards resolving conflicts by improving communications and soft skills among members.
#4. Encourage Participation
In cross-functional multicultural teams, each member is equally important and their contributions are vital to the success of the team. Encourage feedback by calling on a wide variety of members and welcoming their opinions and knowledge. Be alert to your own non-verbal cues that could be misinterpreted by members. Show respect for each member through active listening and analyzing what others have said before you respond. Keep in mind that members who don’t participate are least likely to be invested in the success of the team.
#5. Remain Formal
In general, U.S. business culture is much less formal than others around the world. Some countries have very formal rituals and approaches to conducting business that govern, among other things, how individuals should be introduced and addressed. When collaborating on virtual multi-ethnic teams, it’s better to keep the meetings formal. Although meetings may seem dull or cold, most cultures will find this appropriate.
#6. Display Courtesy and Respect
When interacting with people from different cultures, you may be exposed to non-verbal expressions, practices, sayings, beliefs, and customs that may seem very strange. Before making a rash conclusion, think carefully before reacting. Often attitudes are based on sound reasoning that you should try to understand or embrace. Consider the feelings of others.
#7. Ensure Complete Understanding
Multicultural teams breed many opportunities for confusion, in particular from commonly used jargon, sayings and expressions that can easily be misunderstood. Always be specific and use support materials and handouts that you make available to participants. Ask questions to ensure understanding. When non-native English speakers or language interpreters are present, speak slowly and choose your words carefully.
#8. Resolve Differences
A certain level of disagreement is healthy for a team. However, when team members struggle to resolve conflict and negative team behavior results, it can negatively impact morale and team effectiveness. Inflexibility, finger-pointing, insults, defensiveness and avoidance are behaviors that can’t be allowed to persist. The best way to prevent these problems is through proactive measures that teach members strategies to resolve conflicts on their own and in a respectful manner.
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