Multi-Cultural Team Management

Multi-Cultural Team Management

As a manager, you will have to vary your managerial style to suit each individual’s needs and find common ground to cope with issues across cultural boundaries. Some of the challenges faced are:

  • Cultural differences
  • Lack of proper communication that leads to misunderstanding of work
  • Difference of communication styles, working styles and quality of work
  • Difference in time zones leading to mismatched work coordination

How do you as a manager, manage multi-cultural teams? Many successful managers use four-point strategies to tackle problems related to multicultural team management. They are:

  • Adaption, where open acknowledgement of cultural gaps makes working around it easier
  • Physical intervention that involves altering the shape of the team
  • Administrative involvement of top level managers to set rules and regulations early in the project
  • Exit where a team member is asked to leave if other options have failed

The most commonly used methods to deal with multi-cultural teams are:

  • Identifying conflicting areas of interest and practices for each culture
  • Coordinating cross-culture training sessions to train team members on various cultures and the style of the region
  • Generating trust and motivating each team member on the same level, removing hostility and promoting respect and faith amongst multicultural employees of the team
  • Arranging language classes for non-English speaking employees and vice-versa
  • Introducing team-building and role-play activities as ice-breakers and encouraging friendly gatherings and discussions outside working hours
  • Upholding the goal of different people coming together on the project is to work towards completing a project leading to the organization’s and an individual’s success

Despite the challenges, there are advantages too, such as:

  • People from different cultures bring with them an array of creative and innovative experiences and ideas
  • Multi-cultural teams have the advantage of 24-hour work rotations
  • Offices across various geographical locations offers employees a chance to work globally offering a different perspective
  • The multi-cultural team has the potential to address various business issues through diverse problem solving techniques

All said and done, working with a cross-cultural team is significantly challenging as the manager must develop strategies to cope not only with differences but also motivate the team to be productive and efficient.

Do share your thoughts on the same.

View E-book on E-learning Outsourcing: Selecting the Right E-learning Vendor

  • Multicultural teams/members are a reality in today’s global world, especially in the IT. Virtual teams in El-Paso, India, Philippines, China or any other place is common and vital to the business these days. Every individual is different and so are cultures. Its very important to understand, adapt and accept the differences. Any other approach will only lead to conflicts, misunderstandings, frustration and poor results.
    Usually virtual teams are taken for granted and grossly mistaken as just cost saving measure and thats why no major effort is put in to understand all these aspects. I’ve been on both sides of the table and can relate to this aspect of professional life today. Most important aspect is not to try to change the cultural patterns but to align them with the project goals. Its not that too difficult as it sounds though. Respecting timezones is very important, more often then not we still see people wishing “Good Morning” when its actually the end of day in the other country or vice-versa. This is very simple and easy to get on with, but still lot many people struggle with making this change.
    Accent is another major hurdle, Sub-Continent teams can sometimes be a nightmare to understand and hence must be trained to neutralize their accents. However, it equally holds true for the western counterparts, their English sometimes can be hard to understand as well. I’ve experienced this in Yorkshire and Scotland.
    Another thing is Asian (sub-continent) people hesitate asking too many questions to seniors. This again is a cultural issue and must be discouraged.
    Also, the teams must visit each other on a regular basis and for a substantial period of time to understand the work culture and the patterns. Usually this exercise breaks various myths and creates a better understanding. This immensely helps in building the trust and confidence levels across the board.

    More later …

  • Handling multi-cultural teams stays a lot productive if managed properly. The manager needs to understand the nuances of each culture, so that he can understand the point of view of every participant and does not interpret otherwise.
    Second is empathy – every individual is groomed in a different environment – he does what is taught to him. So, an Iyenger Brahmin should understand why a Korean is eating Dog, beef and should not raise his eyebrows on it.
    Third would be patience, there are certain things good in a guy and some things would be bad. Eg. you need to give time to a hyper aggressive Vietnamese that he tames down his aggression to moderate levels, if you can not keep patience, then you will loose a very enterprising member from your team.

  • Well, The essence of working with Multi-Cultural team is stated in just one line: People from different cultures bring with them an array of creative and innovative experiences and ideas .
    12 years back I worked with 12 nationalities, under one roof at ICA advertising and Marketing, Dubai U A E.
    Yes, cultural nuances, food habits, dress sense, communication, understanding, harmony all are vital to deliver a dialogue amongst. I do not find any difficulty in communication with nationals of Phillipine, SriLanka, Pakistan, UK, Vietnam, Singapore, Bangladesh, Nepal, Germany, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Arabs. Yes, avoid some religeon base verbose.

  • Advantage: “Offices across various geographical locations offers employees a chance to work globally offering a different perspective”

    Having multiple perspectives will yield success – in business and in life. If one can think like someone else they will be able to identify the motivations of people and individual’s of certain cultures. By studying and becoming familiar with different cultures, a manager will be able to satisfy present situations, effectively prepare for future occurrences and have back-up plans depending on reactions to different events. Perspective is everything!

  • Hi All,

    What an interesting discussion. Obviously very relevant in today’s business climate.

    I think you first have to work out whether or not you have a team, or is it merely just a group of individuals. So where the team is, in terms of maturity and development (ie forming, norming, storming etc), is an important criteria.

    Here is a podcast on What is a Team that may be helpful for you.



  • Rick

    Actually, multiple perspectives often bog down projects in needless debate, especially when the project lead hasn’t set clearly-defined goals. As long as you have those, cultural issues are relatively minor. And I say that, working on teams in South America, Asia, and Europe in the last 12 months.

    Ultimately, we can enjoy each other’s company and learn interesting things, but at the end of the day I need that code written well, or those customers responded to effectively, or whatever the goal is. Focusing on multiculturalism is a distraction. Focus on the work, and just enjoy the differences, as you do when working with any other people.