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Useful Tips for Effectively Leading Multicultural Teams

Posted by Mary Bradbury Jones on September 14, 2016


The world is globalizing at an increasing rate, and trends don’t show signs of this slowing down any time soon. Here in the United States, we’re increasingly becoming a more diverse nation with every business industry consisting of a large variety of people from different cultures, life experiences, family types, generations, and more. This is why the ability to work across technologies, borders and cultures has become so important.

There are some key things managers can do in order get any diverse team working cohesively. Here are some of the most useful tips for leading multicultural teams, and why it’s important to focus on them in the workplace.

Be aware of differences and stereotypes

Everyone comes from a different place in life; culturally, socially, and economically. It’s up to managers to lead in a way that takes any differences into account and sets a good example for the rest of the team. It’s also the manager’s job to be aware of stereotypes and how they can unfairly influence people’s perceptions. The goal for managers is to recognize these situations, and create systems to make sure all team members are treated with respect.

Check in

Being in constant contact with each team member is an outstanding habit. Managers need to build trust and foster mutual respect, which is something that’s built day by day, brick by brick. That’s why it’s important to check in regularly with all team members (but not in a threatening or micromanaging way). They need to know that managers are there to support them, and it’s also useful for managers to find out directly what’s happening with their team on an individual level. By taking this approach to checking in with multicultural teams, managers will gain a deeper understanding and be better equipped for the future.

The idea is to try and “walk a mile in the shoes” of the team members. Managers who develop empathy are better suited to find solutions if and when conflicts arise. For instance, someone who has children comes to the office with a different mindset than a childless co-worker. It’s important for managers to get a feel for what team members of different backgrounds go through on a day-to-day basis in order to better empathize with them.

Communicate effectively

Communication is one of the most important skills that all high-performing teams share. That’s why managers must find the communication style that is most effective for their team members when leading multicultural teams. You don’t just want to assume everyone is on the same page, only to have issues crop up down the road. But keep in mind there are culture differences in communication styles that managers have to adjust to. Some people from cultures that are more reserved could appreciate higher levels of discretion. The main thing is to utilize the different modes of communication, sometimes even to communicate the same message, so no matter the background of each team member, everyone will be on the same page.

Foster relationships and build trust

It’s imperative that team members come together as a cohesive unit. They need to build strong relationships over time, to support each other, to have mutual respect, and to build trust. Projects that go start to finish without any snags are few and far between, so teams will invariably have to work together to overcome roadblocks and obstacles at some point. If a multinational company is implementing a new software system, for example, the team could potentially include people from the US, Europe and Asia. Although these people might never meet in person, there needs to be an established level of trust in order to complete the implementation. These relationships will be the driving force behind any team’s ability to push through rough spots effectively.

Be the cultural shock absorber

When cultural tensions or issues do arise, it’s a manager’s job to be the buffer or shock absorber. They should be equipped with tools and strategies to interpret things correctly through a multicultural prism, and resolve conflicts. That’s why it’s advisable to invest in a tailor-made coaching program with experienced cross-cultural mentorship. These programs provide deeper insights into the dichotomy of cultures at play on multicultural teams, such as individual versus collective values. Western cultures tend to be more individualistic, while Eastern cultures lean toward collectivism. Managers might need to take steps in order to encourage team members to act more independently or collectively, depending on the makeup of their team.

>> Learn more: Leading multicultural teams

Conflicts are inevitable, and on multicultural teams they often occur because of a cultural misinterpretation or something being “lost in translation.” The main thing to acknowledge as a leader is that every team member must be recognized and heard. Open dialogue can solve many of these simple misunderstandings, but managers may also have to play devil’s advocate in order to round up stubborn or unwilling team members and force them to communicate. It’s a manager’s job to facilitate clear communication about the issues and get things back on track. Get out in front of any issues before they linger too long and adversely affect overall team performance. If someone is offended by a racial remark, it’s best to immediately find out why to determine if it was just a misunderstanding or if there was malicious intent. Either way, nipping things in the bud is standard best practice.

These are some of the main strategies behind leading multicultural teams effectively. The bottom line is that we all come from different backgrounds or heritages, and that influences who we are and how we behave in the workplace. By understanding those differences and bridging the gaps between cultures, managers can get everyone rowing in the same direction and accomplishing the team’s goals.

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Topics: Professional Development, HR & Organizational Effectiveness, Leadership, Management

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