Leading Multicultural Teams

Multicultural Team

As the world gets smaller it becomes more common to manage people who come from different cultures.

Whilst these different cultures may be represented in just one country it is also becoming more prevalent to have responsibility for people who live and work in other parts of the world.

With this challenge before you, how do you lead a team where people have different basic values and cultural behaviours to yourself?  Here are a few basic tips to help you navigate this tricky management environment.

Do Your Homework

Take the time and trouble to find out as much as you can about the background culture of the people outside ones you’re familiar with.  With access to the internet there is no excuse for not knowing some of the basics.  Employees in some countries in the Far East are not used to having the choice about the way they do a task.  They expect to be told how to do everything and waiting until they are told otherwise.  Even if you think it will enrich their job they might not see it that way.  Instead it may a change too far, too soon, so think about how you can introduce this style of management over time.

Understand That Time Means Different Things To Other Cultures

Working in a western environment means that time means everything to us.  Many of us feel that we show huge disrespect if we are late to a customer meeting.  In most Arabic countries, time is more elastic and relationships with people take priority.  This means that whilst deadlines for completing certain aspects of project are important to you, other people may prefer to spend more time building a valued and trusting working relationship with the client who may in turn forgive the odd delay!

Be Careful When Setting Competition Between Employees

In the UK and in America, sales team are used to being in competition not only with rival companies but also with each other.  It is common for sales managers to publish league tables to recognise the high achievers but also to ‘name and shame’ those at the bottom.  If you are in that western based sales team you do not want to be in the ‘relegation’ zone!

However other parts of the world are much more concerned with group success than individual success.  So to have a prize or incentive for the person with the best results might NOT motivate those from certain Asian cultures.  In fact it may have the opposite effect and they may unite against you!  Set targets and celebrate success for the whole team in this instance and you are more likely to get their buy in.

Investing time in understanding basic cultural differences will repay you in the long run.  You could also encourage team members to talk about how they were brought up in their own culture and how they celebrate key events in their lives.  These might include what is a typical wedding like in their country or easy ones like the food their mother cooked for them at traditional festivals.  Learn simple phrases for greeting them can also be real fun as well as being educational.  Expand your mind and appreciate that fact that people are different not just in their culture but also in their personality and thought processes.

If everybody was the same it would be incredibly boring! So value it instead.

Looking for more tips on managing mulitcultural teams? Try this article:

  • Ideal Managers In Multicultural Organisations

Many thanks

Mark Williams

Head of Training

MTD Training   | Image courtesy by Ambro of FreeDigitalPhotos.Net

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Updated on: 6 February, 2013

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