13 September 2018

Three common mistakes in managing a multicultural team in a corporation

To manage a multicultural team is not an easy task. It requires from a leader timely paying of attention to cultural and national differences of team members, getting advantage from the differences and preventing destructive situations. 

The first mistake that is being made by the managers in managing multicultural teams is a significant omission in the adaptation process of the staff from different countries. Every manager knows how important is to provide timely support and help to a new team member so that he fits in well with the team. In our case team member finds himself not only in a new team and company where answers to questions related to duties implementation should be found, but also in a new country with its` traditions, values, relationship features.  It is undoubtedly a huge stress that affects behavior, confidence, work efficiency. The staff member feeling emotional or physical discomfort will hardly perform at his maximum and bring new constructive ideas to the company.

Find time to help new employee from another country adapt well to the team. Remember, at the first stage the most important for him is nor a financial reward, but the fact of understanding he belongs to the team and is not just a stranger taking jobs from the locals.

Implementing a standard programme of staff adaptation focus should be made on forming and supporting the team spirit in a multicultural team. A good practice is to take under control the process of acquaintance of the team members. Give new employee a possibility to personally tell about his country, show himself, to a certain extent approve or disapprove the common stereotypes.  Present him as a personality and a professional with who there is what to talk about. Create interest within the team. Don't wait until a tag is put on an employee that might knock him out. From the very first days take care of the positive relationships in a team where openness, tolerance and mutual understanding are the foundation.

Organize team lunches, trips, interpersonal trainings, thematic events, play team games of an “question-answer” type. Be creative and remember that a newcomer at the beginning of his career is full of enthusiasm and big hope. Create the atmosphere of comfort that will keep this mood as long as possible.

The second common mistake is setting managers to work in the team as if all the team members are “on the same wave”. Such a leader is sincerely convinced that working in the same company and getting the same instructions, his employees will understand and follow them the same way and will have the same interest in achieving the results. However, here is a twist of multicultural teams. After all, for the representatives of some cultures in setting the tasks facts, arguments, deadlines, standards, concretes, no extra retreats will be the key, while the main motivator will be professional growth and perspectives. The representatives of other cultures on the contrary will tend to less formality, will be oriented to communication, will make personal out of professional, will perceive deadlines rather blurry while their significant motivators will be connected with the team and atmosphere. As a result, providing unnecessary information, frequent deviations from the topic and excessive emotionality in one case are the key to failure while in the other case you can't simply do without it. This is how it actually is. In working with a multicultural team not only individual specificity of each employee should be taken into consideration, but also his socio-cultural features.

Try to understand deeper the culture and the value system of your team members. Remember, all people are different. They are not better or worse, they are just characterized by a distinctive from ours perception of reality.

The third mistake of the managers of a multicultural team is the wish to extremely increase the competetion level within the team. Such an intention can easily be explained. Trying to find optimal  solutions to the problems, he wants to get a number of unique suggestions/offers from his employees. For this purpose a competent manager always tries to encourage competition of opinions and suggestions/offers often bringing the situation in a team to disputes, discussions and conflicts.

However in a multinational team the line between the constructive discussion on work problems and conflicts at the level of values and ideological settings is much thinner than in a monocultural team. The risk of disagreement is incredibly high because the representatives of different nations have different ideologies, that are fixed deeply in the consciousness at the level of a value system. Conflict here a priori lies at the heart of relationships within the team members.

Under the influence of different arguments, employees might easily change their opinion on solving work problems, but would rarely change their worldviews. Even the most rationally justified attempts to prove and substantiate to someone that he is wrong is mistaken in his religious, political and cultural beliefs will not only not change his opinion, but only ruin the relationships in a team and will lead to the low effectiveness/efficiency of the work done.

Keep the atmosphere of competition and competitiveness in clearly defined areas. Remember, that truth is born in dispute, but only then, when it concerns work issues. Don't let the discussion reach the level of values and ideological settings. No one will convince anyone, but will for sure create a prerequisite for a split in a team and its disintegration on groups of “friends” and “strangers”.

Set certain office taboos on political and ideological discussions, keep neutrality, carry out workshops on conflictology and assertiveness.

In case a manager doesn't hold a balance and let a discussion start over values and ideological beliefs, it will cause tension in relationships within the team members.

dr Natalia Ustinova

Business Communication Coach


dr Natalia Ustinova

dr Natalia Ustinova

Business Communication Coach

Analytics and research


01.09European Consulting Group "Business & Politics"

30.08Multicultural Teams in Companies

16.08Investment Potential of Central and Eastern Europe

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