How to Make a Multicultural Team More Cohesive
In this time and age, employees and collaborators of all nationalities and cultures, from all over the world, interact directly, as opposed to how things were done in the past, when each team from a certain region or background worked in their own bubble and assigned a manager or representative to keep in touch with the managers or representatives of other departments or teams.
There are many advantages and assets to having a diverse company, since it brings together the best of all worlds: creativity, inventiveness, resourcefulness, new perspectives and solutions, etc. However, in order to achieve success, there are certain barriers which must be overcome and used to the business’ benefit.
Aside from the inevitable problems that all teams encounter (limited finances, problematic work schedules, contrasting personalities), multicultural teams face a unique set of challenges, such as prejudice, bias, stereotypes, stigma, cultural and language obstacles, various ways of approaching work, and commitment to a task or deadline.
There are a few principles that should be kept in mind when aiming at building a cohesive multicultural or international workplace:
1. Be aware of the differences
Be aware of the differences and how they can be used to everyone’s advantage. By no means does this mean you should use generalization and stereotypes, but it is nevertheless true that each nationality and culture has specific traits that make it unique. There are skills and attitudes which help people manage certain areas and domains better, whereas they lack the necessary tools for others.
It is important to identify and appreciate the positive aspects of each nationality, such as German and Japanese citizens’ seriousness and consistency, and Spanish and Canadian people’s creativity and out-of-the-box thinking.
2. Learn how to blend them
After discerning the different sets of talents, you must learn how to blend and exploit them to your advantage. It’s very improbable that you’ll build an efficient workplace by creating teams made up of the same types of people and cultural backgrounds.
Instead, combining different skills and personalities will lead to a unique environment that will boost productivity and overall profitability. Understand that there is no single right way of doing things, but rather listening to and applying the various ideas promoted by different individuals will be the best course of action.
3. Promote an open and inclusive climate
Change starts from the top, therefore the leader must be the first to acknowledge and respect the diversity of the members comprising the teams. Try to see the world from various points of view and to put things into perspective, then always seek to unite rather than divide and exclude people. Innovative and visionary companies take their cues from great management and leadership that focuses on inclusion and interconnection.
4. Teach employees about their coworkers’ characteristics
While some cultures tend to communicate more explicitly and straightforwardly, there are others for which the most important thing is tact and saving face. If someone takes the long road toward telling a colleague they made a mistake, thus involving the team leader or another team member, it doesn’t mean that they are going around their back or ratting them out — it’s just the way in which they are used to doing things.
Taking the time to teach everyone about the cultures of team members can help them relate on a personal level and take away some of the stigma associated with different cultures.
5. Attempt to minimize the language barrier
Attempt to minimize the language barrier by designating one that everyone speaks as a first or second language (English, French, another internationally known language). Let everybody know that it’s alright to ask their peers to repeat things and it shouldn’t be seen as offensive, since accents and proficiency are not perfect for anyone.
You might even ask a native to mediate conversations and step in when the situation becomes tangled. When it comes to important and final decisions, demand an extra layer of safety and agreement by deciding that everyone must also show their consent in writing or another acceptable form.
6. Do your best to include local customs in the official work schedule
Maybe some employees need prayer breaks, time off for siestas, longer vacations, adapted hours depending on time zone differences, etc. Respecting everyone’s habits as much as possible will make them feel seen and valued.
7. Try to be up to speed with the state of affairs in team members’ countries of origin
You could do this so as to avoid controversial topics, such as wars, ethnic conflicts, foreign interventions, regime changes, political preferences or religious appurtenance. When it comes to a multicultural team, it is much better to focus on work and human-to-human relationship building than on subjects that might cause tension and frictions.
At TRISOFT, we believe people of diverse backgrounds and countries offer a mix of skills, angles and ideas. A multicultural team brings new perspectives from around the world, which can lead to better problem-solving.
International teams also make businesses more cohesive and innovative, which is an outcome that every company should strive to attain.