27 May How To Manage Multicultural Teams
In many industries, businesses are faced with managing multicultural teams. This can be challenging for many reasons ranging from unconscious bias to not understanding the cultural nuances of communicating. For example, Americans generally are very direct when they communicate. That is not necessarily true of non-Western cultures, where saying yes may not mean agreement.
Other problems exist as well. Often, people assume that someone who speaks with an accent or is not completely fluent in English does not quite understand the issues at hand. This misconception can affect perceptions about anyone at the company, from entry-level workers to managers, and it can prevent good — even great — ideas from being communicated.
Another area in which cultural differences come into play is company hierarchy. Many cultures have strict guidelines for how people should speak and act around their bosses. In American culture, managers seek input from line workers for ways to streamline, but this may be uncomfortable for people who are not used to speaking with company leaders.
These issues can undermine company performance. Suppose a U.S. company is negotiating with a manufacturer in Vietnam. Here are four difficult issues that may arise and some ways to deal with them:
- Unconscious bias. Making teams aware of their unconscious biases is critical. The headlines are filled with examples ranging from ageism to racism to misogyny. Sometimes unconscious bias can be the cause of interpersonal conflicts that affect outcomes. Team leaders should take steps to help themselves and their teams recognize where their biases lie and offer training to overcome them.
- Training. Offer cultural training to managers and others who interact with multicultural teams. The training can have different modules, depending on the situation.
Suppose your company is dealing with a Vietnamese company for the first time, for example. Cultural training should be part of the preparation process. One aspect of the training would focus on Vietnam’s deference to the views of seniors. Team members should be taught how to respectfully disagree within the culture’s parameters. Other relevant topics include general guidelines about how deals are made (slowly) and relationships (personal relationships are the most important), as well as eating, drinking and dress codes.
- Making assumptions. Without reason, people sometimes assume they have the upper hand when negotiating with people from another culture. This belief may stem from language difficulty, difference in beliefs about how companies are run or unconscious bias. Whatever the cause, these types of conflict are detrimental to the business. Sensitivity training may help, but any training must be reinforced by a company culture that fully supports diversity and inclusiveness.
- Negotiating and decision-making. Decision-making can be tricky when dealing with other cultures. As with the other big issues mentioned above, it goes back to understanding the cultures you are dealing with so you can navigate the nuances with sensitivity. Going back to our Vietnamese example, the importance of presenting a business card with both hands and expecting protracted negotiations rather than a quick deal are two of the things the team should be aware of.
Successful managers of multicultural teams need to look at the big picture to understand how these elements interact. As with many aspects of successful businesses, transparency and communication are key.