Building an efficient multicultural team in 5 steps

Many businesses across the world are embracing diversity in the workplace. Leaders from small to large companies can point out the advantages of working with a multicultural team.

“Against the backdrop of accelerating globalization, organizations ranging from Pixar to NASA are bringing together culturally diverse groups of individuals to enhance organisational creativity and innovation”, wrote Sujin Jang in his paper on cultural brokerage in multicultural teams

Australian institutions are more likely to benefit from hiring foreigners as the country holds a continued immigration project. In 2018, more than 7 million people living here were born abroad.

“Multiculturalism is a reality of Australian society. We live it every day: in our cities and suburbs, in our schools and workplaces, on our buses and trains. In all these places, Australians mix with those from different backgrounds”, stated the Australian Human Rights Commission.

However, the same differences that can positively impact the performance of a group may also play against them. Language, cultural barriers, and prejudice may be obstacles to be overcome in a diverse environment.

Although it sounds like a challenge, it is possible to build a workplace where a cross-cultural team can thrive.

Address and accept differences

Culture is complex. Based on traditions and circumstances, people carry unique point of views, values, and behaviours. They may have a hard time following some rules and practices. Managers should encourage staff to learn, acknowledge, and respect each other. 

Michael D. Lee stated in an article: “before starting to build a team composed of people from diverse culture it’s crucial to develop an atmosphere of openness around the issues of differences”.

Promoting meetings and activities among employees may help to minimise problems related to cultural particularities. In such occasions, people can be motivated to share thoughts about their expectations and talk about their experiences in their home country.    

Reduce the chances for information gaps

People from overseas may have English as their second or third language. Most of them may be studying to improve their linguistic skills. Being able to communicate effectively is an ability every team looks for. Although, when it comes to a multicultural group, it may be a complicated issue to manage.

Professor Kristin J. Behfar conducted a study with leaders from around the world and found solutions to improve communication: “Native speakers bear the responsibility to ensure both sides fully understand each other. Create the norm that asking someone to repeat themselves is not offensive – this is particularly helpful with accents”. “Use pictures, stories, and data to help illustrate your point. Avoid colloquialisms, slangs, and words with double meaning or confusing context”, she added.

Managers should make sure everyone comprehends what has been spoken or written. Proofread material. Ask team members to summarise the essential aspects of conversations or documents to confirm that the group is on the same page.

Speak clearly about norms and rules

Coming up with some guidelines will assist employees on how to best approach colleagues and clients. They can also become familiar with procedures and practices.

Leaders should talk about responsibilities and what the company expects from each one of them. Also, give instructions on how to provide feedback and encourage them to be polite and patient while interacting with others.

Set business goals

Teams are formed because there is a goal to achieve. As long as people know what the objective is, they’ll join forces to accomplish it. When a group has a mission, they can figure out how to solve conflicts along the way and work together to bring the best results.

Show commitment

Let people connect. Create a space where staff feel safe as individuals and valuable for the company. According to Ph.D. C. Carey Yang, “team members have to come together as a cohesive team to build a strong working relationship, to support each other and to build mutual respect and trust”.