Key factors of multicultural team management & leadership


There are several elements of the definition of culture that are important in our understanding of the relationship between cultural issues and interna-tional management. Culture is learned - this means that it is not innate; people are so-cialized from childhood to learn the rules and norms of their cul-ture. It also means that when one goes to another culture, it is possible to learn the new culture. Culture is shared-this means that the focus is on those things that are shared by members of a particular group rather than on indi-vidual differences; as such, it means that it is possible to study and identify group patterns. Culture is compelling-this means that specific behavior is deter-mined by culture without individuals being aware of the influence of their culture; as such, it means that it is important to understand culture in order to understand behavior. Culture is an interrelated set-this means that while various facets of culture can be examined in isolation, these should be understood in the context of the whole; as such, it means that a culture needs to be studied as a complete entity. Culture provides orientation to people-this means that members of a particular group generally react in the same way to a given stimulus; as such, it means that understanding a culture can help in determining how group members might react in various situations. Because culture is so fundamental to society, it influences people's behaviors in critical ways. Effective management depends, at least in part, on ensuring that people behave in ways that are appropriate for the organization. This means that understanding culture is important for managers. Where cultural differences exist they may need to be accommodated to achieve desired behavior and results.

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Values are useful in explaining and understanding cultural similari-ties and differences in behavior; thus, understanding values and their cultural basis is helpful to international managers. If international managers understand how values can vary from culture to culture, they are more likely to accept and interpret correctly behavioral dif-ferences. This acceptance and correct interpretation, in turn, enable managers to interact effectively with others whose values and be-haviors are unfamiliar.

It is helpful to define the concept of cultural values, as well as to distinguish it from and relate it to other concepts. This serves to delineate the domain of cultural values, and to underscore their importance to international managers. The following discussion begins with cul-tural values, and then examines needs, attitudes, and norms. These latter concepts are all similar to that of cultural values, but each contributes somewhat differently to behavior.

Values have been described as enduring beliefs those specific modes of conduct or end states of existence are socially preferable to their oppo-sites (Rokeach 1973); a value system is seen as a relatively permanent perceptual framework that influences an individual's behavior (England 1978). Values establish the standards by which the importance of every-thing in society is judged. Throughout these definitions, the important issue for international management appears to be the role of social val-ues in behavior. In a general sense, values and norms are societal, while needs and attitudes are individual. Values interact with needs, attributes, and norms, as the following discussion explains.

Needs are described as forces motivating an individual to act in a certain way; once satisfied, needs no longer have an impact on behavior. For example, a need for food motivates people to seek food; once people have eaten; they normally no longer seek food (unless motivated by other needs). Cultural values interact with individual needs because they in-fluence how people choose to satisfy their needs. It is generally accepted that two of the most basic and universal hu-man needs are the need for food and the need for sex, yet satisfaction of these needs differs because of societal values. In most societies the value of human life precludes cannibalism. Societies often have accepted times for eating, and even when people are hungry, they observe these timeframes. Similarly, social customs regarding sexual partners limit satisfaction of sexual needs.

Many societies practice restrictions regarding food, often associated with religious rituals. During Lent, Christians may forgo favorite foods or limit their intake of meat. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast completely during daylight hours. Some sects eat no meat, some do not allow beef, and others prohibit shellfish or pork, and still others proscribe certain combinations of foods. Individual needs are put aside to observe these restrictions.

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Managing Across Culture


Cultural Diversity is not a new issue or a topic that we are dealing with today. It has been since the time man has evolved. Well, the point of view on this topic varies from person to person so this is what a diversity is all about or one can surely say that this is life. One's culture reflects about their way of being brought up, about their originality, their beliefs, how ones parents are brought up and especially the society in which he or she lives, does or believe. Culture also gives us freedom to choose what or the way we want something that makes us happy. Today the world is constantly becoming smaller and smaller due to globalisation. Understanding different cultures means enhancing our point of view to their lives and thus enhancing our chances to learn and thus do business with them. For cultures are indeed mixing today as we can evidently see today that people dress differently, eat different foods, speak different languages. And as a result, for and example, we can have Burgers, Pizzas and sushi in India and we can have chicken tikka, basmati rice and tandoori chicken here in England and any other part of the world. Multiculturalism, another term for different cultures, is indeed dominating people's lives for the sure today. Today businesses are expanding that's why into other countries i.e from the country of origin

Ancient Times

Many books have been written in the earlier times, the most famous and popular one are Gilgamesh, The Nibelungenlied and Beowulf. These books were written in three different time zones and display culture views of three different times. Out of these three The Nibelungenlied and Beowulf were both written in VI century in Europe, in England and in Germany, respectively. One thing common in the cultures mentioned in the two books is that both had a history full of wars. One can say after going through the books that they had sort of passion for wars. The English set their colonies in almost all of the continents. We can take the example from a line from The Nibelungenlied stating “However great an army we take, the Queen has such dreadful ways that that would all have to die through her arrogance.” (Chapter 6, Page 54) and then if we take the example of Germans of the ancient times mentioned in Beowulf it says ”Then the king ordered eight gold bridled horses to be led onto the floor, in to the enclosure; on one of them was a saddle skilfully decorated, ornamented with jewels.” With these two abstracts from the two books we can see that they shared a common culture which was to war and expand their kingdoms no matter of what the outcome.

Organization's Culture:

According to Prof. Rajesh Asrani, core Faculty Member, N.R Institute of Business Management, Ahmedabad, India suggests that there are seven dimensions that capture the essence of an organization's culture that are described in the figure below. Each of the characteristics exists on a continuum from low to high. Appraising an organization on these seven dimensions gives a composite picture of the organization's culture. In many organizations, one of these cultural dimensions often rises above the others and essentially shapes the organization's personality and the way organizational members do their work.

Impact on Global Culture:

Globalization of the economy challenges practically all its workers so that they are more globally conscious and adept cross culturally. The pathway that leads to top, winds through foreign assignments if not many than at least one. One example is Maurits Barendrecht, who was one of the executives of the Dutch Rabobank. He is now based at Curacao. Maurits Barendrecht signed a ‘mobility contract' for life. The bank bashes him for huge salary, from country to next country. He shifted his residence for more than five times in the period of eleven years-Madrid(opening a new branch), Montevideo, Amsterdam, Milan and finally ending up in Curacao.

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It is virtually impossible to escape global economy today be it a manager or an employee. Those who own foreign-owned companies or are dealing with foreign suppliers are involuntarily shoved into international relationships. Jonathan Fenby, editor of Business Europe, says:

“Nationality means less and less in a world of unprecedented mobility where British Airways is run by and Australian; France's beauty products firm by a Welshman; where Daimler embraces Chrysler; and a French-Brazilian flies off to tell Nissan how to run its car business- and where Orange bounces between Asian, German and French ownership under the stewardship of and entrepreneur born to a British father in Germany, brought up in Canada, trained in Hong Kong and married to a Chinese wife.....”

So the Global Economy is a healthy fusion of cultures, different ways of social demeanour and different methods of organizing tasks with of course different ideas

Key Factors of Multicultural Team Management & Leadership

Managing across cultures is not an easy task and it has been a challenge for international companies tomanage across different geographic boundaries and multicultural teams.

A culture is defined as a group orcommunitywhich shares common beliefs and values. A cultural group is understood by the manner in which it behaves. A person can adjust to different cultures at the same time exhibiting different characteristics depending on the birthplace, family background, language, education, religion, profession etc.

Understanding and managing multicultural teams is important to let the organization achieve results and success. Unless every individual in a team with different cultures adapts to a particular organizational environment, the organization cannot move in the right direction and obtain profits.

If an individual is not able to accommodatehimself with the other culture, then he may go into a cultural shock which might be portrayed as high level of anxiety, isolation and also lack of performance on the job. So, it becomes necessary to manage across the multicultural teams not only to show good performance on the job but also to stay cool, calm and work on a stress free environment.

1. Culture and Communication in Multicultural Teams

Since multicultural teams have become very common in most of the Multinational companies nowadays, it is very important to know how to deal with people of other cultures and how to communicate with them. At the moment when Globalization started, people also continued travelling more and moving from one country to another country. This is how it started that people from two countries were intermarrying and their children have hybrid cultural identities.

In organizations it happens quit the same. People from other countries immigrate in other countries and start working there, in a completely new organization and completely new social and organizational environment. They now have to adapt to this country and try work together efficiency despite their differences, which is a big challenge to everyone and a long hard working way. To be successful in managing teams with different languages, skills, interests and cultural background you have to consider the following points: Training, Smoothed interfaces, Teamwork, Varity, Patience, Good Humor and a Bottom Line.

Training: Sometimes when working in a team you get trained to do a specific work or group of work, that a conversation between the team members is just not necessary and the work is done without any problems and with a very good outcome.

Smoothed Interfaces: If in the working group communication becomes necessary the interaction just have to go smooth. You have to consider that not everyone in the world speaks English, so you have to try to communicate verbal and non- verbal to avoid misunderstandings and to make the other person understand your message. You also have to consider that every person has his or her personal area which is better to respect. Some people are used to speak to each other being very close to each other and some people don't like it and need some space, which is in general 1 meter.

Teamwork: A team is called “team” to indicate that they have to work together which means helping each other. So if one part of the team has understanding problems, the other parts should help them by explaining how to do it, even you do not speak the same language. That is what the challenge in a team is. You have to interact, help each other, and be there for each other.

Clarity: When talking to a team as a manager you have to give very clear advices. This means when giving the advices and the directions he has to speak very slowly, clearly, calmly and try to look directly to the person to address them. He should ask everyone if they understood the directions or ask them to repeat the directions to ensure they understood everything.

Patience: A Team leader or manager has always to be patient and take a lot of time for his or her team members. Sometimes in a team work everything gets very stressful or people get under time pressure because of late the deadline for a work has been brought forward to they have to work faster but still with quality. This is the time where the manager has to stay calm, be patient, answer every question and give patient directions, so the multicultural teams doesn't get in pressure and do good job.

Good Humor: A team can be also prepared in terms of showing no stress in front of customers, presenting a cheerful public face, showing no signs of conflict between the team members and just to enjoy work. Especially in multicultural teams conflicts can appear because of the cultural diversity, language and misunderstandings. But it is proven that with good training people work better in teams, with a smile on their face and enjoying working atmosphere in their multicultural teams.

These key elements mentioned above extend beyond language. If you will ever manage a cross-functional team, you will see that it often seems like the business owners, the accountants, and the IT team and any other business departments are not always but in most cases speaking different languages. Practicing these key elements is a solution. You will be more successful managing teams whose members have different languages, skills, interests, or cultural backgrounds.

2. Challenges in managing multicultural teams

  • National culture: National culture has many dimensions like orientation to time, style of communication, personal space, competitiveness and worldview. Generally we deal also with stereotypes and cultural biases. Character traits and life experiences are labeled as national culture traits too, for example: an Italian team member can be shy and a German can be hopeless with timetables.
  • Corporate culture of the organization: this is very related to corporate culture and it is a result of a historical process. A large multinational organization is bound to have a more structured, hierarchic and bureaucratic approach to work with different environments.
  • Nature of the industry or functional culture (coal mine, marketing, accounting): dress, language, etiquette, unwritten codes of behavior, accepted practice and skills needed for the job vary depending on the industry. It is vital that the organization allows team members to display a sense of pride in one's professional identity.
  • Stage of team development: if the team is in the formation stage, the rules o the game are still being negotiated and people are learning their own role. The entrant has to struggle while the veteran has his job secured.
  • Personal attributes: personality, life experiences, competence profile, expectations on rewards, acknowledgments and satisfaction on working in teams are important factors that can be labeled as challenges.

3. Four barriers

People tend to assume that challenges on multicultural teams arise from differing styles of communication. But this is only one of the four categories that, according to our research, can create barriers to a team's ultimate success. These categories are direct versus indirect communication; trouble with accents and fluency; differing attitudes toward hierarchy and authority; and conflicting norms for decision making.

Direct versus indirect communication

Some team members use direct, explicit communication while others are indirect, for example, asking questions instead of pointing out problems with a project. When members see such differences as violation of their culture´s communication norms, relationships can suffer.

  • Western cultures: Meaning is direct and explicit. The meaning is on the surface, and a listener doesn't have to know much about the context or the speaker to interpret it.
  • Other cultures: Meaning is embedded in the way the message is presented. For example, Western negotiators get crucial information about the other party's preferences and priorities by asking direct questions, such as "Do you prefer option A or option B?". In cultures that use indirect communication, negotiators may have to infer preferences and priorities from changes - or the lack of them - in the other party's settlement proposal.
  • Cross-cultural inconsistencies leading to reduced information sharing, interpersonal conflicts. The non-Westerner can understand the direct communications of the

Westerner, but the Westerner has difficulty understanding the indirect communications of the non-Westerner.

The differences between direct and indirect communication can cause serious damage to relationships when team projects run into problems.

Trouble with accents and fluency

Although the language of international business is English, misunderstandings or deep frustration may occur because of nonnative speakers' accents, lack of fluency, or problems with translation or usage. These may also influence perceptions of status or competence.

Members who aren´t fluent in the team´s dominant language may have difficult communicating their knowledge. This can prevent the team from using their expertise and create frustration or perceptions of incompetence.

  • Perception of status or competence linked to command over language, fluency and accent
  • Difficulty for the teams to recognize and utilize technical expertise of non-native speakers
  • Motivation of non-native employees affected

Increased frustration and anxiousness culminating in interpersonal conflicts non-fluent team members may well be the most expert on the team, but their difficulty communicating knowledge makes it hard for the team to recognize and utilize their expertise. If teammates become frustrated or impatient with a lack of fluency, interpersonal conflicts can arise. Nonnative speakers may become less motivated to contribute, or anxious about their performance evaluations and future career prospects. The organization as a whole pays a greater price: Its investment in a multicultural team fails to pay off.

Differing attitudes toward hierarchy

A challenge inherent in multicultural teamwork is that by design, teams have a rather flat structure. But team members from some cultures, in which people are treated differently according to their status in an organization, are uncomfortable on flat teams. If they defer to higher-status team members, their behavior will be seen as appropriate when most of the team comes from a hierarchical culture; but they may damage their stature and credibility - and even face humiliation - if most of the team comes from an egalitarian culture.

Team members from hierarchical cultures expect to be treated differently according to expectations can cause humiliation or loss of stature and credibility.

  • Decision making practices different across cultures. Eg.-US managers Vs UK managers
  • Restriction of the information flow by managers from other cultures
  • Understanding the bigger picture
  • Generating mutual respect for other party's decision making process

Conflicting decision -making norms

Cultures differ enormously when it comes to decision making-particularly, how quickly decisions should be made and how much analysis is required beforehand. Not surprisingly, U. S. managers like to make decisions very quickly and with relatively little analysis by comparison with managers from other countries.

Members vary in how much analysis they require beforehand. Someone who prefers making decisions quickly may grow frustrated with those who need more time.

  • Cultural perspective influences the time taken before making a decision
  • Other influences include the breadth and depth of analysis done before making a decision
  • Managers from US and Europe generally take quick decisions
  • A way to resolve such conflict is by making minor concessions on both sides

4. Strategies for multicultural teams:

  • Adaptation acknowledging cultural gaps openly and working around them: a manager must be aware of all cultural differences and other issues that can become a conflict or barriers between the team members and figure out a way to coexist.
  • Structural intervention changing the shape of the team: setting teams in such way that those who have affluences in common and work individually with those who are not willing to cooperate but have skills that are important for the company.
  • Managerial intervention setting norms early or bringing in a higher-level manager: a manager must be firm in his decision making otherwise team members will probably do their own thing and not be aware of the importance of following a leader. If the manager is not effective at communicating and giving directions, he or she must be replaced.
  • Exit removing a team member: this means that managers must laid off those team members that are not willing to cooperate after all possible options have been tried out.

Adaptation is the ideal strategy because the team works effectively to solve its own problem with minimal input from management and, most important, learns from the experience.

Multicultural teams often generate frustrating management dilemmas. Cultural differences can create substantial obstacles to effective teamwork but these may be subtle and difficult to recognize until significant damage has already been done. As in the case above, which the manager involved told us about, managers may create more problems than they resolve by intervening. The challenge in managing multicultural teams effectively is to recognize underlying cultural causes of conflict, and to intervene in ways that both get the team back on track and empower its members to deal with future challenges themselves.

It is important to keep in mind that creating a shared experience can facilitate closer social relationships. And in the end, hopefully, you will achieve greater trust, which helps solve problems faster since people are more likely to contact one another with questions. It's less likely there will be a breakdown in communications. All this is based on small talk. If you can't do small talk, you can't do big talk.