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This paper tries to bring out the personal views of the author in terms of his experience of working with an international group. Being an Indian and coming down to UK to study, it is a different experience in itself. But the level of interactions with people across borders and cultures has given the author a chance to explore and understand people with diverse backgrounds. Doing a post graduate program here in UK not only gives the author access to the best education but also immense opportunity to network with people across nations. It is a different experience indeed.
With time and increase in interaction, there is change in perception and a complete washout of the pre conceived notions regarding cultures and people. And surprisingly, not only people behave and act in different manners across the geography, they also think very differently. This paper tries to look at the benefits of such diverse thinking.
With all the benefits also come some problems and hindrances. As mentioned above, preconceived notions regarding cultures and people is a big issue addressed in the paper. The paper also looks at the argument as to how much diversified can the group be, and the possibilities of not been able to reach consensus easily while working in a group and also handling conflicts and differences in opinions.
The paper also looks at the possibilities of discrimination on the basis of race, gender and culture. The author also tries to give some suggestions to overcome these problems.
He talks how these problems can be overcome and how the cultural mix and diversity can actually act as a advantage.
The structure of the paper involves the introduction about the topic and then detailed insights and some experiences. Then about the advantages and disadvantages of working in such groups. The author then tries to bring in the concept of cultural intelligence and how it could solve issues related to problems arising among co workers of diverse backgrounds. So the reports concludes with some suggestive ideas.
With the advent of globalization and vanishing of boundaries between the countries, it is very common to see people from various geographies, cultures coming down and working or studying. It is a common scenario even at a work place or a college where we can spot people from various countries interacting with each other, doing businesses, studying or being part of each other's life in a big way.
Before going ahead and describing about my experiences let's try defining cultural and its importance at workplace. Culture could be defined anything related to art, culture, lifestyle, music, etc relating to a particular community or a group of people living together or having and following the same set of beliefs. Now looking at the importance of culture in the workplace, it plays a very vital role. Cultural defines the values, the beliefs of the individuals or a community, even their day to day behavior is influenced by it. So it has a direct impact on their working style and relationships with people at workplace, their behavior at workplace, etc. Now when we talk about this, we should also consider the organization culture and its impact on the individual. Of course, the organization or the institution plays a significant role in shaping the behavior and the culture of the individual at work place, now how does he fit into this is important. Generally people opt for such organizations or institutions where they fit in on or where similar values and culture exists. Now let us look how things are today with the advent of organizations which consists of diverse teams.
But before that let me share some of my experiences
One thing I was really looking to when I decided to come to UK was to meet and interact with various people. But at the same time I was very nervous. I had all sorts of doubts in my mind also. Would I be accepted? Would I fit into the culture? Being lived in India throughout my life and not interacting with anyone from outside India, I had all notions in my head. Even I had apprehensions regarding the lifestyles and the behavior of the people.
But after I landed in UK my perception changed a lot. I was not the only guy who had left his country and had come down here. There were thousands like me. And even the people were very receptive. Though I mingled with my community and country folks in the beginning, it was only after I came into college and started working and meeting other students I realized that it was not bad actually. All my perceptions and fears were a complete false.
My first interaction was indeed during one of those assignments. My group had perceived me as a geek and someone who would be good at mathematics so would have by birth analytical skills being an Indian. But I really had to tell them that though we have quite a good number of the population who was good at these things back home, but I was a terrible lot at mathematics. This was when we all realized how we had pre-conceived notions about people based upon their cultural and geographical backgrounds. Like I thought, Pakistanis were a closed lot who would be tough to interact but they were as a matter of fact just like me.
Of course, people always find comfort in people with similar interests or similar community and background. Like for example, I was only with my Indian friends for almost a month after I came to UK. I was just too shy and scared to interact or make friends with any one else. And I had so many Indians that I didn't find the need to also. But soon I realized that by doing so I am stopping myself from expanding my horizons in knowledge also. I got to know about a lot of things through my series of interactions with various people.
Benefits of Cross-Culture Teams
With the team being more and more diverse, the thinking will be different and it will result in really different perspectives and ideas flowing in. The team would not just reach consensus but really think of many solutions or different answers. This would encourage creativity and innovativeness. It makes the group brainstorm effective.
Mutual benefits - The whole team being diverse would fulfill the short comings of each other to some extent. And also it is a learning experience.
Getting to know about other cultures, languages, and people is always interesting.
Enhancement of interpersonal skills.
Working with such a team, broadens your thinking and you come across new avenues and perspectives.
Makes you more adaptable to any environment and people.
Continuous improvement - groups with such diversity always questions, thus making it more and more challenging and striving to get the best out of the group.
Sometimes people in homogenous groups do not participate much thinking everyone thinks the same. But in such cases comparatively the participation levels of the group is high. Because everyone bring in a different thinking and perspective before the group.
If I have to talk about my experiences, well I must say I have gained immensely. At first I used to be silent and non-participative. But now I feel I can pour in very important points because I think very differently from the rest of the group, so I bring in a different set of thinking. This actually benefits our discussions. I have really developed great interpersonal skills also. Now I feel free to talk to anyone and from anywhere. I am not shy or scared anymore. Even being in a diverse group, we use each of our individual strengths and combine them to form the strengths of the group. For example, one of my team members is good at identifying and collecting the data, I am good at analyzing it, some one else is good at presenting it and the other at identifying errors. So all these strengths are combined together so that we finally present the masterpiece.
Problems faced with cross-culture teams -
Language: This is one of the major issues. Though English has emerged as the common International language but there is a lot of difference in British English and American and of course Indian. Even the pronunciation and the spoken language differ a lot. This can sometimes cause miscommunication. Language barriers can also lead to non-participation or inability to express ideas freely.
Apart from verbal and written communication, a major part of communication happens through Non-verbal communication. Now across various cultures we have different communication styles and also different meanings to certain things. Now it is extremely important to better know before we communicate anything as others might get offended if we do not understand properly.
Cultural clashes - Sometimes, there can be a total clash in the cultures and their beliefs. Such things should be handled properly and not just ignored.
Time - this is a very important factor while working in groups. The attitude of the team members towards time is very important. Sometimes few of them group members emphasize on time a lot but others do not consider it that important or neglect it because of their old beliefs and practices. This could lead to a conflict of interest.
Pre-conceptions and stereotypes: People have a lot of preconceived notions in their minds regarding people from some cultures and places. Now that could be totally wrong. The person might be totally different. So it is not good to judge anyone just because they belong to a culture or a location.
Difference in execution of work.
False Consensus effect: Sometimes people think that others also think exactly like them or they feel that everyone would have the same set of beliefs.
Ways to overcome difficulties faced when working in an international team -
Effective communication: This is one of the most important aspects. The members should check if their points are properly understood. And check for any miscommunication.
Adhere to certain rules, which can be framed accordingly, so that everyone sticks to it. For example, we talked about the importance of time. Now its better if the group decided that time has a lot of importance and no one is late for the meetings, etc.
Having a global mindset always helps rather than carrying those old beliefs to the group.
Every member of the group should workout on their strengths and weakness so that we can work out of the overall strengths and weakness.
Avoiding preconceptions and stereotypes
The whole energy of diversity is good if used positively and for the betterment of the group. But we have to be careful and avoid any negativity or conflicts.
Now let me come to my personal experiences. I have already mentioned about the benefits I had got working with such a group. But I too faced many problems. Like for example, in the beginning I was not so good at understanding the language. Though I had learnt English throughout my education in India, but sometimes the level of vocabulary and the pronunciation was very difficult to grasp in the beginning and I used to sound funny with my Indian accent. Those were my tough times when I sometimes kept shut so that I don't embarrass myself or even I didn't understood anything I would not repeat it. But then of course during the course of time, things settle down. There was a similar experience with time. Being a lazy Indian, I was not used to the punctuality in my school or college. Back home it was a sort of a relaxed environment. But here every second counts, hence I had to really change myself to adapt to the current values and beliefs of the group.
One of the effective ways of overcoming such problems is by increasing the Cultural Intelligence of the team members.
Now what is this Cultural Intelligence? It is trying to understand other's behavior and trying to understand his values and beliefs so that to interact with him in a way he is comfortable. People can be classified into 6 categories of Cultural Intelligence :
The Provincial: Such person is effective only when working with people from a similar culture and background of his own. Lacks the ability to work with others.
The Analyst: He is the person, who would analyze the culture of his fellow mate and try to get the strengths and frame strategies accordingly.
The Natural: Relies entirely on intuition and is not interested in analyzing or learning new beliefs and about new cultures.
The Ambassador: He is nice and friendly. Though he is not aware much about the people or individuals from other cultures and backgrounds, but he is confident he can handle them.
The Mimic: He gels in very well and has tremendous confidence and he knows he will fit into the role.
The Chameleon: Changes his colors accordingly. He is sometimes even confused about his origin. He fits into very perfectly.
Now the work would be classifying all the members into the above category and work out how to handle them.
We have seen through this paper and through the insights and experiences of the author about the cross-culture teams and their benefits and challenges. But these days, with the advent of globalization such teams are unavoidable. Hence, we should work to overcome the challenges and use the strengths of the individuals to build up the strengths of the team. It is important to really understand individuals and their cultures and work accordingly so that there is no miscommunication or conflict.