Multicultural teams are now the norm in most workplaces. These teams may range from teams that work together remotely (based in different countries, with varying time zones or working days) to teams based in the same office that might contain émigrés, expats or people with differing religious beliefs.
However, just because it has become the norm, it does not mean that multicultural teams are easy to manage, or that they will automatically work well because they’re within the same physical space.
Multicultural teams can be challenging in ways that the once typical homogeneous team was not – language barriers, cultural differences, remote working, religious observances, and so on, all impact upon a team’s ability to function as a cognitive whole – especially if management and leadership lacks the cultural awareness and team building ethos to unite their team.
Firms that function well at every level, and outperform their competition, have culturally diverse workforces, offer inclusive and accepting philosophies, and actively encourage team collaboration and understanding.
So, if you’d like to find out how these high-performing firms manage their culturally diverse teams, read on for our top tips…
1. Cultural Awareness Training
The most important factor in encouraging an inclusive company culture is to engage your team in cultural awareness training.
Learning personal unconscious biases, accepting difference, understanding cultural values and how to connect with others from different backgrounds, will give a solid basis for improving communication, empathy and support among team members.
Cultural awareness training enables improved co-operation where team members learn to understand and respect their differences for the benefits that can be gained from working together positively, and improves confidence and trust in other team members.
After training, ensure that this ethos is continued within the firm by encouraging team building activities, introduce cultural diversity days (where team members can bring something to share from their culture – food, photos, or stories are particularly good), and inspire new employees to adopt these approaches.
The value of effective communication cannot be overstressed within a multicultural team. It can improve team trust, reduce conflict and eradicate misunderstandings.
Some of the main benefits of good communication within teams are:
• Common goals and objectives are understood
• Improved collaboration
• Openness and trust within teams
• Innovation and inspiration
• Conflict resolution
• Sharing of skills, knowledge and abilities
• Increased efficiency
• Improved clarity
Multicultural teams may initially run into problems with language barriers, and if this is likely to be the case, then an interpreter or translation expert should be brought in to support the team so they can translate accurately, explain body language norms, culturally accepted business conduct, and so on.
Once this has been established and the language barriers have been overcome, teams can then engage without additional support, or with minimal language assistance where required.
Where language might be a problem within multicultural teams it is worth considering the following tips:
• Keep it simple – for someone who is not using their native language to interact with team members it is vital that language is kept simple, succinct and without nuance or easily misinterpreted tone
• Use a professional translation services provider – if you are communicating with team members from many cultures and languages with a large amount of written work, then it is definitely worth considering the use of an expert translation/interpretation provider as this will minimise errors, improve understanding and encourage engagement at a deeper level for all team members
• Ask for clarification and check understanding – ensure everyone knows they’re on the same page by checking they understand or asking for clarification if you are unsure. It is always better to check than make an assumption that could be wrong!
• Feedback – request and offer feedback at every opportunity so misunderstandings can be found early and so that team members know they are working well
3. Develop Team Identity and Trust
A team that works effectively and efficiently is one in which everyone knows their role, and the end objective.
Managerial teams that support this ethos will find their teams are more inclusive, have shared goals, and a common aim, which ensures a team identity, reducing tension and conflict, encouraging collaboration, and helping avoid misunderstandings.
Within this framework though, it is important that each team member is aware of their own role and what is expected of them.
Team members who understand that their contribution is vital to the continued success of a project are more inclined to be pro-active, supportive of others, and inclusive, as they understand it will make the end objective more achievable.
In order to encourage a deeper team identity try finding personal similarities among team members to boost connections. Consider aspects outside of the workplace such as, families, shared hobbies or even holidays linked to others’ home country.
From these foundations of friendship, commonality and team identity, trust can begin to form and build.
This will take time to evolve and may need nurturing from time to time so ensure the right environment for this by offering a safe, non-judgemental workspace where team members can voice concerns freely or share positive news.
Team building retreats, shared experiences, and respectful awareness of others will foster the best environment for multicultural teams to thrive and evolve successfully.
Embracing difference, encouraging collaboration, being inclusive and open to new perspectives will encourage others to do likewise – lead by example, be innovative and inspiring for multicultural teams and your efforts will be well rewarded.
At Creative Word, we can help with any multicultural projects that require translation assistance and are experts in cultural awareness training, so we are the natural partner to assist your firm’s multicultural teams.
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