Four Tips For Effectively Managing Multicultural Teams
Victor Potrel is Vice President of Platform Partnerships at TheSoul Publishing, a digital studio that creates positive original content.
All of us were born in a particular time, country and culture. These are facts that we cannot change.
Not that we should wish to change them-they’re part of what makes the world such a unique and exciting place to live. That said, it’s important to recognize how these aspects-in particular, our culture-strongly influence three things:
1. The nature and structure of our thoughts.
2. Our decision-making processes.
3. How we communicate.
With the rise of remote work-a topic I wrote about in a previous article -people from different countries and cultures are having a continuous dialogue online. However, many individuals may wish they could communicate more effectively without misunderstandings among their team.
Team managers can help alleviate these misunderstandings by facilitating cross-cultural communication. However, it’s important to remember that you won’t get things perfect every single time.
That’s the beauty of learning to navigate cross-cultural communication within teams: trying to understand things from another person’s cultural perspective. (You can get some ideas from my article on creating a learning culture.) Those values of acceptance and understanding can spread through your team and ensure everyone is forgiving when miscommunications happen (which they inevitably will).
The four tips below can help you form a foundation of practices to ensure your multicultural team effectively communicates with you and each other.
1. Be Aware Of Cultural Differences
The first step to good cross-cultural communication is simple but vital: Recognize that cultural differences exist.
Even if you don’t intend to “define someone by where they’re from,” I’ve found that ignoring these differences isn’t the answer. Doing so can be disrespectful and neglect the beautiful diversity of your team.
By acknowledging that these differences are real, you can instantly change your work environment into one of acceptance, which benefits team members and the organization as a whole, as the diversity of thought can unlock new approaches to problems that you never before considered.
We experienced this firsthand at TheSoul Publishing as we worked with our 2,500 team members in 70 countries across six continents. By accepting the diversity of our team, we have been able to grow our business across the globe and discover innovative solutions that a team from a single nation would likely not have thought of.
2. Recognize Ethnocentrism And Address It
Ethnocentrism, as defined by Dr. J. Wittwer, an expert in international business, “involves judging other cultures based on the values of your own.”
We innately read all behavior through our own cultural lens. It’s a hard task to get out of your own value system, which you use to interpret and interact in all aspects of your relationships and with your environment.
However, when you don’t recognize the ethnocentrism of yourself and your team, you can’t take steps to address it.
Once you address it, your team and company could quickly see the benefits. Wittwer explains this best; he writes: “Awareness of your own ethnocentricity — and that of the culture in which you’re doing business — can often help you work, communicate, and promote effectively across cultures.”
3. Learn To Communicate Better Using Asynchronous Communication
It’s crucial to have clear communications to harness the power of diverse perspectives. Innovative and creative ideas could be unconsciously ignored or misinterpreted if people express them in terms that not everyone can understand. In the long run, the best way to achieve universal understanding is through better communication,and one way to achieve this is by facilitating it through asynchronous systems and tools.
At TheSoul Publishing, we found that adopting asynchronous communication methods, implementing a no-meetings policy, and learning to communicate better on our internal messaging and project management platforms significantly reduced misunderstandings across our organization. By avoiding communication methods that require an immediate response, we ensure our team has time to digest and comprehend information efficiently.
And to avoid the possibility that someone misunderstands your tone through asynchronous communications, you should have agreed-upon principles of communication on a companywide level. For instance, if you’re using a project-management tool, you might agree that closing a task without providing further comments isn’t rude; it’s simply that there are no further comments and the work is done.
By outlining how to use your asynchronous platform, you can avoid miscommunications and ensure communications flow more smoothly.
4. Encourage To Be Open About How They Communicate Best
Effective cross-cultural communication requires teams to feel at ease about stating how they usually express things.
It’s easy to spot differences when it comes to how a team member expresses their disagreement with decisions or opinions.
In her book The Culture Map, Erin Meyer notes that different cultures have different ways of disagreeing. For example, in some places, you can safely act in a “confrontational” manner without fear of damaging a working relationship. On the other hand, Meyer notes that such conflict during disagreements is highly frowned upon in others.
To help maintain positive working relationships between members of different cultures whose ways of communicating may clash, encourage an open dialogue where these ways are acknowledged, discussed and understood. I’ve found that putting it out in the open can actually make people feel at ease when misinterpretations do happen.
By making your team aware of everyone’s communication styles, both you and individual members can recognize differences as they appear. This can create a more transparent, honest, and fun environment and improve everyone’s sense of common understanding.
Always remember that miscommunication is common, even in non-multicultural work environments. It’s a natural occurrence, and you haven’t failed as a manager if it happens.
While the challenge can be even greater with multicultural teams, you can succeed despite these misunderstandings if you listen to your team, develop strategies to handle challenges, and facilitate cross-cultural communication in ways that reduce friction and respect everyone’s backgrounds. The rewards you get from it could be infinite.