Managing multicultural teams can present its own unique set of challenges and obstacles. Not only will you have to effectively manage language barriers, but there are also cultural and training barriers to overcome, as well. What may make sense to employees from a Western culture may not make sense for hires from Eastern cultures. We often of miscontrue people’s behaviour from other cultures and spend invaluable time on sorting out misunderstandings and setting expectations. The right solution to all of these types of challenges requires careful thought, cultural understanding and dexterity, and a highly diplomatic approach.
Continue reading to learn more.
1. Language Barrier
The way we speak, and the words we use, are tools we use to convey our feelings, hopes, and dreams. We are all tied to our language, which is why it can be difficult traveling to a foreign country where most residents speak a different language. Now, imagine managing a multicultural team where many of the members speak a different language.
Not only do you have to make sure they understand company procedures, and policies, but you must also ensure everyone has an effective method of communicating with one another. To say this task is challenging would be an understatement. At the same time, the main language spoken at the office might be the second or third language for some employees, so they might not understand colloquialisms.
Moreover, they can unintentionally take slang and jokes the wrong way since they would interpret them in a very literal context. Not to mention, team members who are not fully comfortable in the language spoken at the office may feel out of place and less inclined to share their opinions.
Find a way to get your messages across in a way that everyone will fully understand. You can incorporate multilingual translators onto your teams. In addition, make use of functional translation software an apps. You can also offer ongoing language classes in the company’s primary language. The objective is to ensure every single team member feels included and valued. Also, try not to convey any bias towards team members who are fluent in our native tongue. Everyone should feel that they are treated fairly, regardless of what language they speak.
2. Cultural differences
Similar to the language barrier, people from Eastern cultures will have varying cultural norms from those in a Western culture. For instance, a Western manager may seem too assertive, loud or direct for a team member from Japan or other Asian countries where requests are made more politely and indirectly.
On the other hand, an employee from a Western background may be more inclined to speak up when something feels wrong as opposed to someone from an Eastern culture who might have been taught to never question the boss, even when they are wrong.
These cultural barriers can lead to confusion among team members and, in the worst-case scenario, a lack of cohesion. In another example, Americans may come across as more informal and casual with the employee and manager relationship where someone from a place like Japan would prefer or is used to more formal constructs.
Take the time to learn about the different cultural norms of your team members, understand how they perceive assertiveness and communicate appropriately. Furthermore, encourage your employees to learn about their colleague’s cultures, as well.
3. Technical Challenges
An employee from the U.S. is often used to using many of the most popular tech offerings available today. They would need little training in this regard. On the other hand, an employee who hails from a more provincial location in another country such as China, might not be as used to working with popular American tech and software. Similarly, while it can be taken for granted that a team member for West would be fully familiar with Google search Engine while it may be completely foreign to someone from China where Baidu search engine reigns.
Just ask which technologies they’re familiar with, and which ones could benefit from more training. Then, offer classes or online training course for those who need it to ensure the entire team is up to speed and on the same page.
4. The decision-making process
Cultures have different styles of making decisions. In America, managers are expected to make decisions quickly where in other cultures managers take their time for due diligence, gathering more information and often consult team members to make sure that the decision is arrived at unanimously. Furthermore, in some cultures, managers are looked upon with utmost reverence and the decisions made by them are never questioned; and, aren’t questioned by employees even when they may be wrong. So, how should decisions be made to avoid conflicting situations in culturally diverse environment?
Diverse employees will have different expectations. What you can do is to ensure every member of your multicultural teams understands your process when making decisions.
Learn about the differences of each of your team members, and then determine how decisions will be executed. Next, make it a priority to talk to each employee individually to ask how they feel about your management style and decision making process to see if they can feel comfortable with it.
5. Styles of communication: Aggression and tone
Cultures have different styles of communication. As mentioned earlier, American managers tend to be more aggressive and straightforward than their Easter counterparts. For some team members, this can come across as too direct. This can also relate to cultural norms of each member of your multicultural teams.
You can’t change your style overnight. What you can do is to ensure every member of your multicultural teams understands your process when making decisions. Then, make it a priority to talk to each employee individually to ask how they feel about your management style and if they can feel comfortable with it.
6. Challenge of motivating a culturally diverse team
The perception of motivation may vary from one culture to another. What can be motivating for you may be regarded as de-motivating for people from another culture. Trying to enforce a universal motivation and reward system based on norms and culture of your company may actually backfire and you may experience decline in employee satisfaction and efficiency level. Similarly, some people perform a lot better when they are left on their own to figure out how to get the job done while people from other cultures may find themselves groping in the dark unless the manager defines a clear roadmap for them on how to do their job.
Speak with people from different cultures individually to discover what motivates them and what extent of manager intervention is acceptable to them. Come to common grounds with them on the expected results if their suggestions are implemented and observe the impact.
Managing multicultural teams isn’t faint hearted. It requires learning, due diligence, and diplomacy. As the old saying goes: If you want to be understood, seek first to understand.
If you don’t wish to deal with the challenges of managing a culturally diverse team, consider outsourcing functions that are not core to your business, such as Multilingual customer service. Multilingual Call Centers are adept at managing people from different cultures. They understand how to reconcile these cultural differences and make everyone on the team chase the same goals despite the opposing views.