17 June 2015

How to get the most from culturally diverse teams

A culturally diverse workforce offers many advantages – provided everyone works well together. So how should HR professionals and managers instill culture and practices that maximise the benefits diversity offers?

Managers are increasingly finding themselves heading up culturally diverse teams, including those spread across several geographic locations. This is a positive development, because according to research by NPR, ethnically and geographically diverse teams can perform better than homogenous groups.

It stands to reason that teams with different perspectives, knowledge and ideas have a lot to offer. However, research also shows that if tensions and miscommunications arise within diverse teams, this cultural disharmony can damage creativity in the workplace. Furthermore, according to research into leveraging diversity, diversity itself doesn’t guarantee improvements in business performance – it still needs to be managed effectively.

So how can managers increase cross-cultural knowledge and break down prejudice in order to make the most of globalised teams? Here are some ideas:

Know yourself and your team
According to organisational behaviour professor Roy Chua managers need to be aware of their own assumptions about different cultures. He suggests keeping a journal and making a record of your thoughts each time you interact with someone from another culture. This should help you identify any bias in your interactions and decision-making. You also need to have an understanding of the cultures in your team. How do people from different cultures communicate? What are the sensitivities that managers and the rest of the team need to be aware of?

Provide training
Staff need to have a basic understanding of each other’s language and working styles in order to work together effectively. Training staff in languages and cross-cultural working can help promote understanding and break down barriers within the team.

Training can also help teams solve challenges on their own, without too much managerial involvement. Involve your team in deciding what training is needed – they may well be able to see where the gaps and issues are.

Always communicate clearly
Misunderstandings may arise where there are language issues. Be aware of pitfalls and always make sure you’ve been understood. Following up verbal instructions with an email may help.

Foster a strong team and company culture
Although everyone is different, team members need to have a strong sense of working for the same organisation and towards the same goals. There are a number of things you can do to foster this sense of belonging.

  • Make sure the company’s mission and values are disseminated and understood: does everyone have the same understanding of what the organisation and the team are trying to achieve? Are they familiar with the values that underpin the organisation?

  • Make sure the rules are clear: everyone should understand workplace boundaries, and also have a clear idea of what’s expected of them.
  • Give the team a chance to bond: team building activities, awaydays and social events like lunches or quizzes can help people get to know each other and feel relaxed in each others’ company.







Sign up to our blog updates