Multi-cultural teams are becoming a critical phenomenon in organizations and organizational management. The development has fostered the need to understand not just dimensions of culturally diverse teams, but also identification of challenges they present and effective measures for addressing them. The trend is founded on empirical evidence showing a correlational relationship between management of multi-cultural teams and employee productivity. The impact of employee productivity on organizational performance has prompted a paradigm shift in conventional organizational management to include aspects of culturally diverse teams, which are an outcome of developments in globalization and technology that diversify organizational operations bringing together a diverse array of employees.
Dimensions of a Multi-cultural Team
Groups are the basic building units of organizations and are central to productivity and performance of employees. At organizational level, employees are organized into diverse forms of temporary and permanent working groups. According to Adler and Gundersen (2007), productivity of a group is dependent on its task, available resources, and processes. These elements are significantly influenced by group characteristics, including cultural diversity, a phenomenon that is present in modern contemporary organizational environment.
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A multicultural team is defined by an array of differences which may stem for compositional aspects such as gender, race, age, nationality, profession, and experience. Similarly, team members vary in respect to perspectives, training, and backgrounds. However, cross-cultural differences have emerged as an important component of organizational management of groups. Organizations must have frameworks for the management of culturally homogenous and culturally diverse teams. The implication is that understanding principles of multicultural teams is critical. The principles were conceptualized by a comprehensive involving 40 countries in the late 1960s and early 1970s in a study by Hofstede’s and include:
Individualism versus Collectivism
Femininity versus Masculinity
The principles are an outcome of cultural attitudes and cultural values, which are founded on dimensions that are central to productivity of global teamwork including language, information flow, context, power distance, and time, all of which hugely impact the treatment and perception of group tasks (Fruchter & Townsend, 2003).
Discrimination laws and their impact on managing a multi-cultural team
Discrimination is a major challenge in the management of cross-cultural teams. Laws for addressing the phenomenon can be instituted at state or organizational level. Application of such laws can immensely help in addressing discrimination by deterring perpetrators. However, organizations face a monumental challenge informed by the subtlety of discrimination practices. For instance, gender based discrimination in multicultural teams has been established to board on chivalry, making it difficult to address through existing state or organizational laws. Under the circumstances, the impact of discrimination laws is significantly diminished.
It is imperative that maximizing the effect discrimination laws should be dependent on institution of organizational frameworks for diagnosing and acting on discrimination. An organization should assess its approach to management of cultural diversity to ensure that workforce and employee diversity characteristics are accounted for before implementation of discrimination laws. A law that may work in one setting may not yield similar results in another, hence the need to harmonize such laws with organizational culture in the management of cultural diversity. As a result, organizations should devise and implement practices and policies that align with discrimination laws in the management of this challenging phenomenon.
Affirmative Action Programs and their Impact on Managing a Multi-cultural Team
Cross-cultural management being a new concept in organizational setting implies that exhaustive exploration of redress measures is necessary to identify which ones work and which ones do not. Affirmative action has emerged as a new paradigm in the management of cross-cultural teams as other strategies continue to pose a number of challenges. For instance discrimination laws that are used in the US may not be applicable in organizational settings in China even under the same company because each country has set of cultural values and attitudes that are manifested in organizational culture. Therefore, management of a cross-cultural team comprising of members from the two countries need a comprehensive framework that cuts across the board.
Montesino (2012) has demonstrated the success of affirmative action in the management of cultural diversity in both organizational and non-organizational settings. Despite a number of a number of initiatives in organizational management of cultural diversity no significant leaps have been realized to maximize the benefits from cultural diverse teams. According to Thomas and Ely (1996), affirmative action is a new concept for management of diversity because it does not focus on increasing cultural representation, but rather on creating awareness of the benefits of cultural diversity. Affirmative action is important for development and implementation of organizational culture that encourages productivity through culturally diverse teams.
Building an Inclusive Culture within the Team
Building an inclusive culture within a team can be challenging because of cross-cultural differences from cultural dimensions highlighted in an earlier section of this report. Adler and Gundersen (2007) emphasized on the need to understand the types of diversity in the teams. Even in homogenous teams where all team members are from the same background, an inclusive organizational culture is necessary to ensure all team members operate within the same framework. However, the challenge increases when dealing with token teams where only one member of the team is from the same background; bicultural teams where two or more members represent each of the two cultures; and multicultural teams where members are representative of three or more cultures. The implication for leaders and managers is that they have to create an enabling environment where cultural diversity can thrive. The process should take place at both managerial and employee level.
Leaders and managers should strive to ensure individual cultural competency through professional training programs and education. This is important in being a role model hence critical to recognition of the need to treat employees equitably and supporting their endeavors for optimum productivity. Motivation of employees can be done through observing diverse traditions, celebrations, and respecting cultural holidays and practices of all employees in the organization. Affirmative action plays a crucial role in educating employees of the need for cultural inclusion in an effort to drive organizational change towards the same. Leaders or managers have a central role in contributing to culturally diversity of their workplace and should watch for pitfalls that can derail the process of cultural inclusion.
Challenges of Managing a Multi-cultural Team
Managing multi-cultural teams is a challenge in itself that need to be addressed. However, understanding of the phenomenon of diversity is necessary by identifying challenges presented by such teams. According to Behfar, Kern, and Brett (2006), examination of demographic differences based on the ideology that heterogeneous teams can have both positive and negative implications. Improved productivity is a concept often advanced, but multi-cultural groups can also serve as an obstacle in establishing effective group processes due to a number of challenges.
Challenges in managing multi-cultural teams stem from Hofstede’s dimensions of culturally diverse teams. Language can be a problem especially in circumstances where the manager is incapacitated and can only communicate in one language. Organizational culture has the potential to negatively impact management of multi-cultural teams because it determines the form of communication and its effectiveness in conveying information in a manner understandable by all employees. Decision making is critical to success of diverse teams, but the process faces limitation because of the difference in approaches from different cultures. Some cultures are used to authoritative processes in decision making and others to persuasion. Management structural differences can be a challenge as they may fail to address the main areas of concern as illustrated earlier where discrimination laws are involved. Managers also face the challenge of frustration and may attempt to be assertive in their management approach, hence can be a challenge themselves.
Recommendations for Improving Communications within a Multi-cultural Team
The key to success of multi-cultural teams is efficient and effective communication. The complexity of multi-cultural teams is evolving, a process aided by advancements in technology. For instance, virtual-managed matrix teams are a concept that is taking center stage in the functioning of culturally diverse teams. According to Daim, Ha, Reutiman et al. (2012), usch teams are described as “described as culturally diverse, geographically dispersed, electronically-communicating” (p. 199), implying that communication is key to optimizing their productivity. The role of communication in improving productivity of multicultural teams has been illustrated in contexts with diverse cultural differences. Therefore, communication in a multicultural team can be improved through:
Learning how a particular culture receives communication and targeting to elicit positive outcomes
Early and continuous training of internal employees on organizational communication culture that fosters teamwork productivity
Training foreign employees to ensure they understand how communication at the organizational level functions and their role in aiding its success
Assigning mentors to external employees with varied cultural expectations to avoid potential incidences of culture shock
Practicing open-door communication with particular consideration of some employees from cultures that are reluctant to observe the open door policy
Establishing formality in communication by avoiding slang and jargon to eliminate confusion
Operating by the company rules to ensure employees in the team speak in unison and in the same language
Maintaining close relationships with all employees
Ensuring sensitivity in the use of nonverbal communication
Modeling and Leading Diversity Acceptance and Change
Change can be disruptive to any organization and change agents are likely to face resistance form those keen on maintaining the status quo. Transformative leadership is needed under the circumstances to bring all stakeholders including thee management and employees on board by convincing them of the need for change. The change agent should lead the change processes by ensuring that they are themselves competent in managing culturally diverse teams. Leaders must accept that cultural diversity is a reality and is central to employee productivity that is reflected in organizational performance in the modern complex and competitive marketplace. A culture that accommodates diversity must be developed at organizational level and all employees must be engaged in affirmative action to ensure comprehensive understanding of the potential benefits of efficient multi-cultural teams.
Summary of Concepts
Cultural diversity in organizations is an outcome of a number of concepts. Globalization is central to the increase in the number of cross-cultural teams as projects and assignments are being done on a global scale. These settings require cultural competent teams to ensure that breakdown in communication, which has been established to have immense negative impacts on the success of multinational projects (Ochieng, & Price, 2010), must be curtailed at all costs. This is important to ensure that timelines and schedules are adhered and the projects completed within budget allocations. The need for cross-cultural management is a growing concern for organizations operating global markets. No company in the current era boasts of a culturally homogenous workforce, hence leaders and managers with cultural competency are becoming a priced commodity to take organizations to higher competitive levels by embracing cultural diversity. Technology also plays a critical role in the development of the phenomenon of multicultural teams. Technology as a concept impacts communication between members of the culturally diverse team, who may be at different geographical locations with different cultures. Technology ensures that information is conveyed in a mode understood by each member of the group for efficiency and success of the virtual team, the project, and the organization.
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Behfar, K., Kern, M., & Brett, J. (2006). Managing challenges in multicultural teams. In National culture and groups (pp. 233-262). Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
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