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Tips For Leading Across Cultures

Written by: Dr. Wendy Norfleet, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


A team is the synergy of diverse mindsets and skillsets that work together to achieve a shared goal. Managing a team with divergent personalities is challenging in the best of circumstances. In addition, it is much more challenging to compose a cross-cultural group that spans many cultures and locations.

Organizations are now connecting with customers, suppliers, contractors, and employees around the globe. Globalization at work entails effectively interacting with individuals from various work ethics, languages, customs, and cultures.

What exactly are Cross-Cultural Teams?

Cross-cultural teams are global teams of individuals from many cultures and backgrounds. Unfortunately, companies fail to recognize these essential distinctions within a team, resulting in disputes and dissatisfaction that may be easily avoided if an understanding of the people within a team is gained.

These disparities might be attributed to communication techniques and personal frames of reference. Members in certain nations, for example, are prepared to work longer than the required number of hours, even if it means working from home. On the other hand, workers in other countries may not contemplate working past the stated hours except in an emergency, and their mobile devices are turned off when they leave the workplace.

Another significant variation in style in a cross-cultural collaboration is each team member's communication pattern. While some team members express their uncensored thoughts and ideas vociferously, individuals from hierarchical cultures prefer to ponder a bit before speaking out. So, how can you ensure that in such a team, all members' opinions are heard equally and that the team is managed effectively?

The Difficulties of Managing a Multicultural Team

Though teams are now an established standard in planning, strategizing, and functioning across many organizations, managing teams still come under scrutiny, and unleashing an additional aspect of diversity leads to additional obstacles.

The following are significant challenges in managing a cross-cultural team:

1. Expression and Communication

The intricacies of communication, ensuring that everyone is on the same page, is a critical concern in cross-cultural teams. Everyone may speak the same language, yet slang or colloquialisms are often misunderstood.

Teamwork is a communal responsibility, and all participants must fully comprehend the direction of the conversations. Communication issues are also common in virtual teams since there is limited face-to-face engagement.

2. Information Vacuums

The entire team should be on the same wavelength to keep on top of data and process flows. There should be no human effort required to reconcile information from various sources. Each team member must have timely access to the appropriate resources in order to participate and perform their job.

This is particularly difficult in virtual cross-cultural collaborations. It is necessary to use a shared program or service to exchange files, online discussions, scheduling, and project tracking. It is essential to find effective ways to promptly exchange resources and access information.

3. Work Style

Every team member has a distinct work style heavily influenced by their culture. Individual contributions are valued, and unique viewpoints are encouraged within workplace environments of some cultures. However, other cultures are more paternalistic, with leaders making decisions and people obeying them.

Not all team members are the same. This is especially true for personnel that have different personalities. Individualistic team members tend to be viewed as aggressive, whereas non-individualistic team members may blend in and appear to contribute less. Regardless of work style variances, it is critical to filter and extract the best from each team member's work style.

4. Cultural Conflict

There is a possibility that a part or subset of the team has a shared cultural identity or homogeneity. They may try to control the process and persuade the entire team to swing their way. Consequently, it can lead to unwelcome tensions and a challenging working environment for the rest of the team. Cross-cultural team dynamics can be a significant source of worry and result in needless group politics and team disagreements.

5. Motivational Elements

Companies often have a single-threaded motivation and rewards system that is heavily influenced by the company's norms and values. This system may not consider the unique motivating variables of a cross-cultural team.

Employee motivators can range from physical rewards such as raises, bonuses, incentives, and career advancement to intangible benefits such as recognition, job satisfaction, mentoring, encouragement, etc.

It is critical to understand what motivates each employee to achieve in their profession so that you can appropriately drive them to excellence. In the absence of a suitable catalyst, team members may lack excitement and become disengaged at work.

How Do You Lead a Multi-Cultural Team?

A primary problem in managing a cross-cultural team is finding a consistent thread to connect the team diversity. A one-size-fits-all strategy is not a viable option. Multicultural teams are prone to conflict because various ideologies and communication styles are intermingled.

The good news is that there are strategies to reduce this friction and successfully manage a cross-cultural workforce. Here are some pointers to help you build good cross-cultural working relationships:

1. Become Acquainted with Each Team Member

The team leader must spend time getting to know each team member. Learn about their background, journey, and personality. This will assist you in analyzing individual skills and discovering specialized abilities that will benefit the team.

2. Embrace Flexibility

According to a book titled the Cultural Map, scheduling and decision-making are two essential professional characteristics that differ widely among cultures. Assessing these values might help you understand your team members' priorities.

3. Encourage Open Communication

Allow each team member to express their thoughts. An open channel of communication is vital for increased efficiency. Otherwise, team members feel underappreciated and dominated by either management or the team's leading players.

When establishing a consensus via virtual meetings, prepare ahead and ensure that the agenda is sent far in advance to actively elicit each team member's thoughts.

4. Promote Teambuilding Activities

When creating teams of different cultures provide opportunities for informal contact. Happy hours, team trips, lunch and learns, birthday celebrations, and other activities help employees bond despite their differences. Encourage team members to communicate with one another during downtime and social events.

5. Listen Actively

Don't allow erroneous assumptions and biases to guide your decisions. These kinds of prejudices may destroy confidence and stifle collaboration. Ask questions, listen to your team members, and cultivate the ability to manage across cultures. Learn more about diverse strategies to excite and mobilize groups with varied thought processes by listening and inquiry.

6. Establish a Structure for Success

When you have a multinational staff, multiple work styles are unavoidable. This is not to say that everyone should go berserk and work according to their own methods. It is the leader's responsibility to create clear rules and assist members in adhering to them.

Rather than imposing a style, leaders should explain the relevance of specific standards and teach members to participate in these efforts. To achieve consistency, build standards that include behaviors from many cultures.

7. Resolve Conflicts Right Away

If a problem arises despite your efforts, make sure to handle it as soon as possible. Recognize the many cultural viewpoints at work and attempt to resolve the issue by adopting the middle road. A leader should act as a cultural bridge, connecting diverse team members and bringing them together.

8. Develop a Program for Cross-Cultural Awareness

You can successfully train your members to engage with individuals from other areas and nations. Training and awareness courses on greetings, business manners, and dining traditions can all be included. This will reduce conflict and educate team members about the prevailing cultural styles of other team members. This will also allow for recognizing and accepting cultural differences rather than dismissing them.

9. Create a Team Identity

All team members must comprehend the shared goal. This shared purpose will give your team an identity that will draw them together. Creating this identity includes clearly defining each team member’s responsibilities and assuring everyone that their participation is valued.

10. Establish Relationships and Trust

Building business relationships and trust takes time. Take the necessary actions to create a collaborative environment gradually. Respect and comprehend individual differences to foster harmony in a culturally varied team.

The proliferation of cross-cultural teams may provide obstacles, but it is manageable with sensitivity and respect for different cultures. Leading a cross-cultural team requires a thorough awareness and acceptance of cultural differences.

A cross-cultural team is the best way to learn about diverse cultures, discover new ideas, and generate success. It's time to think of cross-cultural teams as an asset rather than a burden!

If you are leading a cross-cultural team, let us help you build a high-performing, high-functioning team. Contact us today to find out more.

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Dr. Wendy Norfleet, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Dr. Wendy Norfleet is an engineer turned CEO, author, certified coach, and community advocate. Leveraging her business knowledge, leadership skills, community engagement, and desire to help others, she works with individuals and organizations to identify challenges, execute solutions, and achieve results. In recognition of her service, Wendy has been honored with numerous leadership awards, recognized as a Women of Influence by the Jacksonville Business Journal, selected as a 2021 Small Business Leader of the Year, and helped her company achieve the 2021 Corporate Vision Award for Best Business Consulting and Coaching Company - North Florida.



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