In keeping with the company’s philosophy and tradition of working with culturally diverse teams, managers are required to posses the knowledge of how to effectively handle these teams for optimal performance and productivity.
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Any manager leading culturally diverse teams must clearly take into account the members’ cultural disposition in order to establish an effective mechanism through which all members can participate in achieving the goals and objectives set by the company (Foldy, 2004).
Definition of Terms
Culture: Although culture has various definitions, this handbook takes culture to mean “…a learned system of meanings that fosters a particular sense of shared identity and community among its group members” (Ting-Toomey & Oetzel, 2001, p. 9).
Cultural Diversity: This concept “…refers to identities such as race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender, and other dimensions of difference derived from membership in groups that are socio-culturally distinct” (Foldy, 2004, p. 530).
Why Should Managers Bother with Cultural Diversity Issues
A multiplicity of empirical studies have demonstrated that in the presence of effective integration processes, culturally diverse teams perform at least as well, occasionally even better than homogenous teams (Pitts & Jarry, 2009).
Other studies have demonstrated that business productivity yields superior outcomes when management practices are congruent with national culture, and when meaningful participation is promoted (Gwynne, 2009).
The Challenges of Leading Culturally Diverse Teams
Managers must realize that when members of diverse national or ethnic groups come together for work-related purposes, their basic templates for conducting co-dependent actions diverge greatly.
These differences have the capacity to damage business relationships, communication processes, coordination and cohesion, as one person interprets another’s actions or behaviors in a manner which was not originally intended, and more important, neither person have prior knowledge that the misunderstanding has occurred (Pitts & Jarry, 2009). Such a scenario limits the team’s capacity to perform up to its potential.
Current literature on diversity effects demonstrates that engaging in faulty work processes will ultimately lead to a negative relationship between diversity and organizational performance by virtue of the fact that members in a team will find it difficult to work well together (Pitts & Jarry, 2009).
This process-oriented challenge prevent the team from generating outcomes that are equal or better to those generated by a team that did not undergo a similar procedural challenge.
Overall, it is a well known fact that “…managers set up their teams to fail because they themselves fail to help the team anticipate cultural differences and so see conflict in cultural, as opposed to personal or organizational, terms and fail to set norms for dealing with cultural differences” (Gwynne, 2009, p. 69).
It is therefore recommended that managers leading culturally diverse teams should spend adequate time acquainting themselves with how to effectively manage these teams so as to trigger productivity and performance, and to ensure that goals and objectives of the company are adequately met despite varying cultural orientations.
The Way Forward for Managers Leading Culturally Diverse Teams
Below, this handbook highlights some of the issues that managers should be concerned with in their attempt to effectively manage culturally diverse teams.
Managers must always make sure that every member of the team contributes his or her knowledge and capability to the team’s discussions through careful organization and management (Gwynne, 2009). For instance, tasks may be split into a number of components and each component assigned to a multicultural team.
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Managers must always develop and implement effective mechanisms to break through the language barrier (Gwynne, 2009). For instance, managers may allow the team leader to organize small common-language teams to brainstorm issues and then have the most fluent member of the sub-team report back on the key findings or solutions.
Alternatively, the team leader can encourage team members to discuss issues and challenges using their native language and then have other team members cooperatively translate the contents of the discussions.
Managers must always assist the team to anticipate cultural variations by setting norms and values that will reinforce coexistence of differences, compassion, trust, care, and meaningful participation (Gwynne, 2009; Pitts & Jarry, 2009).
In extremely difficult situations, managers must be prepared to request “…all team members to sublimate their cultural identities to that of the entire team by adopting super-ordinate goals based on their common interests” (Gwynne, 2009, p. 69).
This approach not only encourages equal participation among team members, but also enhances the development of trust, effective communication networks, and social support. Managers, however, must take caution not to submerge the team members’ unique cultural identities in the interest of unity, not mentioning that they must guard against the inhibition of creativity within the team.
To further promote trust and cordial working relations among team members, managers should embark on developing strategies and mechanisms through which face-to-face, synchronous communication is enhanced (Von Glinow et al., 2004).
Lastly, managers must always posses the knowledge to select the right kind of communication tool so as not to occasion disdain, low morale, or trigger half-baked responses among the team members (Tim-Toomey & Oetzel, 2009). Clarity, precision, elimination of ambiguity, and respect of cultural-specific verbal and non-verbal cues is therefore of immense importance.
Competencies & Characteristics required to Lead Multicultural Teams
Managers are required to demonstrate the following competencies and characteristics if they are to effectively meet the above objectives:
- Demonstrate adequate interest in learning about diverse cultures and business practices
- Be nonjudgmental in interactions involving multicultural teams
- Demonstrate adequate conceptual comprehension of the power of cultural differences
- Posses physical stamina and sense of humor
- Demonstrate an expanding range of actions and behavior
- Demonstrate commitment to the goals and objectives set by the company
Foldy, E.G. (2004). Learning from diversity: A theoretical exploration. Public Administration Review, 64(5), 529-538. Retrieved from Business Source Premier Database
Gwynne, P. (2009). Managing culturally diverse teams. Research Technology Management, 52(1), 68-69. Retrieved from Business Source Premier Database
Pitts, D.W., & Jarry, E.M. (2009). Getting to know you: Ethnic diversity, time and performance in public organizations. Public Administration, 87(3), 503-518. Retrieved from Business Source Premier Database
Ting-Toomey, S., & Oetzel, J.G. (2009). Managing intercultural conflict effectively. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc
Von Glinow, M.A., Shapiro, D.L., & Brett, J.M. (2004). Can we talk, and should we? Managing emotional conflict in multicultural teams. Academy of Management Review, 29(4), 578-592. Retrieved from Business Source Premier Database