A multicultural team is no longer an unusual combination found only in international companies. Small startups in Silicon Valley are saturated with teams that spread across the globe. Technology has catalyzed the growth of these global, virtual teams. Talent sourcing no longer comes from developed countries like the US or Germany, but those like Romania, Brazil, or Ukraine.
Most of us are aware that cultural differences exist. We might even read up specific cultural cues in order to work more effectively with our culturally different colleagues. But what about seeing from the perspective of a team? What are some dynamics that are unique to a multicultural team?
Here, we will suggest 7 habits for a healthy multicultural team.
1. Build a Single Team Identity.
Transforming from “I” to “We” takes more than creating projects or functions that will bring the team together. “Belonging” speaks to our emotions. Think of times when you identify yourself as a valuable member of a team. You have a strong emotional bond with the team’s purpose as well as with other members.
Most often, these bonds are built through shared experiences, shared values, and clarity of goals for the team. To build strong team identity, consider tapping into these three elements. The emotional bond will help to offset the challenges that come from cultural differences.
2. Define and Focus on the Central Core of Vision and Values.
The team comes together for a purpose. Defining the essential core values that directly contribute to the success of that purpose is critical. Outside of these core values, standards or decisions can be somewhat flexible.
Be especially cautious with connotations of what a particular value means to different cultures. If members do not have a complete understanding of what that value means for them as well as others in the cultural context, this foundation will be too weak to withstand the weight of misunderstanding that comes from cultural differences.
3. Build a Safe and Trusting Climate.
The element of trust can never be over-emphasized for any effective team. Trust is especially challenging for a multicultural team because cultural cues can be misinterpreted all too easily. For example, a member coming from a direct-communication (low-context) culture naturally thinks an indirect-communication (high-context) colleague lacks integrity because they are not reporting everything. Unless sufficient cultural education happens, this kind of misunderstanding will continue to disrupt the building of trust.
Encourage open and learning postures in interactions can help team members to become less judgmental. A safe community is where members can be who they truly are. The team leader needs to invest extra effort to model a humble and open-minded learning attitude for the team members.