7 Habits of Healthy Multicultural Teams – Part 2

We listed the first three habits of healthy multicultural teams in our previous post. What do you find useful? What is the one small step you can take to start these habits for your team?

Here are the remaining four habits:

4. Develop Effective Communication Process.
For multicultural teams, it is especially critical to err on the side of over-communicate — making expectations explicit to all team members. Remember that communication is more than verbal. Low-context cultures tend to think “expectations” mostly pertain to verbal communication. But for high-context cultures, other elements are as critical. Gestures, facial expressions, or even the absence of actions or words can be misinterpreted.

Because teams continue to evolve and change, team leaders can expect this to be a continuous process as long as the team exists. It takes perseverance and patience to develop an effective process that can truly help bridge cultural gaps.

5. Discuss and Celebrate Cultural Differences Openly.
Respecting each other’s culture does not mean adhering to all the aspects of everyone’s culture in team decisions or guidelines. Coming together as a multicultural team, members need to learn to give and take. This can only be done after cultural differences are being discussed openly. This means members are encouraged to point out differences they observe among themselves and other team members. Each can clarify particular actions and values in their own cultures. 

Every team member needs to feel safe in acting in their own culture as well as making sure it won’t cause uneasiness to other team members when doing so. If team members can crack jokes about each other’s cultures, including their own, that is a good sign that cultural differences are being embraced and celebrated among all.

6. Embrace Conflict Creatively.
Conflicts are more laborious to embrace for some cultures than others. Collectivistic (group-inclined) cultures usually find conflict unpleasant with a high potential in bringing shame to all parties involved. But conflict is part of the team formation process. It’s an opportunity for growth and development for the team as well as its members.

Helping members to reframe their attitude towards conflict will enable them to engage in necessary conversations in healthy ways. The team leader needs to address the fears and emotions of members who have a tendency to avoid conflict. Open and direct communication in conflict resolution might be inappropriate for some. One approach can be asking members for possible ways that will empower them to resolve the conflicts together.

7. Share the Power to Decide and Lead.
Those from equalitarian cultures might think their colleagues from hierarchical structures prefer to be led. But there is a cultural twist: hierarchical cultures expect to be led, but they care about the who and how of leadership. They are willing to be led by someone they respect in ways that they accept.

The leader is limited by his own cultural lens. “Share the power” doesn’t mean letting go of authority. It means building a collaborative process where members can participate in decisions making and direction setting. Doing so will promote engagement as team members feel empowered to grow together with the team.

Conclusion: It takes real humility and open-mindedness from the leader to build these habits for the team. If you persist despite challenges along the way, you will be able to harness the exceptional creativity and synergy rising out from diversity.

Published by

Karen Tan

Experienced leadership and intercultural coach with a demonstrated history of empowering global leaders in both corporate and non-profit sectors. Skilled in leadership development, intercultural communication, cross-cultural living and adjustments, and transitions.

Leave a Reply