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.


Interested to have your team become more effective? Schedule a complimentary call to talk about your needs.

如果你看這篇文章,我假設你是位華人。那麼,從1-10,你會給自己文化上的自我認知 (Cultural Self-Awareness) 打幾分呢?我深信我們對自己的文化都有某程度的知覺。只是,我們的文化如何影響著我們的價值觀、思維、甚至選擇,我們卻沒有好好的思考或認識。

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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.

Onto part 2


 

Managing conflict is already a hard-enough skill for many managers, let alone managing conflicts across cultures! The ability to resolve cross-cultural conflict is becoming critical as global teams become more prevalent in the corporate landscape.

Different cultures approach conflicts differently. For example, Wong, who is from Hong Kong, mostly chooses to tone down disputes to maintain harmony. On the other hand, Matthew from Canada is trained to confront assertively as soon as possible to avoid escalating it. Matthew might regard Wong as cowardly, whereas Wong will perceive Matthew as aggressive.

If you are not aware of these cultural preferences, you will deepen the misunderstandings. To examine in detail how each cultural approach conflict is beyond the scope of this article. This article aims to create an awareness of how cultural differences impact our approaches toward conflict.

A dominant cultural factor that impacts conflict-resolution is the collectivistic vs. individualistic culture.

Collectivistic cultures are those that emphasize cohesiveness among individuals. Prioritization is given to groups over individuals. Each individual is encouraged to do what’s best for the family and the community. Values that are important to these societies are unity, harmony, and selflessness. They highly value indirect communication in order to preserve “face” for others in the community. Cultures like China, Korea, Mexico, are collectivistic cultures.

Individualistic cultures, on the other hand, focus on individuals. Priority is given to the individual’s values, beliefs, or dreams. These societies place values on direct communication and personal achievements. Countries like the USA, Germany, and many western countries are dominantly individualistic cultures.

In general, when approaching conflict, collectivists tend to play it down for two main reasons. First, maintaining harmony in the group takes priority. Individuals are expected to keep the peace as much as possible–especially if the conflict occurs within the workgroup or family. Second, the act of toning it down gives “face” to the opposing party. If the opposing party is sensitive enough to appreciate this act, the favor will be returned in the future.

Individualistic societies, on the other hand, desire direct communication — a “heart-to-heart talk.” This act is considered healthy, brave, and authentic. It’s highly valued to have the parties in disagreement to have such face-to-face talk. What makes this possible is that individuals in these societies can often separate the issue at hand with the personal self-worth behind it.

So, what’s the best way to manage conflict in a global team where individuals come from both collectivistic and individualistic societies? Here are some suggestions to start with:

  1. Invite both the collectivistic and the individualistic members to list down their points of reasons that cause the conflict. By doing so, both are less likely to become defensive when the other party brings up points that cause misunderstanding.
  2. Have a “cultural interpreter” who understands both east and west cultures to mediate the talk. The mediator can help the collectivists with direct communication —to strengthen the message—as well as to help the individualists to deflect some strong words.
  3. Follow up on the conversation with each one to ensure that it has been resolved. The collectivistic member might appear okay after the talk, but that does not mean he feels that the conflict has been resolved. Some follow-up talks might be necessary.

Don’t assume just because we have friends from other cultures, we know the deeper layer values of their cultural paradigms. As the present-day workplace is becoming more global, managers and leaders must receive training on cultural competency to avoid unnecessary misunderstandings.


Interested in finding out how cultural training can help? Schedule a complimentary call to talk about your needs.

Giving negative feedback across cultures takes more than using an understandable language. It’s even more than using the right words. It has to do with how directly you deliver your feedback.

American has a unique culture in delivering negative feedback. Even though American culture is considered a direct one, they are less direct than most European cultures when it comes to giving negative feedback. The typical American formula for delivering negative feedback is to soften it with some positive messages up-front before giving the real criticism. After delivering the main points, the American will wrap it up on a positive note again.

The American feedback delivery formula:
Lisa: Hans, you are delivering exceptional quality in your coding. 
Hans: Great to know. 
Lisa: But other engineers can’t catch up on ways to integrate your coding into theirs. Is it possible to collaborate more on that front? 
Hans: Can you give examples? 
… (Lisa and Hans worked on a solution)
Lisa
: Thanks for the effort. We are all proud to have you on our team. Keep up the excellent work. 

Most Europeans value directness. The more direct it is, the more authentic and valuable the feedback appears. If you want to let your French manager know his department spending exceeds the budget, don’t preempt your request by praising the great work he is doing. State your request, give him the context, and work together towards a solution. To the Europeans, American’s way of providing feedback appears confusing, and at worst, inauthentic. Some Europeans think it’s a waste of time to sweet-coat the conversation. Why can’t we just say what’s the core issue, and continue with work?

On the other hand, Americans at times consider Europeans rude and disrespectful in their feedback. One European manager tries to give explicit and direct feedback to his American mentee whenever he notices some mistakes she made. He hopes to help her grow because she is relatively young in her career. However, without giving praise ahead of his negative feedback, she feels he’s always trying to find fault with her.

On the other end of the spectrum, eastern cultures appreciate indirect feedback. Feedback is best if given in a 1-to-1 setting because of the honor-shame based culture. In these cultures, to openly point out someone’s incompetence or mistake is a shaming act. Even in a private setting, negative feedback needs to be delivered indirectly.

The Indirect feedback delivery formula:
(Context: Chen worked hard for the seasonal sales report but delivered it late)
John: Chen, thank you for taking the time to have this private chat.
Chen: Sure! You have been a great manager to all of us. Anything I can do for you?
John: I noticed you worked very hard on this season’s sales report. Have you been able to spend time with your family lately?
Chen: Oh yes. They are doing well.
John: It will be great to have this report for the next season a couple days before the deadline. That will give us some time to work out quarterly bonuses. Is there anything I can help to make it easier?
Chen: No problem. We will do that.
John: Thank you again. You have been a pillar for our team. 

Notice that there is no mentioning of the report being delivered late. Instead of pointing out what did not go well, giving feedback in these cultures can focus on what can be done better going forward.

Erin Meyer suggests a few steps to overcome the negative feedback cultural barrier:

  1. Be explicit and clear with BOTH positive and negative feedback. However, do not launch into the negative part before giving appreciation about the person or the situation.
  2. Try to balance the amount of positive and negative feedback given.
  3. Bring up the cultural aspect of communication before giving feedback. If tension appears, it creates an opportunity to exchange cultural differences.

Having a greater understanding of how cultures give and receive feedback can significantly reduce miscommunication among team members. Given the growing number of global teams nowadays, cross-cultural knowledge is critically essential.


Also, check out “7 Habits of Healthy Multicultural Teams,” or schedule a complimentary session to find out how training or coaching can increase your team’s cross-cultural competency.

Part of this article is extracted from The Culture Map by Erin Meyer.