This is How to Improve the Effectiveness of Multicultural Teams

This is How to Improve the Effectiveness of Multicultural Teams

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is not a series of buzzwords. It is a necessity in the workforce to ensure that employees—particularly those from traditionally marginalized backgrounds—feel safe and welcome among their colleagues. 

Having a variety of perspectives to tackle problems leads directly to more effective, more creative solutions. Those solutions lead directly to improved business, as companies who commit themselves to a multicultural workplace see a cash flow increase of 2.5 times per employee. Understanding how to harness the talents of a diverse workforce and improve the effectiveness of multicultural teams benefits people and profits alike. 

Smiling diverse professionals holding books and a tablet, representing effective multicultural teams.

What Is Cultural Diversity?

“Cultural diversity” in the broadest possible sense refers to a society that brings people of different races, ethnicities, nationalities, and other backgrounds together. However, a true commitment to cultural diversity requires more than just gathering a wide range of workers together. Multiculturalism is something to celebrate. It makes both personal and professional lives all the richer because diversity only thrives when all agree to listen, learn, and address preconceived notions and biases. 

Workplaces who care about DEI as a core value know that the benefits of a multicultural team will not emerge without proper care and consideration for the employees involved. Genuinely strong cultural diversity initiatives involve training exercises asking participants to look inward and analyze how they’ve held on to stereotypes and other harmful mindsets. It’s an uncomfortable reflection sometimes, but it’s necessary when establishing a healthy environment, as well as developing forward-thinking products and solutions. 

Understanding the Benefits of a Multicultural Workplace

Companies wanting to learn how to manage multicultural teams successfully must first understand why cultural diversity benefits the workforce. The beauty of diversity is that it’s nothing but benefits; while managers may face some challenges along the way, that doesn’t translate to downsides. Actively recruiting workers from a wide range of backgrounds sets businesses up for great success, better preparing them for the multicultural future. The incoming Generation Z workers will be the most ethnically diverse in history, with over 48% of workers coming from traditionally underrepresented demographics. 

Now is the best time to embrace, honor, and build processes around a culturally diverse framework. The benefits of multicultural teams include the following:

  • Ensures that products and services translate better from market to market
  • Ensures that products and services meet the needs of a wider range of consumers
  • Improves creativity
  • Improves productivity
  • Improves morale
  • Lowers turnover
  • Provides a safer workspace
  • Closes language barriers between a business and its vendors and consumers
  • Provides more perspectives to spot potential problems early on
  • Provides more innovative approaches to problem-solving
  • Increases cultural awareness 
  • Decreases stereotyping and micro-aggressions in the workplace
  • Improves communication

Diverse companies earn diverse rewards. Following best practices when leading multicultural teams unlocks employees’ fullest creative potential. 

Steps to Effectively Manage a Multicultural Team

Multicultural teams are no more difficult to manage than their more homogenous counterparts. The same standards of professional behavior apply, and managers still need to facilitate a corporate culture of communication, respect, and practices that evolve with feedback. Some of the nuances change from team to team, but the core principles of strong management remain the same. 

There are still a few specialized approaches to consider when navigating cultural differences within a team, however. Top tips for managing multicultural teams include the following:

  • Confront biases: Make it clear to everyone on the team that stereotyping, adhering to preconceived notions of what a culture is or is not, and other harmful biases are not welcome. This goes for the managers themselves as well—they must hold themselves just as accountable as their own employees.
  • Consider everyone’s schedules: Don’t schedule meetings or deadlines around national and religious holidays so employees can focus on spending time with loved ones. If teammates are scattered around the world, hold meetings and set deadlines in an equitable way where everyone’s locations take turns as priority when it comes to who is and is not inconvenienced. Also keep in mind that some cultures are a little more lax about showing up on time; they may not view heading into a meeting after start time as discourteous. 
  • Utilize different communication styles: Everyone communicates differently, and culture is one of the major factors in how people deliver instructions and feedback to one another. A healthy multicultural workplace takes all of these communication styles into consideration rather than deciding on one and requiring it of all teammates. Understanding how everyone approaches interpersonal relationships helps prevent misunderstandings.
  • Choose languages everyone can speak comfortably: Multicultural teams are often multilingual teams. Find which language everyone is most comfortable speaking before starting meetings and approaching projects. This helps all teammates feel included and valued, as they are able to follow along and contribute to their fullest extent.
  • Make time for feedback: All managers have to be open to feedback from the teams they oversee, and this goes double for those whose workers come from diverse backgrounds. Actively listen when employees speak up and discuss what accommodations they need to feel accepted on the team, then implement it. 
  • Take part in cross-cultural training: Organizing cross-cultural training events prevents challenges before they start. These sessions facilitate discussions in a safe, open environment and allow employees an opportunity to share information about themselves that may help their teammates better understand where they’re coming from culturally and personally. 

Honoring all the people represented at a company is the first step to creating a strong, diverse work environment. There may be occasions where even the most prepared, thoughtful, and forward-thinking managers find themselves challenged. 

Knowing how to address these problems as they arise improves the effectiveness of multicultural teams and leads to happier, healthier, and more productive workplaces.

Potential Challenges When Leading a Multicultural Team

Challenges with multicultural teams do arise sometimes, despite the fact that they are more productive, creative, and innovative. Managers are, after all, dealing with humans. None of these obstacles are insurmountable, of course, and well-prepared leaders know what problems to expect and how to address them before they even happen. 

Some of the potential issues companies may encounter with their multicultural teams include the following: 

  • Not hiring translators when one language isn’t spoken by everyone
  • Not educating team members on the differences in how cultures communicate
  • Not understanding tech access protocols and requirements from country to country (eg. Google is not the top search engine in mainland China since it’s behind a nationwide firewall)
  • Not taking into account the differences in how employees are motivated from culture to culture
  • Not reflecting on and fixing internalized biases
  • Not investing in cross-cultural training
  • Not listening to or implementing constructive feedback
  • Penalizing workers when expectations that may run counter to their cultural understanding of time, communication, language, and other factors have not been clearly and transparently expressed ahead of time

Every challenge managers face when learning how to improve the effectiveness of multicultural teams has a resolution. Culturally diverse companies who keep open communication and open minds in equal measure see significant returns when they invest in and consistently work toward improving their DEI commitments. 

Ready to Take Action?

Forward-thinking companies and managers know that a multicultural work environment is one of the best available paths toward growth, creative problem-solving, and innovation. As the future grows more diverse, so too should a team’s perspectives of what is possible when many different minds come together over a common goal.

If you want to effectively nurture your multicultural workers and create inclusive spaces, consider KnowledgeCity’s courses in Muticulturalism, Leadership, and the Workplace and Considerations for Leaders and Managers of Multicultural Teams. Your strength as a company is directly tied in with your investment in a diverse range of talented people.

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