Find out how to ensure your cross-cultural team is bonded, driven and able to communicate together effectively.
Multicultural and cross-cultural teams are becoming more common within business as organisations recognise the vast number of benefits that come with this kind of diversity.
It’s an undeniable fact, however, that these benefits also come with some challenges in various areas of business. Recognising these challenges and overcoming them is essential if you want to make the most of having a cross-cultural team, and ensure those team members are comfortable and happy in their jobs.
What is a cross-cultural team?
Put simply, a cross-cultural team is one with people from various different backgrounds, nationalities, cultures, and/or experiences. These people may be spread out across the world and work remotely, or they may work together in the same physical location. Each person is likely to have experienced different childhoods, previous work experiences, languages, perspectives, backgrounds, traditions and basically their general outlook on life.
The challenges of a cross-cultural team
Managing or working within a cross-cultural team comes with various challenges – the main ones being:
● Different communication styles
● Different expectations of working hours
● Different expectations with regards to holidays – how many there should be and whether you’re expected to work on holidays or not etc
● Different use of languages and slang
● Information gaps
● Different working styles
● Different motivations
With such diversity providing a rich pool of information and skills, there will always be a wide set of hurdles that comes with this kind of arrangement. The real challenge is working out how to overcome the challenges whilst reaping the rewards and benefits that come with a multi-cultural team.
How to build an effective cross-cultural team
The good news is that despite the challenges that come with a cross-cultural team, there are a multitude of ways to overcome them:
Acknowledge the elephant in the room
The first thing you need to do in order to strengthen a cross-cultural team is to acknowledge the fact that diversity exists. Acknowledge that there are differences with language, culture, behaviours and values so that you can all learn those differences. By understanding and learning those differences, communication within the team can only benefit.
There are multiple ways that you can open up conversation about these differences, depending on your own management style. Ideally, you just want to break the ice and encourage each team member to be open about their own backgrounds and experience. During these exchanges it will become clear how each person differs in their expectations of communication and working style. With that information shared you can all then start to have dialogue about ways you can work together, and communicate more effectively.
Establish ‘ground rules’ together
If you can all agree to ground rules as to how you all communicate and work together you can collaborate much more effectively. Consider making rules for:
● Standard operating procedures
● Expectations for communication
● Which applications and tools will be used by everybody
● How often you have team meetings
● How team reporting will work
● How communication will be clear between you
● What’s expected of people when they’re on holiday or out with core office hours
Once you have these rules and everyone has agreed to them, don’t be afraid to discuss them again together after a while and change anything that isn’t working. Sometimes it takes actually trying something first in real life before you can identify what does and doesn’t work.
What’s the common vision?
In a cross-cultural team, uniting everybody behind a common vision is incredibly important – it acts as something that everyone has ownership of, can relate to and is working towards no matter their different cultural backgrounds. Does everybody in the team understand the common vision? Is there a common goal to be achieved? Are individual rules and responsibilities clearly outlined?
It’s partially your job as a manager to ensure that your team understands the common vision. However, there will be some work required to link it to each individual and ensure that each person clearly understands their specific role within this journey to your common goal.
Lots of organizations that work with employees of different nationalities will create video content as part of their onboarding process which they voiceover or subtitle into lots of different languages – that way everyone joining their organisation goes through the same induction process and all clearly understand the overall vision and goals.
Encouraging socialisation within your team is important as it boosts understanding, connection and overall bonding within the team. With a cross-cultural team, this is a bridge that can be particularly useful when perhaps other areas of communication and emotional bonding don’t come as naturally as it would with a team of the same nationality and background.
Once the team bonds over shared love of TV shows, hobbies, global opinions, family life and ambition, there will undoubtedly be a better group bond and a stronger will to work through cross-cultural challenges.
If you need some ideas for team building and ice breaking, this extensive document has a lot of different ideas and guidance for you to take a look at.
Try to remember all aspects of communication
It’s so easy to assume that just by speaking the same language as another person, you’ll understand each other. Interestingly, though, that isn’t necessarily the case. So much of language is little nuances, expressions, context and social understanding.
You only have to look at the Japanese language as a prime example. Japanese language is so layered, the translation of any Japanese words are different depending on who said the words, who they said them to, how old they are, their position in society, when they said it and what the social situation was. They also use multiple writing systems, which makes written Japanese particularly challenging to learn. You can read more about learning Japanese here.
With that in mind, it’s important to include lots of body language, pictures, extra explanations and repetition to ensure a message is truly heard and doesn’t get lost in nuance. Don’t be afraid to ask if your team understands what you’re saying, and be patient enough to clarify if they don’t. It’s so important that everybody feels comfortable enough to be honest and to say if they don’t understand something.
“A bend in the road is not the end of the road, unless you fail to make the turn.” - Helen Keller
Building an effective cross-cultural team definitely comes with some challenges, but they’re not insurmountable – it just takes some creativity, patience and dedication. The result of your hard work will be a strong, close team with diverse skill sets, language abilities, perspectives and personalities, which is quite the power team any business should be proud to have on board.