As market globalization drives in the fast lane and labor mobility and geographically dispersed teams become more common, rules of communication also change fundamentally. Things that were effective ten years ago may not be valid or subtle enough for today as we move towards a more diverse and multicultural environment.
At Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences, we do a lot of research, development, and innovation work with international partners. That’s why we think it’s fair to say that we, if anyone, know that cross-cultural team-building using the English language is no child’s play.
According to our experience, people often have culture-based prejudices towards each other, which can affect, not only their attitudes but first impressions too. That’s why we like to describe a cross-cultural team as a flower that needs a lot of care and nurture to bloom.
This can only be provided through clear and open communication. At the beginning of every project, the main focus should always be on establishing effective and open team communication, which is vital for a successful and healthy team.
It is definitely worth reserving working hours for it already when budgeting for the project. Otherwise, things can turn toxic really quickly.
There are no bad cultures
It’s a simple fact that different cultures can think and react differently to the same situation. This is, of course, a good thing, because culturally diverse teams tend to produce more creative and innovative results (Nathan & Lee 2013) and are more likely to have financial returns (Hunt, Layton & Prince 2015) than culturally homogenous groups.
But at the same time, it’s no secret that difficulties like misunderstandings are more likely to arise in cross-cultural teams. There can be several reasons for the challenges in team building. For example, different patterns of behavior and etiquette. Or cultural and religious barriers, ethnocentrism, signs, symbols, or even different linguistic backgrounds.
That being said, it doesn’t mean that some people from certain cultures or backgrounds would be worse team players than others. No, they simply might have different kinds of views or expectations of how a team should work together. In our opinion, open communication is the best way to get culturally diverse teams to work through and overcome their differences to make them work well together.
Sometimes it might be hard to identify all cultural nuances, but it’s definitely worth it. A calm, clear, and diplomatic approach to things can bring you far. But you also need adaptability and the ability to react quickly when things start going south.
Normally, the cultural differences in a team can be understood and tackled by drawing a perspective from behavior that may be different from another individual. Such perspectives induce working in tandem with one another resulting in achieving the mutual project goals.
Trust is everything
Every project requires effective communication amongst its team members at all stages to be successful. While each team’s goal is to work towards the successful completion of the project, it is imperative to note that the ladder to the success of each project is lucid and constructive communication amongst its team members.
The foundation for a successful and performance-driven team lies in efficacious communication amongst its team members. Having a team of individuals from various cultural backgrounds may need a certain amount of time to build trust amongst each other.
Team building exercises focusing on developing a seamless connection amongst the team members should be of prime importance.
Members of the team can be exposed to various exercises and activities that develop a clear understanding of the cross-cultural differences that they could face and ways to overcome any hurdles faced by them diplomatically.
Case studies highlighting projects where effective communication has been the major driving force of its success can be shared by employers to encourage team members to excel and shine.
You should always keep in mind that communication is not a static state that will remain once you build it up. It is more like a chaotic, constantly changing, and ever-shaping loose thread you’ll have to search for over and over again to keep things running.
Huddles and discussions highlighting the importance of effective communications can be held within the team frequently. The rule of thumb should be rather too much communication than too little. Sometimes it can be more helpful to talk to each team member individually than to the entire team together.
In Haaga-Helia, we believe in openness and transparency. We also like to discuss any communication-related issues directly. Those values are to us like a roof that binds our organizational house together and gives us shelter on rainy days.
Any team member having concerns can, of course, have them addressed also in a private discussion.
Hunt, V., Layton, D. & Prince, S. 2015. Diversity matters. McKinsey & Company.
Nathan, M. & Lee, N. 2013. Cultural Diversity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship: Firm-level Evidence from London. Economic Geography, 89:4, 367-394.