These days more and more businesses are working internationally, often with staff from all over the world. Operating with a multicultural, international team has obvious benefits, but it also poses unique challenges in terms of communication and motivation strategies for staff from a range of cultures. How do you get the best out of your team members, when they come from such varied cultural backgrounds, and may be motivated by very different things (from financial incentives alone, through to earning valuable experience, their job satisfaction and their degree of autonomy and control over their work)? It’s important that your team communicates well, wherever in the world your employees are based, and that cultural sensitivities are understood and respected.
A strong company culture is essential for helping new employees to settle in, and for ensuring your business runs effectively. Employees feel more at ease in a close team and are much more likely to open up, whether they have a problem or a brilliant idea.
Open communication is essential for effective team work, and leaders of multicultural teams will need to tackle very specific issues.
The most obvious is the use of language itself, as there are likely to be a number of languages spoken in your company and different levels of ability. You’ll need to decide what the official company language will be and assess everyone’s capability. If some members of staff need support with their language skills, this should be offered so that they can participate as fully as possible.
Even when people are highly capable in second languages, slang and colloquialisms can be confusing, so it’s essential that there is understanding around this. Awareness of language issue should be raised through training and all members of the team should be briefed on how and why they should communicate as clearly and directly as possible when working in a multicultural team.
Native speakers should be encouraged to understand any language difficulties faced by members of the team who are communicating in a second language. They may be slightly slower responding, for example, as they think their choice of words through, or they may ask for extra clarification on some instructions, emails, phone calls or documents.
Technology can dramatically improve the way you facilitate communication within your multicultural team. When face-to-face contact is not possible, virtual meetings, for example, can be a better way of holding meetings or discussing sensitive issues than using the phone or email, as body language and tone play a part, and many second language speakers find understanding easier in this context.
Working in a multicultural team may be a first for some people, and new and unique issues are likely to arise every now and then, so team members must also feel comfortable communicating freely about any problems that they’re having. Make sure a culture of openness and honesty is cultivated and that everyone in the team knows who they can talk to and how to contact them if there is anything that they need to discuss.
It’s good for members of multicultural teams to understand more about each other to aid collaborative working. They must have a good awareness of, and respect for, each other’s cultures, which may be very different, if they are to build good business relationships – and particularly if they are collaborating on design projects, where personal opinions and aesthetics can play such a uniting – or divisive – role!
Cultural differences such as food, clothing, music, holidays and festivals are all good areas to look at. Team events and in-country visits are an excellent way to better understand other cultures and get to know each other, but cost can be prohibitive, so there are other ways around this. Games, presentations, workshops and Q&As are all possibilities.
Different things motivate different people at work, and cultural background can have some bearing on this. For example, some people are motivated by money and responsibility, whilst others are more interested in job satisfaction and other intangible benefits. Team leaders need to be able to assess what motivates different members of their team and tailor job rewards accordingly.
Wherever your team members are based in the world, the team as a whole has common aims and objectives, and once people understand what these are and how they fit in, they will feel part of the working community.
You may also want to outline your organization or team’s values, as these also contribute to a feeling of a shared business identity which will bind geographically diverse groups together. It can be a good exercise to decide on these values with input from staff.
Although it has its challenges, multicultural team building is worth it; you’ll see the benefits in terms of productivity, staff morale and the bottom line. You’ll also reap the many benefits of working in a multicultural team, such as diversity of ideas and understanding foreign markets and cultural preferences, which can be invaluable for enriching your company’s pool of knowledge.
When it comes to product interaction and user experience, a broader and more culturally diverse range of knowledge can only lead to a better product, and the more cohesively your team works together, the more effective and efficient you’ll be.