International Teams: Beyond Cultural Differences
Multicultural teams are different. In addition to culture the team needs to consider:
* the purpose for its existence, - the influence of personality differences, - the impact of cultural and professional identities, - the importance of emotional intelligence, - the vital role of adequate support systems.
Team leaders need updated global competencies which they may not have learned in business school.
Multicultural Teams are Complex
Cross-cultural knowledge is an obvious pre-requisite for working with any team whose members come from different cultures. We acquire this knowledge from our reading, from our studies, ...view middle of the document...
Purpose of the team’s existence
If we are involved in managing, coaching or participating in a team our first question should be: “what is the purpose of this team?” What brings the team together? Research has shown us that the secret to a strong team is a clear common purpose and identification of each member with that group task. Indeed the very definition of a “team” is a group of individuals working on a common purpose. Our first analysis of a team should start with looking at the reason for its existence. If the team is composed of members from different cultures, once we understand the answer to the question “what is this group trying to accomplish?” we can move on to examine the impact of different factors on the team dynamics.
The Influence of Personality Differences
One of the factors that became immediately apparent with the multinational Shanghai based team was that some of the greatest difficulties between team members had everything to do with individual personality differences and very little to do with culture. It came as a great relief to the team to recognize that “unpleasant” characters exist in all cultures. Much of the tension generated by some individuals on the team was a result of their acerbic personal style which had little to do with their native cultures. However, the team almost unconsciously had fallen into the “political correctness” trap and was trying to tolerate unacceptable behaviour because they assumed it to be culturally driven. Once the team realized that cultural difference is not an excuse for misbehaving or being inflexible it was as if a great weight had been removed from their collective shoulders. How did they come to this realization?
We used the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to examine the differences in personality style and to practice ways to make constructive use of the differences. Like similar personality indicators, the MBTI quickly enables a team to construct a “model” of personality preferences. In short order team members were able to recognize the contributions of the different personality “styles” and how they actually complement one another. They learned to respect the differences in “style” which they began to value as “strengths” which the team could leverage. The extraverts and the introverts gained new understanding of their differences. Likewise the team began to become aware of the profound differences, dictated by their genes through their personalities, in the way that they gather information, make decisions and structure their environment. During the refreshment breaks I heard several participants relate their newfound understanding to family situations. They discovered the patterns in their communication styles which they
said would help them do a better job of understanding their spouses and children. In short, they acquired a new understanding of the importance of respecting personal differences. Can you think of a better framework to begin...