How To Manage Multicultural Teams

Reading time: 4 minutes

50 years ago it would have been rare to work with many people from other countries and cultures, today it’s the norm. As the world gets smaller and more interlinked due to technology and migration, workforces become less and less homogenous.  


Why a Multicultural Team is a Good Thing for Your Business 

It’s evident that managing effective multicultural teams is particularly important for international companies who have to consider cultural differences when creating their products and services. As well as their communication and marketing strategies. At Excel Communications we’ve worked with many teams in this exact situation, and you can find out more here. 

Having multicultural teams is now as important for domestic and local companies because the demographic makeup of your local customer base can be from all over the globe. 

Furthermore, a culturally diverse team leads to different perspectives and new types of creativity and communication. As a multicultural team, everyone grows in less predictable ways and the company benefits as a result.  

It’s been proven that: 

  1. Creativity is boosted in culturally diverse teams 
  1. Multicultural teams are more likely to be innovative and come up with new products/services 
  1. Companies with ethnically diverse employees show higher financial returns 

The benefits of a multicultural team are powerful.  


The dangers of poorly managed multicultural teams 

Having said that, because people from multicultural groups often come at things differently and communicate in different ways, these diverse teams can have their difficulties when not managed effectively.  

The very thing that makes multicultural teams effective—the difference between the members of the group—is also what can lead to their downfall.  

When you’re managing a multicultural team, you might encounter certain obstacles to team cohesiveness, including language barriers, different concepts of manners, and conflicting ideas on lateness, how to give feedback, attitudes to authority, and how different cultures like to be managed.  


How to overcome cultural differences and forge a high performing team 

1. Tailor your management style to each. 

it’s essential for any manager to treat each team member as an individual, but this is even more important for multicultural teams where you may find that you encounter significantly different views on how they like to be managed.  

Observe how the person likes to work, ask questions on what management style they prefer, and then tailor your management approach to them. Treating everyone reasonably doesn’t necessarily mean treating everyone equally—so don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need to treat everyone the same. 


2. Do your homework.  

Spend some time studying cultural differences in the workplace; there’s a vast amount of resources on the internet about how different cultures approach work and play.  

Remember, people are individuals and there will be broad generalisations. Don’t just charge in assuming that people from the Indian subcontinent don’t like public praise for instance, as you might be getting that individual wholly wrong and therefore entirely missing a potential motivational driver. 


3. Bring everyone together regularly. 

Whether in a face to face meeting or a video chat, it’s crucial for multicultural groups to spend time together. This is important to spur on the positive culture of difference that can lead to innovation and problem-solving, and also to create opportunities to bond, such as celebrating team wins. 



4. Know your own biases 

Chances are, you like your culture best. That’s very natural—you’ve grown up in it and it feels the most comfortable to you. However, this subconscious preference for the familiar can be dangerous as a manager unless you’re aware of this bias; you’ll unconsciously prefer solutions and even employees that fit within your existing cultural parameters. 

This entirely removes the benefit of multicultural teams—that is, making the most of the differences to spot opportunities for growth—so be wary where your bias may be making you blind.  


5. Notice other people’s biases and work to diminish their power. 

You’re not the only person that has a bias, we all do. Your job as a manager is also to notice where bias or cultural conflict is creating an obstacle between particular team members.  

When you’ve identified these friction points, try to build bridges between these members, bringing them together where possible so they can start to recognise each other’s skills and attributes. Moreover, when you see a cross-culture conflict brewing, step in early and mediate a culturally sensitive solution.  


6. Set your expectations early on. 

Every good manager knows the importance of this and it comes into play when managing teams where people are playing to different cultural playbooks. For example, various cultures can have different ideas on punctuality.  

While you can positively adapt some of your management styles to the individual, specific others (like lateness) can’t be tolerated, so it’s vital that you make your expectations and any consequences clear.  


7. Give them time to prepare for situations they might find challenging. 

A great example here is non-native English speakers. If you bring up an entirely new concept involving complex language to them during a meeting and then put them on the spot to respond, you’ll almost certainly make them feel nervous, foolish, or even angry if they literally don’t understand what you’re saying.  

Send memos before meetings with any necessary prior reading, you’ll also find they make your meetings more efficient. 


8. Lead by example. 

As a manager, you have to lead by example. While it’s widespread for people to gravitate towards people from their own cultural, ethnic or religious group, it sends a negative message to everyone outside this group if you, as a leader, do this as well.  

Make sure you sit with different groups at breaks, always be ready to chat to anyone, and if you do socialise with people outside of work, be sure to invite everyone along on occasion, not just your ‘comfort group.’ You’ll also find you learn more and become even more relaxed in unfamilar settings. 


9. Focus on the similarities. 

For all the cultural differences you might encounter in the workplace, there are far more similarities.  

A strong manager will be actively seeking out those similarities and fostering them; from work-related ones where you pair people with similar skills on a project, through to social activities such as shared sports teams. 

There’s so much to be gained by leading a multicultural team. There are challenges, certainly, but with challenges come enormous opportunity. 


Until next time,  

Nic Hallett 


About Excel Communications 

Excel Communications has a 30-year history as a global leadership and communication skills organisation dedicated to exceeding the expectations of clients through the training and development of their business and people. 

We have a team of expert trainers delivering programmes across four continents in multiple languages. Isn’t it time you got in touch? Call us now on +44 (0) 1628 488 854.