What is a Multicultural team?   Historically, managers were only required to lead a multicultural team if they were working for their organisation at an office overseas or had gained employment with an overseas company. 

However, the global nature of the modern World means that organisations across the World now employ individuals that come from different backgrounds and view life through different lenses. This differing background creates different values, and these differing values are the fundamental building blocks of culture.  

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How do we manage a multicultural team?   So how do we manage someone who has a totally different view of life? How can we motivate two workers; one who comes from a background where the needs of the individual are paramount, where success is measured in promotion, pay increases and recognition and whose primary goal is to excel at a task and then move onto the next one, against another who values being an effective member of the collective group as most important, of achieving goals that elevate the group rather than the individual and whose primary goal is to be a competent worker for a long time?

Culture Clashes- the end of the World?!?   When we look at managing these diverse cultures, we are often filled with fear and dread. What if I wave with the wrong hand, try to shake the hand of a lady, sit at the wrong seat around the board table or forget to hand my business card over with two hands preferring to casually flick it across the table. These are all examples of culture clashes. They are usually harmless mistakes that show some cultural ignorance and are often quickly forgotten.  

It’s not always what you see that’s important.   Great writers on culture use the analogy of the iceberg to explain the culture, the less significant elements being those that sit above the waterline and can be seen easily, such as the clothes we wear. We can make these mistakes and, as long as we are not offensive, they usually cause no major damage. However, once we dive below the waterline, the situation is different.

icebergNow we are dealing with core values, values that transcend the wearing of clothes, or use of gestures. Now we are dealing with these elements that have great significance, are totally taken for granted and happen unconsciously such as what we believe to be right or wrong, how we view our personal space, what is private and what is open and what is good and what is bad. These are what Edgar Schein, a thought-leader in organisational culture, calls our underlying assumptions. These are the lines, as leaders, that we cross at our peril.

So how do I do it?  So how do we manage across these divides? Well, first of all, we have to recognise that these divides exist but that they are simple differences; they are not rights and wrongs. We need to realise that we view life through our own personal lens, and we are also different. We need to be open to questioning our beliefs and reducing our barriers to change, mindful that these changes are core values and will be uncomfortable for us. For example, as a Swiss manager, meetings start at 1000 precisely because their values are so aligned. However, an Egyptian counterpart is perceived by the Swiss manager as always late, always talking on the phone, constantly interrupting, and still doing multiple things at the same time. For the Swiss manager, this is infuriating, but that is only because he doesn’t realise that he actually views time as a monochronic event were one task is completed at a time, where sense and order are achieved by there being a time and place for everything. Whereas the Egyptian manager is aligned with a polychronic culture, where multiple things can happen simultaneously, where relationships are valued more than time and where who you are is valued greater than what you d. Monochronic cultures include the UK, America, Germany, and the Swiss, arguably the greatest watch manufactures in the World.

Recognise differences, not rights and wrongs.   To lead effectively, we need to realise the differences that we experience within our workforce, and we need to adjust our leadership style accordingly. We need to acknowledge that people are driven and motivated by different things and, most importantly of all, these motivations are different from ours. Once we have achieved that, we can then start to embrace the joys that a multicultural workforce brings from brainstorming sessions that bring the diverse ideas that brainstorming seeks but rarely delivers to workmates that expand our knowledge of the World by their views and values. From here, we can start to reap the competitive advantage benefits that a multicultural team builds. In my next blog, we will look at how we do this in more detail.