How to build stronger cross-cultural teams
In today’s companies and business schools, we see more cross-cultural teams (or other diversity like cross-functional, etc). The advantages and challenges are explained in my previous blog. Based on my experience, these are some common problems, and ideas on how to deal with them.
Don’t underestimate the (subconscious) challenge
As the world becomes more and more global, people start to believe that the world is one. Indeed on a superficial level, we are seeing a growing consistency in lifestyles across borders. You can have a similar Starbucks latte almost anywhere in the world, and through traveling and media, we are more exposed to cultures from all around the world. This might give the illusion that we all think the same way, and therefore the challenges of working across cultures gets underestimated.
One way of dealing with this is to spend some time at the beginning of the teamwork getting to know each other’s cultures in a social and casual way. Exchange stories from home and talk about different cultural traits with your teammates so that you can identify commonalities and challenge stereotypes.
Focus on similarities and differences
Naturally, the focus when working with people who are different is focusing on what is different, and this can often go hand in hand with judgment. So having the self-discipline to avoid any pre-judgment is essential. Additionally, people tend to have less contact with those of different backgrounds since it makes people feel uncomfortable (e.g. look at holidays were national groups spend a lot of time together). The other tendency is to look for people who display similarities and spend more time with them. If one of these attitudes are present in a team (and unconsciously they very much are) it misses out on the benefits of diversity–a wider breadth of thinking and creativity. Teams should, therefore, seek out differences amongst members but look for one or two things that they have in common. This is a nice example:
See it as a learning opportunity
As cross-cultural teams are becoming increasingly common in today’s business and learning environments, there is a trap to be wary of. Like many other experiences, the opportunity to develop can get repetitive and sometimes missed. But the real value comes from reflecting on the learning that can be distilled from the experience, taking time to reflect on what worked and what didn’t. Integrating that learning is likely to make people not only ‘wiser” but also more effective in working in cross-cultural teams.
Overall working in cross-cultural teams is a unique opportunity to learn and grow, as well build your global network
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Jean Vanhoegaerden is a Hult Ashridge faculty member and delivers management development programs for international clients. Specializing in international management, organizational change, cross-cultural management, and globalization. Jean is a frequent speaker at conferences and has taught executive education programmes in North and Latin America, Europe, South Africa, Australia and the Middle and the Far East.
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