Different cultural backgrounds of the individual within multicultural teams creates potential advantage-discuss multicultural teams – curse or blessing? Indeed, managing multicultural teams can be a tightrope walk: on the one hand, when not handled properly, such teams can turn into extremely irksome stumbling blocks for a company or a project. On the other hand, companies and leaders who recognise the potentials of cultural diversity and find the right cultural mixture among the team members can achieve some substantial comparative advantages.
The recent success in certain fields (for instance information technology) of “cultural melting pot” countries such as the USA or Canada testifies to the positive correlation between diversity and innovativeness. It is above all the increasing globalisation of business that requires employees from various cultures to work together: Shaw / Barrett-Power (1998) “Even in purely domestic operations, firms are being forced to form cross- functional, inter-departmental, cross-divisional, and interorganizational alliances in order to make maximum use of scarce resources and thus increase their competitive advantage. In their study of 70 global teams, Govindarajan and Gupta found out that only 18% of such teams perceived their own performance as “highly successful”, while a third felt that their co-operation had been utterly unsuccessful. Obviously, the ambiguity related to multiculturalism does not prevent managers from employing it extensively, constituting more and more multicultural global teams and continually increasing their diversity. The rationale behind such enthusiasm is usually one of hope for outstanding results, be it in knowledge creation, creativity, or innovation. Harris / Harris (1996): A team is a work group or unit with a common purpose through which members develop mutual relationships for the achievement of goals / tasks. Teamwork, then, implies co-operative and co-ordinated effort by individuals working together in the interests of their common cause. ” Hofstede (1980): “Culture is the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another. ” From the above mentioned definitions it can be said that a multicultural team is a work group working together for a common cause consisting of multiple national cultures.
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Multicultural teams have a number of advantages. Purdue. edu has highlighted some of the advantages. They are as follows: 1. Effective Marketing Positive working relationships across cultures are an asset to an organization. Changing demographics in the United States are creating new customer groups and opportunities for niche marketing. In the United States in 1992, the total purchasing power of African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians was nearly $600 billion. To understand the new markets, organizations need to draw on the services that diverse team members have to offer. 2. Having a Competitive Edge
It is necessary for organizations to keep a competitive edge through innovation and problem-solving. 3. More Creative Solutions Heterogeneity in problem-solving groups produces more creative responses in an increasingly competitive global marketplace. 4. Attracting the Best Talent Organizations with the best reputations for well-integrated teams and good working relationships will win the competition for the best personnel. 5. Cost-Benefits Organizations with a culturally integrated environment, characterized by employees who work well together, will have a cost advantage over those who don’t.
Even though multicultural teams have a number of advantages, teams whose members come from different nations and backgrounds place special demands on managers. A number of conflicts arise in multicultural teams. Brett, Behfar and Kern (2006) have stated an example of conflicts arising due to differences in culture. When a major international software developer needed to produce a new product quickly, the project manager assembled a team of employees from India and the United States. From the start the team members could not agree on a delivery date for the product.
The Americans thought the work could be done in two to three weeks; the Indians predicted it would take two to three months. As time went on, the Indian team members proved reluctant to report setbacks in the production process, which the American team members would find out about only when work was due to be passed to them. Such conflicts, of course, may affect any team, but in this case they arose from cultural differences. As tensions mounted, conflict over delivery dates and feedback became personal, disrupting team members’ communication about even mundane issues.
The project manager decided he had to intervene–with the result that both the American and the Indian team members came to rely on him for direction regarding minute operational details that the team should have been able to handle itself. The manager became so bogged down by quotidian issues that the project careened hopelessly off even the most pessimistic schedule–and the team never learned to work together effectively. Along with their advantages, multicultural teams often generate frustrating management dilemmas.
Cultural differences tend to hinder effective team work . However cultural challenges are manageable if the right strategies are adopted and single culture based approaches are not imposed on multicultural situations There are a number of challenges faced by multicultural teams According to Brett,Behfar and Kern(2006) People tend to assume that challenges on multicultural teams arise from differing styles of communication. But this is only one of the four categories that,can create barriers to a team’s ultimate success.
These categories are direct versus indirect communication; trouble with accents and fluency; differing attitudes toward hierarchy and authority; and conflicting norms for decision making. Direct versus indirect cmmunication: communication in western cultures is typically direct and explicit. The meaning is on the surface, and a listener doesn’t have to know much about the context or the speaker to interpret it. This is not true in many other cultures, where meaning is embedded in the way the message is presented.
For example, Western negotiators get crucial information about the other party’s preferences and priorities by asking direct questions, such as “Do you prefer option A or option B? ” In cultures that use indirect communication, negotiators may have to infer preferences and priorities from changes – or the lack of them – in the other party’s settlement proposal. In cross-cultural negotiations, the non-Westerner can understand the direct communications of the Westerner, but the Westerner has difficulty understanding the indirect communications of the non-Westerner.
Trouble with accents and fluency. Although the language of international business is English, misunderstandings or deep frustration may occur because of nonnative speakers’ accents, lack of fluency, or problems with translation or usage. These may also influence perceptions of status or competence. Nonfluent team members may well be the most expert on the team, but their difficulty communicating knowledge makes it hard for the team to recognize and utilize their expertise. If teammates become frustrated or impatient with a lack of fluency, interpersonal conflicts can arise.
Nonnative speakers may become less motivated to contribute, or anxious about their performance evaluations and future career prospects. The organization as a whole pays a greater price: Its investment in a multicultural team fails to pay off. Differing attitudes toward hierarchy and authority. A challenge inherent in multicultural teamwork is that by design, teams have a rather flat structure. But team members from some cultures, in which people are treated differently according to their status in an organization, are uncomfortable on flat teams.
If they defer to higher-status team members, their behavior will be seen as appropriate when most of the team comes from a hierarchical culture; but they may damage their stature and credibility – and even face humiliation – if most of the team comes from an egalitarian culture. Conflicting norms for decision making. Cultures differ enormously when it comes to decision making–particularly, how quickly decisions should be made and how much analysis is required beforehand. Not surprisingly, U. S. anagers like to make decisions very quickly and with relatively little analysis by comparison with managers from other countries Strategies: According to Brett, Behfar and Kern(2006) there are four strategies to resolving conflicts: adaptation (acknowledging cultural gaps openly and working around them), structural intervention (changing the shape of the team), managerial intervention (setting norms early or bringing in a higher-level manager), and exit (removing a team member when other options have failed).
There is no one right way to deal with a particular kind of multicultural problem; identifying the type of challenge is only the first step. The more crucial step is assessing the circumstances – or “enabling situational conditions”–under which the team is working. Adaptation. Some teams find ways to work with or around the challenges they face, adapting practices or attitudes without making changes to the group’s membership or assignments. Adaptation works when team members are willing to acknowledge and name their cultural differences and to assume responsibility for figuring out how to live with them.
It’s often the best possible approach to a problem, because it typically involves less managerial time than other strategies; and because team members participate in solving the problem themselves, they learn from the process. When team members have this mind-set, they can be creative about protecting their own substantive differences while acceding to the processes of others. Structural intervention. A structural intervention is a deliberate reorganization or reassignment designed to reduce interpersonal friction or to remove a source of conflict for one or more groups.
This approach can be extremely effective when obvious subgroups demarcate the team (for example, headquarters versus national subsidiaries) or if team members are proud, defensive, threatened, or clinging to negative stereotypes of one another. Managerial intervention. When a manager behaves like an arbitrator or a judge, making a final decision without team involvement, neither the manager nor the team gains much insight into why the team has stalemated. But it is possible for team members to use managerial intervention effectively to sort out problems.
Managerial intervention to set norms early in a team’s life can really help the team start out with effective processes. Exit. Exit of the team member from the team is generally used as a last resort strategy but it is used – either voluntarily or after a formal request from management. Exit was likely when emotions were running high and too much face had been lost on both sides to salvage the situation. Conclusion Though multicultural teams face challenges that are not directly attributable to cultural differences, such differences underlay whatever problem needed to be addressed.
Furthermore, while serious in their own right when they have a negative effect on team functioning, cultural challenges may also unmask fundamental managerial problems. Managers who intervene early and set norms; teams and managers who structure social interaction and work to engage everyone on the team; and teams that can see problems as stemming from culture, not personality, approach challenges with good humor and creativity. In todays competitive environment multicultural teams play a very important role in the business world.
It is important for all managers to learn to over come the problems and challenges faced by multicultural teams. It is important to overcome these challenges and make multicultural teams work effective to reap all the benefits they have to offer. When frustrated team members take some time to think through challenges and possible solutions themselves, it can make a huge difference. Bibliography Brett,Jeanne/Behfar. Kristin(2006), Managing multicultural teams, Harvard business review,vol84,issue 11.
GOVINDARAJAN, Vijay / Anil GUPTA (2001) ,Building an Effective Global Business Team, in: MIT Sloan Management Review, Volume 42, Issue 4. HARRIS, Philip / Kevin HARRIS (1996): Managing Effectively through Teams, in: Team Performance Management: An International Journal, Volume 2, Issue 3 HOFSTEDE, Geert (1980): Culture’s Consequences – International Differences in Work-Related Values, Newbury Park: Sage SHAW, James / Elain BARRETT-POWER,1998 , The Effects of Diversity on Small Work Group Processes and Performance, in Human Relations, Volume 51, Issue 10, October 1998, pp. 1307-1325 Purdue. edu