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Leading Culturally Diverse Teams

By: ahirai
culturally diverse teams

7 Essentials for Managing Multicultural Teams


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People today are more likely than ever before to work with people from wildly different cultures – even if they never leave headquarters.

Take for example Jean Moncrieff, a marketing consultant. He’s based in Canada, his business partner is in South America, and their team is distributed across the United States, Eastern Europe, and Africa.

And while most organizations have excellent global infrastructure, few organizations do the training necessary to prepare team members to interact with other cultures, writes Erin Meyer, affiliate professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD.

Dr. Meyer is author of the new book The Culture Map: Breaking through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business.
For your people to be effective in today’s global economy, it’s essential they receive training on working with multicultural teams.

Here are some of the essential training points for leading multicultural teams.

Individual versus group: some cultures are focused on the individual, while others prize the group. Do they compete – or collaborate?

In the United States for example, people generally focus on the individual. Each person has responsibilities, and it’s up to him or her to get the job done. Employees are also more short-term, and companies employees are less loyal to each other – people move around from job to job.

But in most other parts of the world, people are more group oriented. These cultures include Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. In these regions, the nation, organization, and family come first. There is more emphasis on team collaboration, and groups share praise – or blame.

In individualistic societies, people are more likely to be singled out for credit or blame. But in group oriented cultures, people are less comfortable with a spotlight on the individual. So when working with people from group-oriented cultures, it’s important to give praise or blame and private.

These cultural factors dramatically affect teams, whether they’re in person, or even if different cultures are working together on virtual teams.

Authoritarian or egalitarian: work is also affected by whether team members come from cultures that are authoritarian or egalitarian. In egalitarian cultures, leaders and team members are more likely to see each other as equals. For example, a founding credo of the United States “All Men Are Created Equal.” In these egalitarian cultures, authority and decision-making are often shared by many.

But in authoritarian cultures, people are more accustomed to strong, consolidated leadership from the top. In Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East, power and decision-making is concentrated among those the top. People from these cultures are more likely to focus on hierarchy and class. There is greater emphasis on and respect for seniority and hierarchy.

In egalitarian societies, leaders are often seen as equals. They’re highly accessible, and are addressed by their first names. But authoritarian societies, they are more distant and wield absolute power. Team members from Asia, Latin America or the Middle East are much less likly to question their leader – even if the leader is wrong. In this regard, egalitarian team members often see their role as pleasing the boss, even if withholding are delaying bad news.

Conclusion: today’s work environment routinely involves team members from a variety of cultures. These cultures have fundamentally different ways of seeing the world, and interacting with others. For your teams to be effective, it’s essential that they have proper training. For more help, check our resources for training culturally diverse teams.


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