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Managing Multicultural Teams

Genesis of Multicultural Teams

• Existence of multicultural interactions

• History of multicultural teams
• Globalization and opening up of economies
• Competitiveness
• Race to offer products at best prices
• High expectations from the customers
Why is the topic important?

• Increased diversity in the workforce

• Differing cultural sensitiveness
• Cultural superiority/inferiority complexes
• Effects on productivity and efficiency
• Exponential increase in the cost of deliverables
• Projects or deal survival
Challenges faced by multicultural
• Direct vs. Indirect communication
• Trouble with accents and fluency
• Differing attitudes towards hierarchy and
• Conflicting norms for decision making
Challenge 1:
Direct vs. Indirect communications
• Western cultures: Meaning is direct and explicit
• Other cultures: Meaning is embedded in the way
the message is presented
• Difficulty for westerners to come to terms with
the subtleties of indirect communication
• Cross-cultural inconsistencies leading to reduced
information sharing, interpersonal conflicts, or
Scenario 1
• Jane is an American manager leading a U.S.-
Japan customer data system
• On discovering flaws in the design, she sends an
e-mail to her American boss and Japanese team
• Pleases the boss but embarrasses her Japanese
• Jane gets isolated from the team
Challenge 2:
Trouble with accents and fluency
• Perception of status or competence linked to
command over language, fluency and accent
• Difficulty for the teams to recognize and utilize
technical expertise of non-native speakers
• Motivation of non-native employees affected
• Increased frustration and anxiousness
culminating in interpersonal conflicts
Scenario 2
• Mike is an American member of a US-Japanese
team assessing the expansion of a US retail chain
in Japan
• Ignores Japanese consultant’s feedback
• Considers the consultant unintelligent based on
his lack of fluency in English
Challenge 3:Differing attitudes
towards hierarchy and authority
• Decision making practices different across
cultures. Eg.-US managers Vs UK managers
• Restriction of the information flow by managers
from other cultures
• Understanding the bigger picture
• Generating mutual respect for other party’s
decision making process
Scenario 3
• Carlos is a manager of Mexican heritage working
for an I-Bank
• As per Mexican culture, he keeps his queries
open ended
• His American teammates think he doesn’t know
Challenge 4:Conflicting norms for
decision making
• Cultural perspective influences the time taken
before making a decision
• Other influences include the breadth and depth
of analysis done before making a decision
• Managers from US and Europe generally take
quick decisions
• A way to resolve such conflict is by making
minor concessions on both sides
Scenario 4
• An American company is negotiating the
purchase of Korean products
• The first day of negotiation ends with 3 points
being discussed
• On the second day the American side starts with
point 4 but Korean team wants to re-discuss
points 1-3
The four basic strategies to deal with these
challenges are:
• Adaptation
• Structural intervention
• Managerial intervention
• Exit
Strategy 1: Adaptation
• Adaptation works when team members are
willing to acknowledge and name their cultural
• Team assumes responsibility to figure out how to
work with them
• Moreover team members participate in solving
the problem themselves and learn from it
• Often the best possible approach, as it involves
less managerial time
Complicating factors
• Team members should be exceptionally aware
• Negotiating common approach takes time
Strategy 2: Structural intervention
• Team is subdivided to mix cultures or expertise
• Tasks can be subdivided
• Can be extremely effective when subgroups
demarcate team or members are defensive and
are prone to cling to negative stereotypes
Complicating factors
• Care should be exercised in redistribution or it
might result in reinforcement of the preexisting
• Subgroup solutions have to fit back together
Strategy 3: Managerial intervention
• Higher up manager sets the ground rules when
the situation approaches a stalemate
• Such intervention is very effective when set early
in the life of the team
Complicating factors
• Team becomes overly dependent on the manager
• Team members may be sidelined or become
• Late intervention may provide only temporary
Strategy 4: Exit
• Arises when the teams are permanent
• An unsalvageable situation develops due to high
strung emotions between team members,
souring interpersonal relations
• Used as last resort strategy
Complicating factors
• Talent and training cost is lost
• Multicultural teams a reality irrespective of
geography today
• Best way is to behave with maturity & evolve
mechanisms to avoid conflict
• Structural intervention should be done very
carefully, as there is a danger of deepening
divides and unwanted groupism
• Farsightedness required from the manager;
intervention, if required, should be should be
done at the earliest
• Challenges not directly attributable to cultural
differences, but to the behaviours which stem out of
the differences
• “Context” being a better operational word than
• Political antagonism may also be an important
factor. Eg. – Indian & Pakistani cultures being
similar, but deep divides exist
• Self fulfilling prophecy: A manager’s broad
knowledge of cultures may result in preconceived
notions of individual behaviour, which may then
stimulate it
• Danger of incompetence being attributed to
cultural differences
• National background just one of many variables
• Issue of the culture to which the manager