Crossing boundaries to meet and collaborate with culturally diverse teams is routine these days. Multicultural work teams are becoming the norm as companies take advantage of a global talent pool as well as powerful platforms for communication and collaboration.
Every time we have a Meetup, we are reminded of the wonderful benefits of working with a diverse set of individuals who come from all corners of the globe. Their rich backgrounds, their diversity of experience and the global perspective they bring is invaluable to all of us on a professional level.
So we would like to show our appreciation by posting about the benefits of working on a multicultural team. By covering the topic from our perspective, we hope to add to the conversation and spread the word about how great it is to hear from a culturally diverse set of great people!
The Benefits of Working With a Multicultural Team
When a company is open to working with or hiring talent from diverse cultures, a wide range of benefits open up. In a global marketplace, these benefits become even more apparent. For the field of software development, it’s almost imperative to have a multicultural team to work with. They bring:
- A broader insight into the User Experience (UX) to address a more diverse set of users. For starters, team members from other countries can bring valuable insight to the process of making a better UX for global products. They can inform the user research process with a cultural understanding of key users, perhaps even altering the research process in a way that helps the team gain the right knowledge for a particular user group.
- Specialized knowledge of foreign workstyles for a more globally usable product. An internal application or platform that’s in development for a worldwide company will benefit, too. The specialized knowledge of a diverse team who understands foreign workstyles will inform the development process in a way that results in a better product for a wider range of users.
- Enhanced problem-solving abilities for a more resilient product. Every individual, no matter where they’re from or what cultural background informs their thinking, brings a unique viewpoint to the table. When you toss into the mix a global mix of ideas and viewpoints, the result is an even richer source of ideas for solving problems. In collaboration, the more ideas you have, the more creative you become. And the more diverse the knowledge base you’re drawing from, the better. As a result, the team is more likely to end up building a product that’s more resilient.
- Added skills and experience for greater efficiency. International teams benefit from the specialized skills that their members bring to the team. A broad skill set will add to the team’s capabilities, resulting in a more efficient development process.
- A stronger ability to adapt to stay competitive. A better understanding of global markets will also help the team pivot more quickly if they need to adapt to the ever-changing global business environment. Consumers are forever changing their preferences and a multicultural team will be better equipped to foresee those changes in a global marketplace because of the specialized knowledge of the international team members.
- A diverse team is simply a smarter team! According to a Harvard Business Review study, diverse teams are more likely to focus on facts, reexamining their evidence more often. That leads to a better process, where they are able to correct errors earlier on in their work process. They also make better decisions and they’re more innovative!
The Challenges of Leading a Culturally Diverse Team
There are some challenges, too, although the benefits far outweigh them.
First and foremost, there’s trust. Managing a team, even a culturally homogenous one, requires building trust both among the members and between the leader and the team. Secondly, once trust is established, everyone must commit to the shared end goal, each showing dedication as well as a concern for the general well-being of the team.
That’s already a lot to handle, which explains why “Leadership Development” is often the most-requested type of business training. Another popular business training topic, of course, is Diversity Training. As you’ll see below, managers have their hands full when it comes to handling and guiding an international team.
The main issue is that culturally diverse teams are prone to misunderstandings that can erode trust. These include culturally-bound differences like:
- Communication styles (gestures, listening styles, interruptions, facial expressions etc)
- How they handle cultural stereotypes
- Whether they socialize and chat at the beginning of a meeting or just get down to business
- Different ideas about lateness and how “wrong” it is to be a few minutes late
- Whether it’s proper to disagree in public with a team member.
- How feedback is given (and whether it’s given at all)
- Whether it’s acceptable to give individual feedback in front of the whole team
- Cultural preconceptions about other team members’ heritage or country of origin
- Conflicting ideas about women in the workplace
- Conflicting attitudes about work (e.g. how late do you stay to finish something and work/life balance)
- Different ideas about how teamwork should work
It takes a certain type of leader to understand and manage all of these challenges while making sure the project moves forward in a timely way. The Harvard Business Review has some great tips on meeting these challenges:
- Create conditions for your team that allow them easy access to the resources they need in order to do their jobs. They also need a “clear and compelling” action plan, alignment with the agenda, and a supportive network of people who have some cultural intelligence.
- Understand the cultures of the people on your team.
- Set clear guidelines for how work should be carried out.
- Encourage personal workplace bonds that help build trust (i.e. “team building”).
- Address conflict right away.
Here’s to All Kinds of Multicultural Teams…
We consider our Meetup sessions to be a form of multicultural teams in action. That includes not just our latest Meetup panelists but also the audience members. The combined efforts and the ability to come together in a single location to exchange ideas and learn from another is precious to everyone in the Making Sense offices. We look forward to our next Meetup and hope to see you there, too. Check back soon to see when and where!