Friday, November 03, 2017

Working in a Multi Cultural World

The days of a single culture teams have gone into history.Modern international trade exchanges have given rise a highly intertwined business across countries. Take a look at the Boeing 787 aircraft, where the parts come from no less than 15 countries, possibly even more. Teams have become 'virtual' and ever connected. Though this has resulted in a humungous amount of cultural exchange, the downside is that with teams working 24X7X365, cultural issues tend to have a direct bearing on the productivity of teams - a challenge no global organization can ignore. Teams are often formed for projects and dissolved when the project is over.The result is that the Bruce Tuckman's famed stages of teaming - Forming, Norming, Storming and Performing are often compressed and teams expected to be in the performing stage from the initial moment. 

Organisationally, one is expected to subsume individual goals into organizational goals but there is a problem with this premise. The organization measures every individual's performance of their specific KRAs and not just project outcomes. If we add country-specific behaviour norms into a diverse team, the challenge becomes much more complex.

It is, therefore, extremely important for a modern manager to be aware of the pitfalls of ignoring cultural behaviour norms among its team members, as well as his self-culture. To assume cultural homogeneity can be the biggest disservice a leader can do to his team. C.Carey Young, in this article, lists out the following 7 effective components of a cross-cultural team. 

1. Learn, understand, respect and leverage the cultural differences.
2. You cannot over-communicate, but only in the right way.
3. Build a team of ONE.
4. Make a culturally correct decision.
5. Foster cohesive relationship and build trust.
6. Resolve conflicts quickly and peacefully.
7. Play to win

Today it is no more enough to be functionally competent to be a successful business leader. One needs to possess the cultural intelligence to navigate through the nuances of cultural diversity prevalent in a team. It has also given rise to a business leader, who is culturally grounded in her/his own culture, but is equally sensitive and understanding of the cultural diversity in the team and adapts accordingly. For example, being judgmental too soon in a culturally diverse team can be quite detrimental. A good business leader, or a team member, has to hold judging individuals till they understand the culture they come from. 

So what are the red flags of working in multi-cultural teams?

First and the foremost, assuming a single culture is the biggest red flag. The second one is an expectation that everyone should follow the same behaviour template. The third one is tolerating any form of insults or barbs on a team member's culture. 

A good practice for managers is to be aware of the cultural aspects of countries or regions their team members come from. She/he should also ensure that if possible, cultural sensitization sessions are regularly organized for everyone.

Ignoring cultural issues can give rise to team conflicts, often to the detriment of a collective outcome. The 4 behavioural models in conflict situation are (a) Bulldog(Parochial, persistent and attacking), (b) Chameleon(Lacks credibility and authenticity), (c) Ant(Hard working but they bite) and (d) Rabit (They scoot at the sight of conflict).
In fact, everyone has possibly all 4 of the above characters and they get expressed in different situations.

My personal strength on the cultural diversity dimension is empathy. Due to years of corporate experience in diverse teams, I have realized that the person is not the name as his job role, but in reality the product of one or more cultures.Therefore to effectively deal with a team member or client from another culture, one needs to understand the culture a bit. At the same time, one should not make an exhibition of it, unless very sure-footed, else there could be issues. 

Some behavioural rules in building relationships, trust, respect and personal connect in team members could be:

Communicate adequately 
Communicate in detail. Go into specifics of what you expect or what you understood
Set real expectations. When others assign work to you, it is a good idea to repeat your understanding.
Upsetting a colleague by not accepting a timeline for a deliverable is better than agreeing for it and not delivering it later on.
Facetime is better than emails or calls. Use Videoconferences or web conference tools such as Skype or Google Hangout to see your colleague(s) and be seen to them.
Asking, telling, nodding, hand gestures all have different interpretations in different cultures. For example, 'Do you want to call him now?' can elicit different responses from 2 respondents, one talking it as an instruction to call someone and carrying it out, and the other simply responding, "No, I don't".
Test

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