Managing Multicultural Teams - 7 Essentials December 10 2014, 1 Comment

by Erich Toll

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Jean Moncrieff exemplifies the unprecedented proliferation of global, multicultural teams.

“I work with a truly global team,” the marketing consultant wrote in a recent blog post. “I’m drafting this post from a coffee shop in Toronto, my partner is in Santiago and the rest of our inbound marketing team spread across Romania, the U.S. and South Africa.”

Yet while companies are adept, for example, at setting up IT infrastructure for global teams, few organizations sufficiently prepare their teams to work together effectively.

Multinational companies have spent significant time and energy trying to figure out how to appeal to a diverse array of consumers, and not enough time figuring out how to help their own employees work together, writes Erin Meyer, affiliate professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD, and author of the new book The Culture Map: Breaking through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business.

Around the globe, you'll find that multicultural teams have different ways of working together, and viewing teams, leadership, social structure are more. Here are 7 essentials for managing multicultural teams:

One distinction is between cultures that are based on the individual, and those that focus more on the group. Do people compete against each other, or do they work together as a team?

In North America, the hero is the rugged cowboy conquering the West. The focus is on the individual. Each person has responsibilities, and it's up to that person to get the job done. Westerners also focus more on their individual needs, and are more likely to move around from job to job.

But in the group-oriented cultures of Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, the family, nation and organization come before the individual, one of the four major differences in cultural values. In Asia, there's a strong emphasis on teamwork. Groups tackle projects, make decisions, and share praise or blame.

In Western cultures, an employee might be singled out for kudos or criticism. But in some parts of Asia, for example, that same spotlight might make someone uncomfortable.


Societies also differ in whether they are more egalitarian or authoritarian. In the United States, a founding tenant is the concept "All Men Are Created Equal." In Australia, people sit in the front seat of a taxi to avoid being elitist.

But in many other societies, there's a strong accent on social class and hierarchy: who's at the top, who's in the middle, and who's at the bottom. In Asian countries, hierarchy, seniority and family are key.

In US business, responsibility and authority are shared by many people. In Latin countries, in contrast, power and decisions are highly concentrated. In France, people are comfortable with hierarchy, and CEOs there are more powerful than their US counterparts.

In egalitarian cultures, bosses are often the first among equals. They're highly accessible and employees call them by their first name. But in other societies, they're distant, absolute authorities. In Japan, it would be inappropriate to question authority and hierarchy.

The role of subordinates differs too. In authoritarian societies such as India, employees strive to please the boss. Thus, they might withhold or delay bad news. This is one of many factors that can affect cross cultural communication.

Conclusion: Ours is a world of diversity. Different people have different ways of working together and viewing each other. To work effectively with people from other cultures, you must master the essentials of managing multicultural teams.

What did I miss? Please leave your comments or additional tips below.