Diversity in the workplace means leaders need to be ready to build strong teams with cross-cultural members from different backgrounds.
In today’s globalized environment, the need to communicate effectively cross-culturally is becoming imperative to guarantee long-term business relationships. However, the ability to do so still requires due diligence.
Parties may speak the same language, but cultural and ethical differences may still cause misunderstandings. Countless examples over the years demonstrate how a lack of communication can ultimately result in poor business performance.
Geographical boundaries, time zones, and continents are becoming less of an issue as companies expand across them. Advancements in technology and transport are part of the reason, as well as a shift in values for millennials who consistently express a desire to prevent nationality from defining them.
Last year, a BBC World Service poll reported that an increasing number of people are choosing to identify as ‘global citizens.’
Reflecting on one’s nationality and residency is not unique to millennials: it’s something that has been embraced by the progressive and the affluent for some time now, especially with regards to dual citizenship.
Around 50 percent of the world’s high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) have lived in more than one country.
The rise of the BBC’s ‘global citizen,’ otherwise known as the ‘citizen of the world,’ has led to an increase in the diversity of workplaces. There has been an avalanche of recent research demonstrating that cross-cultural teams generate better results.
For instance, one study by NPR indicated researchers cites cross-cultural teams and their papers in scientific papers more often than they cite papers written by teams of individuals from the same cultural background.
There has also been further research which reports that increased diversity in cities spurs economic development.
As diversity boosts innovation and creativity—two qualities highly praised in today’s fast-paced world—it makes good business sense to leverage the benefits of a cross-cultural team.
One company that is embracing cross-cultural operations is CS Global Partners, which has multiple offices around the world. There are 13 different spoken languages in the company’s London office alone.
With team members from South America, Africa, Asia, and Europe all coming together to work as one, staff members can educate and immerse themselves in cultures, values, and influences from all over the world.
Multiculturalism within the office also allows employees to build deeper, valuable, and more authentic connections with clients and business associates. Cultural awareness and sensitivity are crucial to the success of a firm that interacts with international clients, stakeholders, and employees.
4 Ways to Strengthen a Diverse Team
We often take for granted that our colleagues and employees will fully understand what we are saying or asking them to do because similar cultural backgrounds allow us to share frames of reference.
However, in a team comprised of varying nationalities and backgrounds, idioms, phrases, and references, this may cause misunderstandings. Non-native speakers, although fluent, may not always have the capability to read between the lines, grasp the certain socio-cultural or historical context, or understand nuances.
To be able to effectively communicate with all team members, choose to avoid ‘management speak’ or colloquialisms, and instead opt for simple language to convey clear messages.
Be sure to create a culture where questions are welcome in order to clarify doubts: patience and courtesy are key. Consistently delivering the message that varying cultural backgrounds influences behavior and communication style is crucial in reducing misunderstandings.
Diverse cultures should be celebrated! Being able to acknowledge and navigate the varying backgrounds in a diverse team will only serve to optimize performance.
From behaviors, language, values and expectations, to norms and even interspersed words or short phrases, how cultural diversity manifests often fluctuates. Educating yourself in what those manifestations are will improve in-house interaction.
One way to tackle this approach head-on is by discussing backgrounds, and particularly individual expectations relating to the business and role played by each employee. This drives a culture of understanding.
It’s also important to acknowledge different cultures by embracing the elements of the cultures in our day-to-day activities.
The Geert Hofstede cultural dimension model is particularly useful when dealing with cross-cultural teams, as it explains the effect that growing up in a certain cultural environment may have on people, their values, and their expectations with respect to their activities and their interactions with others.
The ability to collaborate is based on mutual respect and trust, but, of course, building trust takes time. Creating an environment where people feel comfortable enough to share their personal experiences and histories is a proven strategy to build trust. Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, is an excellent read on the subject.
Face-to-face interaction is also crucial to building confidence in team members, as the person you are communicating with becomes more than just a letter or email, but a human to whom you can associate unique characteristics.
Body language and tone of voice only come across through in-person communication. Even if you are communicating across time zones and continents, don’t fall prey to relying on email. Schedule meetings using visual platforms such as Skype.
Finally, it has been shown that teams working towards one common goal succeed at building unity. This is because each member of the team has one objective and purpose, making collaboration practical and advantageous.
Create a Team Identity
It’s essential that everyone involved is made aware of the target that the team is working toward and common values that drive them as members of that team. Being able to pinpoint the means by which a team operates and its end goal allows team members to make those means and end goal their own.
The team member thus identifies with the larger team, and places the interests of the team above personal ones. This is especially the case when the individual feels that his or her contribution is valued and necessary to the team’s overall success.
Nurturing personal connections, such as by designing social situations that allow team members to create bonds with one another, will also enable the team to develop a strong common identity. The outdated view that ‘we don’t have to like each other’ is now widely disregarded.
Quite to the contrary, reputable publications such as Harvard Business Review now extol workplaces that apply ‘positive and virtuous’ practices, which they believe result in the business excelling in a number of domains.
Acknowledgment of cultural differences is not enough when it comes to citizens of the world and cross-cultural teams. Instead, these differences should be embraced and leveraged. Having a cross-cultural team presents many opportunities for creativity, innovation, and, ultimately, success.
Micha-Rose Emmett is the Group Managing Director of CS Global Partners, a leading, legal advisory service that specializes in residency and citizenship. Emmett offers intelligent citizenship solutions to high-net-worth individual (HNWI) clients and investors seeking to diversify their business and lifestyle opportunities.