Managing Groups and Teams/Working in International Teams
Cultural diversity is defined as the ethnic, gender, racial, and socioeconomic variety in situations, institutions, and groups.1
Cultural diversity can be found everywhere we look, however this article focuses specifically on the impact of cultural diversity in the business world. The business world is a treacherous interpersonal landscape to navigate when dealing with people of a similar culture to ourselves, but this pales in comparison to the complexity of dealing with other cultures.
Why is cultural diversity such a challenge? The problem we face when dealing with people of different cultures is that the false consensus effect confuses us. The false consensus effect is the tendency to believe that others see the world more like us than they actually do.2 People of different cultures see the world even more differently from us than we are used to, yet the false consensus effects leads us to behave as though people of other cultures see things just like we do. This creates confusion, misinterpretations, poor decisions, ineffectiveness, and is bad for business. The solution is cultural intelligence, which is described later.3
Cultural diversity is becoming more and more important.
• White males occupy 5% fewer management jobs in 2006 than in 1998, and every other racial/gender group occupy more management jobs.4
• The U.S. population of foreign born residents is 12.4%, an amount of international diversity that the U.S. has not seen since 1920.5
• 90% of leading executives from 68 countries named cross cultural leadership as the top management challenge of the next century.6,7
• The proportion of revenue coming from overseas markets is expected to jump by an average of 30 to 50 percent over the next 3 to 5 years.7
Today’s corporations recognize the importance of cultural diversity. Many companies value diversity so strongly that they devote large sections of their websites towards diversity. Companies share their personnel statistics to illustrate their relatively progressive minority staffing for jobs in lower management, upper management, and their board of directors. Such companies want to show that they are meritocracies where minorities will be treated equally, which leads to greater diversity. Notably culturally diverse companies include Aetna, AT@T, Booz Allen Hamilton, General Mills, General Motors, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Lucent Technologies, Nissan, Price Waterhouse Coppers, Toyota, and Waster Management. These companies have received many awards that recognize their pursuit of a more diverse workplace.8
Advantages of Diversified Teams
What are the advantages of diversified teams? Many organizations fall into the trap of creating a team, based on a need – need of completing a project, hitting a deadline or filling a role. They seldom base the project on the need for different perspectives or ensuring that the group brainstorm is effective. Thus, there are many advantages to creating diversified teams that focus on a common goal and work towards a universal solution. More and more companies and associations are realizing the importance of diversity in teams in this modern society. There are many advantages to different cultural backgrounds, diverse experiences within team members and the benefits of individual brainstorming. By creating diverse teams, with people of different backgrounds and cultures, the group can help prevent groupthink. Diversity provides a greater variety of perspectives and ideas, which can lead to more creative solutions. “Workplace diversity now focuses on inclusion and the impact on the bottom line. Leveraging workplace diversity is increasingly seen as a vital strategic resource for competitive advantage.”15
Defining diversity is problematic diversity refers to the ways that people in organizations differ. “That sounds simple, but defining it more specifically is a challenge because people in organizations differ in a great many ways - race, gender, ethnic group, age, personality, cognitive style, tenure, organizational function, and more. There is also the fact that diversity not only involves how people think of others and how this affects their interaction but how they conceive of themselves.” 13 In When Teams Work Best, Cooke and Szumal “discovered that across a variety of problem-solving groups, constructive individual styles – as opposed to aggressive and passive styles – are associated with higher quality solutions.” 12 By creating a diverse team, an organization is empowering individuals to perform at a higher-level and to increase productivity.
There are still many people who view working in teams as an ineffective practice. There is the old adage that two heads are better than one, but many do not see the relevance in meeting in teams to work on projects. It may appear, especially to those that have had bad team experiences in the past, the more people on a team, the more confusion and wasted time in finding the end result. But this is not the case – it only means that the team needs to be restructured. “Seeing differences among people as the same, makes diversity a benign, almost meaningless, concept.” 13 It is essential for organizations to design effective teams, including the team players that will manage and utilize this arena for success. The “team process” has to be constantly managed and diversified if necessary.
Teams provide a setting where politics can be worked out and diverse individuals can come together to share their cultures and backgrounds. It is important to rely on other team members to delegate the workload and to learn from individual experiences. This is the key element to any organization and needs to be the focus for any decision-making strategy. In addition, it is important to understand that some teams do not work well together. “Clearly, the attitudes, styles and interaction patterns of team members have a direct impact on performance outcomes.” 12 Management must understand that it is not the formation of a team that is faulty, but the design of the team.
Disadvantages of Diversified/International Teams
The scope of the Disadvantages of Diversified Teams portion focuses on challenges within the international team related to language, culture, stereotypes, preconceptions, and differing value systems. These challenges make it difficult for a team to develop team cohesiveness and foster collaboration, which then leads to mistrust, miscommunication and misunderstanding. Included are ways to overcome these difficulties when working in an international team. Some of the disadvantages of international teams are:
One of the first disadvantages of working in an international team can be the impact of language. Even though we use might use the same words does not mean that we use the same language. This is especially evident when we compare American English and British English. Two people might be using the same words, but understand one another on a completely different level. Multi-International teams have individuals who will not be able to converse in their native tongue. Undoubtedly, this will lead to some form of misunderstanding when working together for at least one member of the group. “When people speak with their team in a language other than their native one, it often affects their ability to interact with the group. It potentially affects spontaneity, clarity of expression (vocabulary and pronunciation), and willingness to express ideas. This is more challenging if your culture is indirect or your personal style is more introverted.” 16 Specific areas of miscommunication can be found in the form of vocabulary, language style, non verbal communication, and the unwillingness to express ideas.
• Vocabulary- The vocabulary that we and others use can sometimes be confusing to others who do not speak the same native language, let alone to those who do. Many miscommunications can arise if we are not aware of the speech and vocabulary we use and how it is interpreted by the receiving party.
• Language Style- Varying nationalities communicate differently. When working in teams some individuals may be very direct and blunt, while others may be indirect and vague in their communication. Each person may interpret these language styles differently. It is important to recognize the differing language styles and the common misunderstandings that can come from it. Accents, pronunciation, slang and the use of idioms can also cause fundamental misunderstandings.
• Non Verbal Communication- A majority of communication is done through non verbal communication. Non verbal communication has an enormous impact on intercultural communication because of the way in which it can be misinterpreted from one culture to the next. Non verbal communication can give off mixed signals if you are not aware of the communication style of the person with whom you are working.
• Unwillingness to express ideas- The inferiority complex where team members feel they cannot express themselves in the language that is being used, so they do not express their ideas.
Culture is everything we see around us. It is how we act, what we think, and what we believe. It is the words we use, the food we eat, and the clothes we wear. However, beyond these things mentioned underlies invisible values and beliefs that make up behaviors that are unique to each society. We may be able to see the obvious outward signs that make up ones culture, but oftentimes we fail to understand the invisible culture. “The only way to deal successfully with people from a different country is to be aware of what’s going on beneath the surface and use that knowledge to shape your own behavior and expectations. If you don’t understand that what’s below the surface is far more powerful and potentially dangerous than what you can see, you run the risk of hitting the invisible part of the iceberg.” 17 Because there are so many cultures and each one has its unique set of beliefs, below are listed a couple of cultural pitfalls to take into consideration.
• Attitudes toward time-The difficulty in dealing with international teams is that each culture has a different attitude toward time. This can cause problems when prioritizing tasks and completing tasks within certain deadlines.
• Different Value Systems- “Peoples’ values are expressed through what they say and what they do. Therefore people working together from different cultural backgrounds may find that they approach and execute tasks differently because of differences in their cultural values. Understanding differences in value systems helps us to understand how and why individuals may behave differently to ourselves. This can help us work more effectively together and make the most of the benefits that those differences offer.” 18
Preconceptions & Stereotypes-
Stereotypes are the tendency we have to simplify the world by putting people into a category, and then fitting the individual into the stereotype of that category. If you interact with a team member from a particular country, you may have the tendency to put another a future team member in the same category as the first team member with whom you interacted.
Ways to overcome difficulties when working in an international team
Open and effective communication is paramount in any team, international or not. Therefore, any miscommunications that can be mitigated beforehand will only accentuate the success of the team. “Establish conversational rules from the beginning. Acknowledge differences in accents and encourage team members to be mindful of them. Remind team members to refrain from using words with multiple meanings, idioms, or slang.” 19
Non verbal communication-
• “Even if you don’t speak the language, it’s a good idea to become versed in a culture’s nonverbal expressions, such as touching or bowing, personal gestures, and the display of emotions.” 20
• Keep in mind that “There exists no body movement, no facial expression, no gesture which could arouse the same reaction all over the world. A smile expresses friendliness in one society, in another embarrassment, in yet another it can include an enemy’s warning that attack is imminent if tension is not released.” 21
• “Limit hand gestures and maintain a moderate body posture.” 22
• “Silence can mean agreement, disagreement, or contemplation. Be careful not to make assumptions and express the overt message whenever possible.” 23
• “Do not interpret the absence of disagreement as agreement” 24
• “Nonverbal communication is powerful. Learn about the ways in which members express negative concepts. Silence is often one way to do this, but it also may show respect and allow contemplation of another person’s comment.” 25
In order to overcome some of the difficulties of working in international teams, the book Managing Across Cultures suggests that we have a global mindset. A global mindset is “the ability to recognize and adapt to cultural signals so that you intuitively see global opportunities and are effective in dealing with people from different backgrounds around the world.” 26
The book also suggests three ways to mitigate any cultural problems before they become a problem. They are:
• “Increase each individual team member’s knowledge of his or her own cultural values. This can be accomplished through suggested readings and online resources.” 27
• “Increase the team’s collective knowledge of the range of cultural differences in the group. It is important for people to review details of the cultures present in their team and think about where they might face challenges.” 28
• “Encourage people to assess their own personal cultural styles and how those styles may affect the group” 29
Other suggestions are:
• Do not assume things about a particular group or individual.
• Take time to get to know others.
• Learn about others’ cultures and customs in order to build and sustain relationships within your international team.
• Be sure to treat everyone in the group equally, regardless of their nationality.
• Learn about each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
• Do not put your own culture and way of doing things above others.
• “Try to see tasks from the other person’s point of view before you judge their contribution or performance.” 30
Stereotypes & Preconceptions-
Do not give into preconceptions and stereotypes. Know that they exist and realize there are ways to prevent them. Encourage face-to-face interactions so team members can diminish any stereotypes that may exist. “Trust often develops when members establish credibility by demonstrating their abilities and competence. Give team members the opportunity early on to engage in tasks that demonstrate their skills or introduce team members to each other by highlighting their past experiences and current expertise with the matters at hand.”
Cultural Intelligence (CQ)
“Cultural Intelligence is the outsider’s ability to interpret someone’s unfamiliar and ambiguous gestures the way that person’s compatriots would “
First there was IQ, then came EQ, and now there is CQ
We are culturally groomed to think and behave in a certain ways from the time we were babies.Every country and company has different cultural programming that result in varied sets of strengths and weaknesses.10 Every company and department has culture, some more distinct than others. Every country or region exhibits some cultural differences that distinguish them from one another and are fully understood only by the people from within. There are people that have the ability to seemingly fit-in and mingle within virtually any environment or group and there are others that find the cultural boundaries impossible to cross. What if these differences and boundaries are present and around daily in the team someone is a part of for eight to ten hours a day? How do people with huge mentality and understanding gaps fit in and become an effective team? International and highly diversified teams are becoming more and more common as the world becomes more flat, but people still carry their learned behaviors and mentality. These differences may present a communication wall and prevent team from functioning.
The bad news is that very few people are gifted with high cultural intelligence, but the good news is that people can change that. Cultural Intelligence is related to Emotional Intelligence (EI) and one thing that they share in common is the “propensity to suspend judgment and think before acting”. Take as an example international team that consists of people from US and India. It is very difficult to determine what features are natural and could be attributed to the individual and what are related to the place of birth. If people on the team have low CQ they much more likely to label the team-members from the other country, become less interested in the individuals and thus hinder the team’s cohesiveness. Increasing team members CQ could help in overcoming some of the disadvantages of working on international/distributed teams by removing cultural boundaries and increasing personal trust and connection.
Most managers fit within one of six established profiles. 9
• The provincial: Effective when working with people of similar background, but lacks the ability to work with people from other cultures
• The analyst: Tries to methodically analyzes other cultures and tries to apply learned strategies
• The natural: Relies entirely on his own natural intuition and avoids learning more or improving based on established techniques
• The ambassador: Likes differences and welcomes them, does not know much about the culture, but he is confident he can handle it.
• The mimic: Has a high degree of confidence in his actions. Easily communicates and fits in.
• The chameleon: Possesses high degree of CQ and could be even mistaken for native in certain situations.
CQ is a relatively new notion and term but some countries are already establishing structures to advance this skill in the general population. Singapore has created a center devoted to CQ at a major university, which offers training, consulting, and other resources for this subject.http://www.cci.ntu.edu.sg/
Companies also benefit from increased CQ. Besides increased revenues, companies that worked to enhance their leaders' CQs expanded internationally faster and became more successful at attracting and retaining top talent.
There are many different tests that could help people get a better understanding of their personal strengths and weaknesses and frameworks that could help build up CI. It takes commitment, learning and patience acquiring the necessary skills and thus increasing the Cultural Intelligence level, however this skill could prove to be invaluable in a world that is growing closer together each day.
A good start to improving CI level is testing it: http://www.cq-portal.com/
Improving CQ, verbal and non-verbal communication will improve teams and managers. Once people understand and improve their CQ, they will be better equipped to work within and lead diverse workgroups. Managers of tomorrow will need to unite team members from various backgrounds and cultures; more importantly, the different cultures and norms of the team members will need to be deciphered and used for the greater good of the team. Similar to the collaborative multinational peace efforts carried out by the United Nations, or the global manufacture and sales practices of Honda, companies can achieve more if team members and management understand and build off of each other’s strengths, culture, and norms. Diverse teams will only succeed if dissimilar team members work together and CQ is the solution.
3. David Livermore, Leading with Cultural Intelligence: The New Secret to Success, AMACOM, 2010, page 13.
4. Ruth Ellen Wasem, "Immigration Reform: Brief Synthesis of Issue," CRS Report For Congress (August 23, 2007). Available at http://fpc.state.gov/documents/organization/91856.pdf.
5. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s raw data.
6. Economist Intelligence Unit, “CEO Briefing: Corporate Priorities for 2006 and Beyond” in The Economist: Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU) at http://graphics.eiu.com/files/ad_pdfs/ceo_Briefing_UKTI_wp.pdf or http://www.eiu.com/CorporatePriorities2006
7. David Livermore, Leading with Cultural Intelligence: The New Secret to Success, AMACOM, 2010, page 15.
9. Cultural Intelligence by P. Christopher Earley and Elaine Mosakowski
10. Cultural Intelligence A guide to working with people from other countries from Brooks Peterson http://books.google.com/books?id=-84MKmO-xi0C&pg=PA88&lpg=PA88&dq=Cultural+intelligence+test&source=bl&ots=z2T9omxLQ1&sig=_QIe9O7vQI50eUQ8_ZCNjSCKGlY&hl=en&ei=PLKBS9cahuCxA7e8nY0E&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=5&ved=0CB4Q6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=Cultural%20intelligence%20test&f=false
11. Cox, Taylor, Creating the Multicultural Organization: A Strategy for Capturing the Power of Diversity, Cornell University Library Holdings, https://catalog.library.cornell.edu/cgibin/Pwebrecon.cgi?DB=local&Search_Arg=When+generations+collide+%3A+traditionalists%2C+baby+boomers%2C+generation+xers%2C+millennials+%3A+who+they+ar&Search_Code=TALL&CNT=50&HIST=1, Jossey-Bass, 2001.
12. LaFasto, Frank, Larson, Carl, When Teams Work Best, Sage Publications, 2001
16. Solomon, Charlene M., Schell, Michael S.(2009). Managing across cultures (1st Edition). (pp.156-157)
17. Solomon, Charlene M., Schell, Michael S.(2009). Managing across cultures (1st Edition). (p.36)
19. Solomon, Charlene M., Schell, Michael S.(2009). Managing across cultures (1st Edition). (p.252)
20. Solomon, Charlene M., Schell, Michael S.(2009). Managing across cultures (1st Edition). (p.147)
21. Erlenkamp, Marco (2005). Managing International Teams and Workforce Diversity. (p.15)
22. Solomon, Charlene M., Schell, Michael S.(2009). Managing across cultures (1st Edition). (p.157)
23. Solomon, Charlene M., Schell, Michael S.(2009). Managing across cultures (1st Edition). (p.157)
24. Solomon, Charlene M., Schell, Michael S.(2009). Managing across cultures (1st Edition). (p.157)
25. Solomon, Charlene M., Schell, Michael S.(2009). Managing across cultures (1st Edition). (p.157)
26. Solomon, Charlene M., Schell, Michael S.(2009). Managing across cultures (1st Edition). (p.37)
27. Solomon, Charlene M., Schell, Michael S.(2009). Managing across cultures (1st Edition). (p.252)
28. Solomon, Charlene M., Schell, Michael S.(2009). Managing across cultures (1st Edition). (p.252)
29. Solomon, Charlene M., Schell, Michael S.(2009). Managing across cultures (1st Edition). (p.252)
30. http//:www.cochrane.org/docs/crossculturalteamwork.doc page 10