24 July 2020
How to Manage a Cross-Cultural Team

With each year, the workforce becomes more diverse as businesses seek out international employees, expand to other countries, and hire remote team members across the globe. Technology has improved communication so all team members can be present on a video call at one time, with little planning and external set up required. And as companies look to expand their teams internationally, with that comes a new host of challenges, such as the nuances that are associated with managing a cross-cultural team. 

What exactly does a cross-cultural team look like? Essentially, a cross-cultural team is one made up of individuals from various national backgrounds. Within each culture, includes differences in work experience, upbringing, and cognitive diversity. While having such a mix of backgrounds and perspectives is vital in the workplace, understanding how to manage a cohesive team is just as important.  

Communication Differences

One area where cultural differences can appear to be more evident is communication. What is considered to be a social norm, understood behaviours and expectations, and even hand gestures can lead to misunderstanding and miscommunication. One culture can interpret direct eye contact and questions as rude, whereas other individuals see this as a sign of respect and intent listening.  

While it is important not to generalise any culture, especially in the workplace, understanding basic differences in social norms can alleviate misinterpretation and promote clarified communication. Having an honest discussion about these differences early-on with your team members facilitates an open working environment as well as dispelling any pre-conceived misconceptions.  

Cultural Norms and Expectations

Another tool that is useful for understanding different cultural norms is Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory. This framework, based on Geert Hofstede, outlines different cultural influences that affect people’s outlook and behaviour, especially in the workplace. The six areas include: 

Power distance index– the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organisations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally’ 

Indulgence vs. Restraint– ‘the extent to which people try and control their desires and impulses.’ Countries with a high indulgence score lean more towards optimism, leisure time, and spending money as they please, whereas cultures with low indulgence scores have a tendency towards cynicism and do not put as much importance on leisure time.  

Individualism vs. Collectivism– ‘the degree of interdependence a society maintains among its members’ and relates to one’s self-image defined in terms of ‘I’ or ‘we.’ 

Uncertainty avoidance index ‘the extent to which members of a culture feel threatened by ambiguous or unknown situations and have created beliefs and institutions.  

Masculinity vs. Femininity ‘what motivates people, wanting to be the best (masculine) or liking what you do (feminine).’ A high score of masculine reveals a society is driven by ‘competition, achievement, and success defined as the winner/best in the field’ whereas the other side of the scale reveals a society values ‘quality of life as a sign of success and standing out from the crowd is not admirable.’ 

Long-term orientation vs. Short-term orientation ‘how society has to maintain some links with its own past while dealing with the challenges of the present and future.’ Cultures with high long-term orientations tend to save and invest money, showing perseverance in achieving results with a pragmatic outlook.  

Identify these within your own team to better understand expectations, standards, and bias. The country comparison tool on the website gives specific information in each category and allows one to further understand general communication norms that relate to cultural influences.

While this framework isn’t the only tool to consider when managing a cross-cultural team, it gives one valuable insight when communicating with individuals from various backgrounds.  

Work Styles

Along with cultural differences, it is imperative to consider differing work styles when managing a diverse team. An individual’s work style can be a combination of many factors and reflect cultural norms, while also revealing more personalised working traits. One example includes the expectation that employees can always be reached, even outside of working hours, whereas others keep to strict boundaries and only answer work-related requests during specific working days and hours. 

Take a moment and try to identify if someone’s working style is more influenced by their cultural upbringing, or their personality. This will help you tailor your communication to each team member and understand the best means of collaboration.  

At Meeko, we use the DISC assessment profile, which identifies four major working styles: dominance, influence, steadiness, and conscientiousness. By understanding one’s motivating factors in the workplace along with their preferred communication styles, this can cut through additional barriers when managing a global team.  

Another popular personality assessment is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which can be used to understand different characteristics and implementation in the office. Regardless of the assessment used, combining personal traits with a cultural understanding of one’s upbringing allows for increased empathy and understanding when managing a diverse team.  

Creating a solid foundation of cultural differences, work styles, and personality types allow for one to effectively manage a team that is based on mutual respect and understanding.

Some tips to use when working with a global team are as follows:  

Build Rapport

Getting to know your team members personally creates a strong foundation that facilitates support and trust. When you build rapport, your team members tend to feel more comfortable having frank and open conversations, which is crucial when managing a global team.  

Building rapport also allows you to distinguish personality traits from cultural traits. Is someone uncomfortable with conflict due to their personality or is it a related to cultural influence? Asking these questions and understanding people outside of their office role will help you develop a strong team. Having this foundation is especially helpful during times of conflict, as team members will already feel supported going into a difficult conversation.  

Adopt a Company Culture

Once you have established cultural influences, differing work styles, and personality types in your team, it is important to establish a company culture. By doing so, you create a common culture that considers multiple perspectives of a global team while supporting the overall goals of the company.  

Rather than individuals focusing on the characteristics that make them different, cultivating a company culture based on the organisation’s goals, values, and purpose promotes cohesiveness without sacrificing diversity. Small examples of organisational culture include the expectation that ‘Being five minutes early to a meeting is on time, and on time is late” whereas other businesses could start every meeting everyone sharing personal anecdotes before moving onto the agenda.  

By creating and reinforcing a strong company culture, you will be able to effectively manage diverse team members as the expectations and norms are defined by the organisation, not by personality or geography.  

Team Building

Team building is another tool that is useful for managing cross-cultural teams. Coffee catchups, social activities, and even ice breakers are opportunities for individuals to see each other outside of their specific roles in the office. These events are also a great chance to build rapport and trust as well as reinforce your company culture.  

At Meeko, we host an office-wide social event the first Friday of each month to give people a chance to get to know one another in a different environment. Whether we are working together to solve a mystery during a game’s night, out kayaking on the river in Kyiv, or chatting over happy hour drinks, these events bring individuals together outside of the office while reinforcing the Meeko culture.  

Even if your business has a few international employees or offices in multiple countries, understanding how to manage a global team will increase productivity, improve communication, and create a cohesive environment based on your company’s values.

To learn more about how Meeko manages a cross-cultural team or expand your business with international employees, send us an email at hello@meekoteams.com.  

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