Cultural differences are increasingly important as a business continues to globalize, and nowhere is this more apparent than with multinational teams. But why do some teams thrive while others seem doomed to inefficiency and discord? Putting an emphasis on cross-border cultural fluency is key.
With personal experience managing teams across different cultures, several things are consistent. The most successful leaders of multinational teams embrace these four key management techniques.
- They have a nuanced understanding of time and punctuality.
Your team members in Latin America understand meeting times or deadlines as general guidelines, not strict obligations. Similarly, Chinese culture often emphasizes waiting until the right moment to complete a task. Neither of these is bad for business, as both offer the ability to produce superior results. However, hard-driving westerners operate in a more matter-of-fact, direct way.
While new communication technologies that de-emphasize the need for in-person collaboration are advantageous, explore practices that embrace continual conversation and establish expectations everyone is able to meet.
- They ensure everyone is heard.
Many multinational team members are exasperated by the way others talk and collaborate. Communication is deeply cultural, so even questions of when to speak up in a meeting and when to stay quiet expose profound differences.
Different communication styles are inevitable. Be aware that certain team members require different openings and opportunities. By assessing communication styles across your multinational teams, you uncover new ways to communicate that openly offer space for everyone to chime in.
- They have a flexible approach to authority.
Team members from more egalitarian cultures confound those from hierarchical cultures. What appears like a fair, flat organizational chart to one person is utterly disorganized to another. With this being said, conduct your interactions with an awareness of what your team members expect.
Learning to wear different authoritative hats is key. As a leader, do not take an egalitarian sense of collaboration personally; the division of power is beneficial. Likewise, clear authority to some provides a sense of direction and empowerment.
- They don’t just tolerate different approaches—they leverage them.
Your multinational team’s innate differences help produce inventive solutions that any one individual would not think of on his or her own. Use this to your advantage as much as you can.
Some team members dependably provide the ruthless practicality and organization you need, while others discard preordained structures and innovate freely. These ways of thinking are so natural to them, which allows you to tap into multiple viewpoints.
Paying attention to how your multinational team members solve problems in their native environments provides extreme insight. As you continue to guide them down these individualized paths, combine their ideas to arrive at superior solutions.
Embracing diversity isn’t simply about recognizing differences; it’s also about cultivating these nuances and giving employees room to thrive. For today’s businesses, cultural fluency and flexibility are prerequisites to successful goal achievement. Your workforce is changing, but play to their strengths wisely, and they will remain essential assets to your business’ success.
This article was originally published in ACG’s Middle Market Growth publication on July 29, 2019.