Gugin research unit has recently conducted a survey on what managers of cultural diverse teams find most challenging. We used a broad definition of “cultural diverse” so it wasn’t limited to diversity in national cultures. The cultural challenges we identified seemed to be fairly genetic, which falls in line with what we have experienced from working with more than 600 organisations around the world.
Below are the top 5 challenges we identified:
1. Understanding why people behave differently than expected
Most of the managers who participated in the survey have been managers for several years before they had to manage a culturally diverse team. They have been used to mange a group of people who shared the same norms, values and basic assumptions in life. Our behavior is always an expression of our values, so when you are managing people from a different culture you have to their norms and values in order to understand their behavior. Developing that understanding is the most challenging task managers of cultural diverse teams are facing according to Gugin’s survey. See how you can become a cultural intelligent leader with intensive to the point training – anywhere in the world
2. Avoid getting frustrated and angry
We always compare other people’s behavior with our own norms and values. If the behavior makes sense we accept it but if it doesn’t, we reject it. Sometimes that rejection leads to frustration and hostility. As a manager you should of course avoid showing frustration or hostility towards your employees behavior. It is however a challenging task according to our survey. It is often a reaction we meet when we counsel leaders on how to deal with cultural diversity, so we were not surprised to see it on this top 5 list. The reason why we end up frustrated and hostile is because we often interpret other people’s behavior incorrectly. An example: If you value always being on time you will get frustrated if some of your team members are notoriously late. Because they are usually late for appointments you might start adding attributes to their personality which are not rooted in reality but solely matches your perception of people who are always late. Instead of building a tower of prejudges try to mobilize curiosity with the purpose to uncover the underlying norms and values. When that has been achieved you might be able to reconcile the opposing views on time orientation.
Gugin’s intensive, to-the-point cross-cultural training modules. Read more here. We deliver them in too!
3. Motivating a cultural diverse team – Challenges and opportunities
What we regard as motivation is closely related to culture and it is often the case that what serves as a motivation factor in one culture is de-motivating people from another culture. That is properly the reason why motivation has found its way to our top 5 challenges for cross-cultural managers. Very often companies have a single-threaded motivation and reward systems based on the norms and values from where the company was originated. when you expand to other cultures and you bring along your motivation system you might experience a decline in efficiency and employee satisfaction because other people might feel de-motivated by factor that you find extremely motivating. An example: Some people find it highly motivating having a huge influence on how to organize their own job. They like to know what to deliver and enjoy the freedom to figure out themselves how, when and where to get the job done. Other people however will feel extremely uncomfortable with that “freedom”, because they will expect their manager to tell them how to do their job. In extreme situations nothing will be done until a detailed roadmap and job description has been provided.
Fear as a management tool. Do you use it? Please participate in our survey here
4. Achieve the desired level of efficiency
A great deal of the respondents felt that it was difficult to reach the desired level of efficiency in their multicultural team because too much time is spent on sorting out misunderstandings, setting expectations and make everyone on the team pursue the same goals. The reason why this issue ends up on this list is because we initially only see one definition of efficiency. An example: In Gugin we often help our clients improve the decision processes in multicultural teams because there different views on what efficiency is. Some people value to make decision fast and move on, while others value to take the time to analyze the situation thoroughly, consult their team and then make their decision. People who like to make decisions fast regard the consensus-oriented people as slow and inefficient. But research has shown that people who take individual decisions more often have to have to re-do their decisions than people who opt for collective decision making. So the collective decision making might take longer time, but it has a better quality. In reality we need to do both types of decisions, so reconciling the two views will lead to increased organisational effectiveness.
5. Lack of proper training on managing a cultural diverse team
And finally the cross-cultural managers feel that they need the right tools to manage and lead a culturally diverse team. Managing diversity is an important add-on to the management skills they already have. Culturally diverse teams impose som challenges but also a lot of opportunities. If you are not trained to deal with this aspect of leadership you miss a lot of opportunities and you might ignore some cultural challenges that can disturb your goals and objectives.
What can you do about these challenges?
We are up against our own biology and our own psychology when we are trying to overcome these challenges. From a biological point of view it is a good thing we are sceptical towards people who are different from ourselves. Staying away from people we don’t know has after all secured our survival since we climbed down from the trees on the African savannah. From a psychological point of view most of us have been raised to be sceptical. Didn’t your parents tell you “Don’t talk to strangers”? They probably did. So with biology and psychology against us, how can we learn to be open to the world without acting too suicidal? It is a major question I usually always addresses when I do speeches for leaders and politicians around the world. No matter where I am, this essential question always comes up. The short answer is that the challenges we face by living in en complex, fast-moving, globalised world are many. But with the stone-age attitude that has secured our survival for thousands od years, we will perish. The reason for that is that we as human being have become far more advanced, more intelligent. We also live much closer together than ever before and we have a lot more freedom. These three factors have made us more predictable, responsible and social conscious. That means that the risks associated with approaching a stranger is much lower than it was 3000 years ago. So we intellectually have to educate ourselves and learn new behaviours and patterns. It is called cultural intelligence and it should be taught in all schools around the world. Unfortunately it isn’t but fortunately a lot of companies have realised the need for developing these competences so our cross cultural courses have become very popular over the past decade.
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