With international mobility on the increase, companies are recruiting more international staff. Such cultural diversity within a business represents a significant boon. However, managing a team of people from all corners of the world can sometimes prove a challenge. It is the manager's job to draw out the benefits of this cultural wealth and ensure the expertise and cultures of each individual are valued. Intercultural management is undoubtedly a major business issue.
An international team is a group of individuals from different cultures working together with a shared goal. Having a different culture does not just mean coming from a different country. An individual’s culture refers to their way of thinking and living their life, with both aspects generally shared by those from that particular culture. Culture includes ideas, behaviour, values, traditions, beliefs and customs that create a sense of belonging.
In business, culture is born out in a different mother tongue and ways of interacting as well as a person’s view of the world of work and its conventions.
For interculturalism to drive success in a company, managers need to be aware of specific cultural differences within their team and adapt their management style accordingly. Doing this is sure to bear fruit.
The manager’s own culture
The manager him- or herself is not immune to the influence of their own culture on their actions and way of seeing the world, expressing themselves or leading a team. It therefore essential that they look at their own culture before exploring that of others and attempting to manage an intercultural team.
Everyone expresses themselves in their own way!
In international teams, the use of English tends to be de rigueur. Even if most people can speak good English, this does not mean communication will be perfect. It’s important to be aware of the two levels of language mastery: verbal and non-verbal (the latter comprising tone and body language). These subtleties can be hard to notice so it’s important to carefully interpret works spoken. Each individual’s culture influences the way they speak to others and managers need to be aware of this.
Learning about others
It is essential that trusting relationships exist within a team so any cultural prejudices must be eliminated if mutual respect is to be achieved. Therefore, it is useful for team members to learn more about the cultures that make up their team. Managers need to be close to their teams and show an interest in specific cultural details. If they do this, staff are likely to follow their example and be more open to each other.
Creating a team culture
If a manager encourages communication within their team, a unique team culture will emerge, resulting from the ways of working and conventions which have developed within the group.
When all group members accept and adopt these ‘standards’, communication will become easier. However, when a new colleague joins the team relationships will inevitably change. The manager must therefore adapt to developments in their team’s culture. Intercultural management is undoubtedly a long-term process rather than a single action.
In conclusion, managing an international team should not just be about intercultural risk management. Managers should be able to take a step back and go beyond mere observation of differences between team members. They should implement carefully chosen initiatives for group cohesion. If they do so, they will reap the benefits of a team with a range of complementary worldviews.