Different cultural backgrounds of the individual within multi-cultural teams create potential advantages. Discuss.
Multi-cultural teams play a vital role in the era of globalization and give considerable advantages to global businesses. Multi-cultural teams are essential for those companies where creativity or innovation is needed. To understand the multi-cultural teams we need to understand the culture. According to Kroeber and Kluckhohn, 1952 cited in Adler, J. (2008, p18) “Culture consists of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behaviour acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievement of human groups, including their embodiment in artefacts; the essential core of culture consists of traditional (i.e. historically derived and selected) ideas and especially their attached values; culture systems may, on the one hand, be considered as products of action, on the other, as conditioning elements of future action”. Culture varies across different countries and region. Many aspects of management vary across countries. Career paths, supervisor roles and ownership patterns vary across different countries. In past, Global business was a minor part of the world. Global businesses used to only send one manager to other country to sell its product to foreign clients. But in this globalisation age, different people from different cultural backgrounds work together in a same company in order to achieve organisational goals. By the end of the 21st century, globalisation had brought together a concept of multicultural teams in every leading business organisation. The importance of multicultural teams that are different in function as well as of cultural backgrounds is becoming more critical in the era of globalization and increased competition from corporations around the globe. This essay discusses the potential advantages which an organisation can achieve by forming a multicultural team.
The concept of multicultural team has become a reality in both domestic and global firms. The impact of multicultural teams varies on the basis of competitive environment and the overall strategy of the firm. Firms can be classified basically in 4 types: Domestic firms, Multi-domestic firms, Multinational firms and Global firms. Domestic firm does not have too much impact of global cultural diversity as compared to Multi-domestic firms which has a high influence of cultural diversity. In context of Multinational firm, it does have a high influence of cultural diversities because the main consideration here is the price and cost. When the firms attain a status of global firm, it has to understand the dynamics of cultural diversities and accordingly plan their business strategies, manage supply chain worldwide and to market the products as per the cultural backgrounds. In the age of Globalisation more and more firms are moving towards a global business which has increased the importance of multicultural teams or workforce.
The characteristics on which the differences in diversity occur are gender, age, race and nationality. The cultural background of an individual is the most relevant difference when he has to work in a team of different cultural backgrounds. According to Adler, when we talk about diversity, teams can be classified into homogeneous team where all the members of the team are of the same background, token teams where all the members are from same background expect 1 member, bicultural team where half of the team is of same background and other half from other background and multicultural teams where members come from two or more cultural backgrounds.
Organisation consists of employees of different culture and cultural backgrounds. The firm could be a domestic firm or a global firm. For a domestic firm, now nobody has to go a different country to meet someone of different cultural background. With an increasing rate of globalisation many people are working abroad and this has led to the concept of domestic multiculturalism. It means people coming from abroad to work in domestic firms and this creates multicultural diversity. When we talk about organisation, it consists of group which are highly effective or non effective, groups performance varies from poor to excellent etc. So the productivity of a group depends upon the task given, available resources and the process of completing the task. A team's actual productivity depends on how well the team is working together and is using the resources to complete the task given to them.
In order to create potential advantages managers of organisation have to create a team of talented people from different cultural backgrounds. The challenge of manager is to build effective communication, mutual respect, productivity despite different cultural views and a win-win situation. Manager has to do the following things.
1) Budget for an in-person initial meeting:
A manager should bring all the team members together for a few days at the start of the project as this can help decrease conflicts between members and there can be a good communication environment. All the team members will share their past experiences and goals which will help all the team members to understand their backgrounds properly. A manager should be creative enough in order to build team harmony.
2) Facilitate an open discussion about team expectations:
During the initial meeting a manager should ask the team members about the working environment they want to be in. This will help manager to identify the needs of the team members and also team members will understand the needs of each other. A manager should allow team members to speak freely and expect some suggestions from them.
3) Be explicit with rules and expectations:
One of the main challenges to work in a diversified team is that the rules and expectations are generally implicit. For example, everyone knows how to do A not B. However, the behaviour A might be different in situation with behaviour B for everyone. So, if the manager makes these expectations explicit at the start of the project then this will help to alleviate conflicts between team members.
4) Be proactive:
One of the major problems of multicultural teams is communication. It is not possible for manger to over-communicate with his team. However, he has manage communication by sending e-mails summarizing the conversation that took place in the meeting and identify potential challenges as a team so that team members are not isolated.
5) Be considerate:
A manager should be considerate enough to the members of the team. For example, he should give members holidays during project planning whether it is a national holiday or a religious holiday. When there is a meeting or a conference call manager should rotate time so that no team member has to get up early or stay up to late to participate.
6) Facilitate rapport-building:
Manager has to encourage rapport building between the members. For example, he should organise a day where every team member gets together share lunch, listen to different music, discuss history of their home country and so on. Celebrate birthdays of team members and special occasions which could build a good rapport and bring out advantages for the organisation.
If the manager is successful in doing the above challenges then he can achieve potential advantages in an organisation of multicultural teams. Diversity permits increase creativity by providing wider range of prospective and better ideas operating globally. For example: when a UK based company wants to enter the Indian market they must have someone in their team who can tell them about the customers' preferences, market trends, ethics and the best suited strategy for the country. This will help to reduce efforts on the part of the other members. Also, this will help the company to know about the Indian market and therefore enable them to frame their strategy accordingly. And if the company has individuals from different cultures and ethnic backgrounds, it will prove to be an asset as it will help the company to discuss strategies which work in their culture and ultimately may result in a unified strategy which will attract all culture groups and help in attaining competitive advantage.
Diversity forces improved awareness to appreciate others', general ideas, viewpoints, meaning and arguments. Modern business unlike traditional business does not focus on profit maximisation as the company objective. In modern business, customers are the key drivers of the business and the business focuses on customer satisfaction. Businesses which fail to satisfy their customers, fail in carrying out their business as well. So, to understand the need of different customers who belong to different cultures and work groups, the company requires market experts who can solve this problem. A multicultural marketing team will help the company in understanding different customer groups and setting up a marketing strategy which can attract a large number of groups. For example, McDonalds which is operating in more than 138 countries and serving their food with a great success is a good example of multicultural team success. Multicultural team in McDonalds help the company to understand different cultures and modify their products and marketing strategy accordingly. Like, in UK their products contain 100% pure beef, but if they go with the same product and strategy in India, Pakistan or Malaysia, they would be out of business in a month as in India beef is prohibited. In Pakistan and Malaysia people are more concerned about ‘Halal' meat, so products and advertisement campaigns without ‘Halal' meat would be a disaster. However, McDonald is running its business successfully in these countries because of their multicultural teams.
Furthermore, a multicultural team in Human Resource (HR) department plays a vital role and it becomes more important when recruiting people from different cultures. Different cultures have different ways of communication and different perspectives for the similar situation. Culture of the each and every single country has its own uniqueness. Culture of two geographically close countries, can't be same such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and China all are connected with each other but have their unique moral and ethical values. The HR department well aware of these characteristics and while recruiting may notice that a Americans are quite quick in answering whatever he knows whereas Philippians first repeat the question and take some time to answer the question. They should not mistake this in terms of low confidence in comparison to the American individual as according to Philippians' culture it is their way of giving respect to the person who is sitting in front of them, a pause before starting means thanks for the question. It is quite vital to have a multicultural team while recruiting so that the company can have the best individuals and avoid rejecting a good talent.
Another advantage of a multicultural team is that teams become more efficient and creative when they have members belonging to various cultures. For example, in UK universities, classrooms comprise of students belonging to different cultures. When given a chance to make group presentations students prefer working in groups consisting of students belonging to different countries and possessing different cultures as this will provide a global look to the group and also ideas generated will have a global taste to them stressing and keeping in mind the various cultures of the world. Any problem or issue to be discussed in the presentation will be addressed to from the point of view of a multicultural team. Such presentations prove to be quite effective and productive as they have an intercultural flavour attached to them. Particular example is our own group presentation for this course. Our group had five nationalities. This diversified group gave our presentation a global view and proved as a best presentation. However, we have had some arguments but this is the beauty of multicultural team and it enhances innovation and creativity.
Lastly, high creativity that exists in multicultural groups produces better solutions to reason out problems, increased number of alternative approaches to address the problem at hand, more efficient solutions and decisions. This can be illustrated with an example. The United States of America is one large multicultural country. The immense power that this country has achieved till date is due to the blend of great minds that exist here. People from different countries have come and settled here and today are citizens of the USA and working towards the progress of this country. Be it NASA or any other big organisation of the USA, it consists of genius' from all over the world belonging to different cultures. This characteristic of the US economy definitely works in the way of its progress. All major problems are addressed to from different perspectives and excellent decisions are made.
The question arises here is that Does these multicultural teams always produces better solutions, creativity and so on? Adler says that multicultural team along with its potential advantages has some disadvantages which most of the organisation face in this global age. Multicultural teams create Mistrust between the members as people are attracted towards people of the same culture rather than a different culture. The major problem of having a multicultural team is miscommunication. Some Team members does not speak the team's working language fluently so the communication gets slow down. The diversity sometimes leads to stress which often increases due to lack of communication and mistrust. Some team members inappropriately stereotype their colleagues from other cultures rather than gathering skills from them. They sometimes talk only to people who have higher status rather than talking to someone of lower status culture. These negative factors lead to disruption in the formation of multicultural teams. So it becomes a responsibility of the managers and the organisation to avoid conflicts.
In the age of globalisation, the competition between companies has increased considerably. Every company has their own innovative methods to achieve an advantageous position in the global market. The concept of multicultural teams has helped many companies to achieve a global status such as McDonalds, KFC and many more. Thus, when we analyse the situation of creating a multicultural team to gain potential advantages the answer that comes to our mind is that yes, multicultural teams certainly have potential advantages which is very important for an organisation in a long run. The important thing is that diversity leads to higher performance only when members of the team are able to understand each other and get together to build up their ideas and work upon it. In the context of multicultural team, a manager also has a very important role to play while creating a team of different culture people. He should follow the six steps which lead to create a good multicultural team. If multicultural teams have to work effectively, the team members must generate multiple perspective, problem definitions, ideas, action alternative and should be able to work together as a team. If they fail to create such solutions, multicultural teams become ineffective. However, if they succeed then the advantages would be myriad.
* Adler, N. (2008). International Dimension of Organizational Behaviour. United States: South Western College.
* Brown, K., James, C. and Huettner, B. (2007) “Working on multicultural teams”:Wordware.
* Kroeber, A. L; & kluckhohn, F. Culture: a Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions, Peabody museum papers, vol.47, no.1 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 1952), p.181. Reprinted with permission of the Peabody museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University.