Mercedes Vasallo, Senior Vice President of Human Resources International, with Paramount, shares her thoughts:
Within a social context that is as thrilling as it is changing, in which constant economic, socio-cultural and health (pandemic) milestones have led us to a labour paradigm where markets value creativity and innovation, flexibility and adaptability, companies are looking for workers who can adapt quickly to changes in business dynamics, technological evolutions and where workers seek companies where they can work in multidisciplinary teams, from anywhere in the world.
Where work-life balance is valued above salary parameters, where diverse and inclusive cultures are organizational drivers, sustainable organizations that extol social and environmental responsibility, foster the ability of employees to find sustainable solutions in their work.
In this context I consider the management of multicultural teams as a challenge, but also a thrilling opportunity to cultivate creativity and innovation in the workplace.
Let’s start with the definition of a multicultural team as a group of people with different cultural backgrounds, values, norms, perspectives and competencies working together towards a common goal.
Leadership of such a team can be complex due to cultural and communication differences that can affect team collaboration and performance. Factors such as language, cultural traditions and values, decision-making and conflict management, among others, need to be taken into account to ensure effective team leadership. Therefore, it is important that leaders are informed and adequately prepared to manage these differences and promote an inclusive and respectful work environment.
How can a leader successfully manage multicultural teams?
- Foster cultural understanding as a key to successful management of multicultural teams. Leaders need to nurture this through awareness and training about different cultures and how these can affect the way people communicate, make decisions and work together.
- Managing unconscious bias – these are patterns of thought and behaviours that are not conscious at the time of decision-making and acting. In this context of team management, unconscious bias can include prejudices and stereotypes that affect the way people interact and make team decisions.
- Examples of unconscious bias in team management may include a preference of working with people who look alike, assuming that certain team members are more capable than others without specific evidence or evaluating team members based on irrelevant characteristics such as physical appearance, social context or nationality.
- It is very important to actively take steps to raise awareness of these bias so that we minimize their influence on the decision-making. This involves promoting a working environment where cultural and personal differences within teams are valued and respected, encouraging co-operation and partnership, in short, raising a truly inclusive culture.
- Fostering effective communication is key to a successful management of multicultural teams. Leaders are committed to work towards ensuring that all team members communicate both clearly and openly and provide tools for constructive conflict management.
- Setting clear goals and expectations, it is important that leaders define clear and realistic goals and expectations including how the team is trusted to work collaboratively. This will help to maintain cohesion and improve the effectiveness of teamwork.
- Celebrating diversity as one of the greatest strengths of multicultural teams, leaders need to internalize and convey this diversity by enhancing understanding and respect for different cultures and perspectives.
So far, we have talked about management tools… but what competencies should a leader have in order to be effective at using these tools with multicultural teams?
- Cultural awareness:
Understand and value cultural differences and how these affect team dynamics.
- Effective communication:
Being able to communicate both clearly and effectively with people from different cultures, including the ability to listen and understand their prospects.
Having the essential ability to place oneself in others’ shoes and understand their unique needs and challenges.
Adapting to different situations and working patterns and tailoring its leadership accordingly.
- Conflict solving:
Ability to facilitate inter-cultural conflicts and to enable team members to find solutions together.
Promote an inclusive work environment and ensure that all team members feel valued and respected.
- Transformational leadership:
It is fundamental to be an inspirational leader who motivates and guides team members to achieve their goals and objectives. Nowadays, this competence is becoming increasingly important in talent analysis within organizations. Such a leader has the ability to create a shared vision and work with team members to attain that vision. A transformational leader focuses on the individual and collective development of its team by encouraging them to be better versions of themselves. In addition, this style of leader is a good communicator with an excellent ability to listen, fostering a culture of trust and respect. We are in the age of transformational leadership where there is less and less room for a transactional style of leadership based on rewards and penalties as means of motivation.
- Global vision:
It is essential to have a broad perspective and to understand how cultural differences can strengthen and enrich the team as a whole.
In conclusion, managing multicultural teams requires a conscious approach and a reverent attitude towards diversity underpinned by a number of competencies that are key to helping a multicultural team work together effectively and achieve those common goals.