ARTICLE 10: “I Have A Multi-Cultural Team And Their Differences Don’t Adversely Impact Performance”

To become a high-performing team, everyone needs to get along. Everyone has a story which is rich in cultural and behavioural differences. We should capitalise on those differences to enhance a richer workplace.

I believe we are very fortunate to live in a world where we can work with and learn from people from a vast range of countries, cultures, beliefs, and backgrounds. Some may not be as welcoming of that view for a whole range of reasons. As I say, not a topic for discussion here.

The fact remains that we are extremely likely to work with people and teams made up of people from all over the planet. That brings with it great opportunity… and challenge. And I am not referring to anything related to religion, political persuasion, or belief. More so from a point of culture and its impact on behaviour.

You see, if we were to take a whirlwind virtual tour around the globe, behaviours in one country would not appear the same in another. Let me provide a few examples.

People in North America (USA & Canada) tend to be more people-oriented and direct in their approach to others. That is from a relative cultural position, of course. If our virtual travels took us to countries in Asia, we would see very different behaviours in similar circumstances. Interestingly, the Philippines tends to have some similarities regarding directness and people orientation as in America. That is due to the relationship between the two countries and associated influences.

In China, there is much more importance (culturally) on being more task-focussed. In a similar vein, there is far less challenging of ‘elders‘ or those in positions of authority. Authority at work that is more political or government-based. This, then, has a significant impact on the ‘normal’ societal behaviours. Chinese appear to be more quiet, indirect, and ‘thoughtful.’

Another example might be in Europe. Interestingly, the further north in Europe, the more reserved people tend to be, and the farther south, the opposite. They are more inclined to rely on feelings when dealing with situations. You can see this at play when observing people from places such as Spain, Italy, and France. They tend to use many more hand gestures. They often greet one another by a kiss.

In the countries further north like Germany, Austria, Netherlands, and so on, this behaviour is far less likely, and you would be more likely to see a formal greeting – a handshake perhaps. There would also be more subtle body language, rather than larger gestures made with arms and facial expression.

Even in the United Kingdom, a journey from south to north will have you recognise a different set of behaviours – based both on culture and the individual’s preference for communication.

For example, the farther south the more indirect or quietly spoken people tend to be. The stereotypical ‘apologetic Brit’ comes to mind – they apologise for anything and everything. I am from that part of the world originally and it has taken many years for that behaviour to be reduced in my daily life.

The other stereotype is that of the no nonsense ‘Northerner.’ They tend to be forthright, outspoken, and usually pretty direct. You know what you are getting with these people – because they tell you.

Of course, there is no right or wrong, just differences. And it is these differences that come into play in the workplace. No matter where the workplace is in the world, there will most likely be people from multiple cultures. That brings with it the need to be aware of how those cultures – and behaviours – impact the team.

Behaviours by Geographies and Cultures

  • North American Continent – Tend to be more direct and people-oriented.
  • China – Tend to have reserved, more quiet response associated with indirect, less challenging assertiveness.
  • Europe – The more north, the more task-oriented and formal. Further south, more gestures and open behaviours.
  • India – Tendencies are for harmony, cooperation, and support of others.
  • United Kingdom – Similar to Europe in that north and south have different cultural norms.
  • Australia – Usually more direct in dealing with others, open, and people-oriented

Managed well and with a high degree of knowledge and skill in communicating, the best leaders will have a high-performing multi-cultural team. Trouble is, the more senior we become, paradoxically, we get less development in these important issues. Where there is excellence in communication and behavioural knowledge, leaders can leverage these exciting and highly valuable differences in culture.