Management is tricky business because it requires empathy and hard work from both sides in order to be truly successful and so it’s riding on a lot. The past eighteen months have provided us with both a short and long term shift that both promise to revolutionize the way we work and thus the way we manage.
Firstly, the percentage of people who work from home five or more days per week has increased from 17% to 44% since the pandemic. Secondly, this has meant that the ability to hire and manage cross-cultural teams has grown exponentially.
Embracing diversity and welcoming different viewpoints and cultural backgrounds is liable to have a noticeably positive effect on the efficacy and profitability of your business. Studies have shown that multicultural teams are more agile when it comes to responding to changing business priorities, make better use of the resources available to them and are able to catalyze the development and expression of individual skills.
At the same time, managing a cross-cultural team can be hard and there is a pressure that doing so poorly could hurt your company. Although there are definitely far more advantages than risks when it comes to managing a cross-cultural team.
The first challenge is language barriers. Even in circumstances where everybody has a good level of English, certain inflections, dialects, slang and colloquialism can often be misinterpreted. This type of misinterpretation can even occur between an American and a Brit who speak the same native language but whose mannerisms, slang and common inflections differ greatly.
The second challenge is transparency. Working methods that are obvious in your culture may not be so to someone from another country. For this reason, always ensure that you are providing each team member with access to the right resources.
Thirdly, appreciate different working styles. This applies even within one small and focused culture. Some people enjoy working from 7am till 3pm, others 12pm till 8pm. As long as they attend the meetings on time, respect their decision to complete the work in the most productive way to them.
In order to avoid these issues, the main piece of advice would be to acknowledge differences, read on them and respect them. Doing your research and asking polite questions about different cultures lets you understand the motivations, ways of working and expectations that each team member brings. Secondly, opt for over-communicating rather than under-communicating. It can be easy to forget, if your entire team is communicating in English, that staff for whom this is a second or third language may not instantly and completely grasp the nuances of what you just said.
If you have more time or budget, consider organizing a team-building session or retreat. Opportunities like these can help create team closeness and jump-start mutual respect.
Ultimately a manager’s role is to listen to the team members and encourage a space for open conversation and productivity.