How to manage multicultural teams: effective leadership in the workplace

Thanks to globalisation, people are much more mobile in their careers than ever before. Many people are willing to move within their country or even overseas to advance their careers. It is also…
Reading time :
23 Jun 2021

Thanks to globalisation, people are much more mobile in their careers than ever before. Many people are willing to move within their country or even overseas to advance their careers. It is also becoming increasingly common for aspiring executives to actively seek to change locations for their job.

Additionally, companies often have difficulties finding enough candidates for specialist roles so companies open hiring worldwide and offer relocation packages.

Combine this with the rising prevalence of remote work which allows for teams to be dispersed around the globe, and workplaces are becoming more and more multicultural.

A multicultural workplace can have many benefits for both the company and team members, but it is not without its challenges. Every business leader and executive needs certain skills and knowledge to know how to manage multicultural teams.

Multicultural management

How to manage multicultural teams: challenges and solutions

Encourage cultural sensitivity from the start

Effectively managing a multicultural team starts with the hiring and on-boarding process. Cultural sensitivity and diversity is not something that is easily ingrained later, so it is important to get it right from the start. This means assessing cultural sensitivity during the interview process to make sure potential recruits are a good fit for a multicultural work environment. 

You should also include cultural sensitivity and cross-cultural training in your on-boarding process. This will instill multicultural values right from the start and make it clear to new hires what is expected of them, as well as giving them the skills they need to work well in a multicultural environment.

It is also important to reinforce these values regularly. Have a clear company culture that respects diversity and communicate it often.

Consider all communication styles

There is not a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to communication. Different people communicate differently, and this is particularly true in a multicultural workplace. Many cultures have their own styles and rules of communication, and your own communication style may not work well with team members from different cultural backgrounds. Equally, expecting employees from other cultures to communicate in ways that do not fit with their own culture can be frustrating and stressful for them, not to mention counter-productive. 

For example, cultures such as Japan, China, France, Spain, and Brazil use what is known as “high-context communication”, where the underlying context and meaning can be just as important as the words themselves. In cultures with low-context communication styles, notably Germany, the US, Canada, and Scandanavian countries, communication is much more direct, without the need to understand context.

Issues can arise between those from high-context and low-context communication cultures, when some team members believe that underlying context is understood, while others assume that what is said is all that is meant. When managers and team members are trained in various communication styles, they can adapt to each individual and choose the best communication style for the situation.

Cultivate safe spaces

In managing a multicultural workplace, it is more important than ever to create safe spaces for employees. Safe and confidential spaces allow people to open up, promoting better communication and resolving issues more quickly and effectively.

Miscommunication can occur in any workplace, but this is especially a risk in multicultural environments. When communication goes wrong, people need to know they have someone they can speak to openly who won’t judge them — this is where safe spaces are essential.

Safe spaces are invaluable for any team member who feels on the outside of the culture, but are also essential for the ‘majority’ or local culture. All employees need to be able to ask questions when unsure — for example, if they don’t know how to interact with someone of a different culture. Setting up safe spaces and practicing nonviolent communication can be challenging, so if in doubt, it is a good idea to seek external expert advice, such as hiring cross-cultural facilitators.

Consider different cultural habits and needs

Managing a multicultural workplace should accommodate not only the culturally diverse needs that are directly related to work, but also more broader needs and habits. Food provided in the staff canteen or at work events should be culturally inclusive, for example, including vegetarian and halal options. It is also important to set up specific spaces to meet cultural needs, such as a “quiet” room for prayer or meditation.

If you identify a need in your multicultural workplace, you should suggest it to HR or senior management. Additionally, if you are a decision-maker, think about how you can make adjustments that will work for employees of different cultures.


How EDHEC can help you successfully manage a multicultural workplace

With EDHEC’s online programme, you’ll learn how to manage a multicultural workplace and gain a wide range of skills and experience that will help you to do so effectively. EDHEC is very proud of its diversity, with student cohorts representing a diverse range of cultures, nationalities, and languages.

Studying with EDHEC allows you to build a diverse international network that helps you to learn how to work effectively with people from other cultures. Furthermore, EDHEC’s programmes include professional coaching that helps you to develop flexible communication skills, allowing you to adapt your communication style in a multicultural environment.

If you want to learn how to effectively manage a multicultural workplace, check out EDHEC’s online programmes.

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