How to cooperate better in a multicultural team – a few tips
Working in a cross-cultural setting is not always easy. Different working habits, differences in communication or challenges to understand other person’s perspectives are just a few to mention. In this blog post, we would like to give you a few tips on how to minimalize the above-mentioned obstacles and support cooperation in multicultural teams.
The authors are experienced in working in multicultural environments. Moreover, two of them are foreigners living and working in Finland. This blog post therefore combines our own experience with theoretical literature listed below.
Be aware of differences in working cultures
In Slovakia the hierarchy in the workplace is high and it is expected that your supervisor can order you to do extra work or give you additional tasks. People are very busy and need to think and work quickly.
In the Spanish working culture, working overtime is seen as a norm and a sign of success. In Spain feeling on the verge of burnout might be translated as a manifestation of loyalty and dedication to the company and its superiors. Meanwhile, in Finland, we experienced a different approach. Supervisors usually do not order or speak from the superior position, working hours are flexible and well-being at the workplace is considered.
To perform well in multicultural teams, it is essential to recognise these work principles. Hofstede’s societal dimensions might help. (Hofstede Insights, n.d.)., Hofstede shows that each culture has its own ways to contemplate work and working life. For instance, if Finnish and Spanish work cultures are compared, many differences can be highlighted. In Finland company’s hierarchy is flexible, society is more individualistic and has closed social ties. People cherish their own after-work time. On the contrary, Spain has a rigid hierarchical work society. It is a collectivist country where fixed rules are needed to avoid confrontations. Workers must be busy to feel useful in the workplace (ibid.).
Feedback is not universal
Feedback is an essential part of teamwork and the learning process. In multicultural teams, people should pay extra attention to how feedback is perceived and formulated. How we give feedback is influenced by a range of factors: form (written or verbal); anonymously or face-to-face; in an individual or group setting, etc. Our cultural communication style affects the feedback as well. Communication styles can be defined based on the Lewis model of culture, in which cultures are classified into linear-active, multi-active or reactive cultures. This categorization depends on the orientation towards tasks, social relations or respect in listening. (Chydenius & Gaisch, 2014, p. 4).
Feedback is an essential part of teamwork and the learning process.
Finnish communication style was described as reactive, with a focus on listening and a high level of indirect communication cues. Chydenius & Gaisch’s study (ibid.) showed, that Finns were giving more general feedback while being critical only towards technical issues. When providing feedback in Slovakia, people are usually more critical towards personal performance and disagree quite openly. Based on Lubica’s experience, this might be perceived in Finland as unpolite and offensive.
What can you do better?
As a worker or a manager in the multicultural team you need to try to understand the cultural differences and change your behaviour accordingly. Based on Molinsky (2013) the ability to adapt our behaviours across diverse cultures is called global dexterity. He encourages us to analyse every situation through six dimensions of the cultural code: (a) directness (How straightforward I can communicate?), (b) enthusiasm (How much positive energy and emotion am I expected to show?), (c) formality (How much respect am I expected to demonstrate?), (d) assertiveness (How strongly am I expected to express my voice?), (e) self-promotion (How much I am expected to talk about my skills and accomplishments?), (f) personal disclosure (How much I can reveal about myself?).
To make the team cooperation smoother you can also personalise your behaviour towards each of the members individually. Another effective way is to promote bonding and build trust, especially if all the members feel in charge of creating a supportive team spirit and a shared identity. Having a set of clear goals and tasks plus adequate training or resources might help too. (Johnson, 2021).
Last, but not least, the authors recommend being open-minded in a multicultural team and avoiding assuming what others might think or feel. Reinforcing the teams’ language strategy could empower others to share their voices equally. This can be interpreted as a sign of support towards inclusiveness and increase the worker’s well-being too.