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Working in groups and teams
Working in groups and teams

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8.2.4 Multicultural groups and teams

When groups or teams comprise people from just one culture, there are often agreed but unspoken social, organisational and national ways of behaving that do not need to be explained. It can usually be assumed that everyone has a common understanding of what a group is, how it will work, and how leaders and followers will behave. But such assumptions do not hold true when people are from different cultures.

In France, the common assumption is that the authority to make decisions comes as a right of office or rank, while managers in the Netherlands, Scandinavia and the UK often make their decisions in consultation with others and may be prepared to be challenged.

When creating multicultural groups or teams, managers need to consider the following points:

  1. While professional skills are important, you may want evidence of a person’s ability to work with others
  2. Provide the team with initial support – for example, bring the whole team together for two days with the specific aim of
    • providing them with an awareness of cultural differences and their impact on organisational style and systems, management style, decision-making and interpersonal behaviour
    • helping them become aware of their different roles, preferences and strengths and how these can complement each other
    • building an international micro culture through exploring culture and cultural differences
    • identifying methods of communicating swiftly and effectively
    • developing a set of ground rules for maintaining group effectiveness when working together and when working apart.

Realistic ground rules for such a team might include:

  • do not make assumptions; if you do, check them
  • do not be impatient
  • allow time to express yourself
  • have the courage to challenge
  • learn more of the others’ cultures
  • give and ask for feedback
  • try to eliminate stereotyping
  • take a positive attitude
  • accept the differences.
(Source: based on Neale and Mindel, 1992)

Virtual and multicultural groups and teams present challenges not only because their creation and management are more demanding but often because organisations and managers have no prior experience to draw on. There will be no substitute for seeking information, clear thinking and good planning if such initiatives are to be successful.