Techniques for Improving Communications with Multicultural Teams

Because Communication is Changing, chances are you work with people from other cultures.  This may be at work, school, or in your personal life, and can range from the casual interaction with an ethnic restaurant to working on a team comprised of people from many countries and cultures, some of them in the next room, and some of them on the other side of the world.  Given the diverse backgrounds of teams and the likelihood that teams will be even more diverse in the future, how can we take advantage of their benefits and overcome their shortcomings?

Diversity

Teams composed of people with a variety of backgrounds are in theory good.  These backgrounds bring diverse experiences and opinions that are less apt to agree to groupthink decisions and look at solving problems from multiple angles.

There is a bias to look at any problem through the eyes of your own culture.  Most Americans never think much about how people live in other cultures and even what is happening in other countries.  American media is focused on how events and actions affect Americans, and much less on why these people do what they do in the first place.

Techniques for Improving Communications

Virtual Collaboration

Many multicultural teams exist when members are spread across the world, and team members only communicate virtually.  Some effective virtual team meeting techniques include the use of laptop webcams and meeting room video equipment, sharing information like documents and presentations, and using attendance information to get input from everyone.  Some multicultural teams have found it is useful to meet in person at or near the beginning of the project to establish a relationship for communications.

Visual Communication

Various studies have determined that from 50 to 70% of communication is visual.  Also, you can tell if someone is paying attention or multitasking.  Looking at others during a meeting can improve meeting efficiency and can reduce meeting times by 10-15%. Who doesn’t want shorter meetings?

Utilize Common Words

When communicating in multicultural teams it is important to avoid idioms and slang words that are hard to translate and whose meanings may be vague or change often.  Keeping your language to commonly used words can improve the comprehension of everyone.

Flexibility & Understanding

Other multicultural team issues have been observed as a result of globalization.  Rigid team management from Western Europe must be mollified to work effectively with team members in Southeast Asia, and foreign factory managers in Brazil have had to accommodate mid-day breaks and flexible meeting times.  Managers need to have an extra level of understanding working with multicultural teams.

Find Common Ground

Do not assume that people have different agendas just because they are from different cultures.  Try to find at least one thing you have in common with others on the team and build on it.  Trust will grow through common interests and goals.  This way everyone in the boat will start rowing in the same direction at the same time, the boat will go farther and faster, and you will be managing a very successful multicultural team!

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