Challenges and Advantages of Multicultural Teams
Хлюпина Н. Г. Challenges and Advantages of Multicultural Teams // Молодой ученый. 2016. №6. С. 836-839.
Автор рассматривает сложности и преимущества работы в мультикультурных командах. Статья предоставляет обзор различных аспектов, в которых межкультурные различия проявляются наиболее ярко в межкультурном общении в профессиональной среде.
Ключевые слова: культура, межкультурные различия, мультикультурные команды, параметры сравнения культур.
The author examines challenges and opportunities of working in multicultural teams. The article is aimed at giving an overview of various aspects revealing intercultural differences the most vividly in the situations of cross-cultural communication.
Keywords: culture, intercultural differences, multicultural teams, cultural dimensions.
The internationalization of business results in the creation of multicultural teams, the «most fundamental reorganization since the multidivisional corporation became the standard in the 1950s» [3, p. 81]. The significance and frequency of multicultural work teams or teams composed of people from different cultures are growing constantly. Teams composed of culturally diverse members are encountered at all levels of multinational organizations, from top management to small project groups.
Effective multicultural teams are central to future global competitiveness, workforce motivation, and management. Consider the following examples: Whirlpool International's management committee is made up of six people from six nations; IMB has five nationalities represented among its highest ranking officers and three among its outside directors; four nationalities are represented on Unilever's board and three on the board of Shell Oil . Management at Ford and Citicorp, two large multinational corporations, believes that competing in a global economy requires a company to establish multicultural teams in order to decrease redundant operations across countries. Instead of having Europeans at work in Europe designing a product for the European market and Americans at work in North America designing a product for the North America, Ford uses multinational teams to design products for a global market, taking advantage of economies of scale. A typical new product development team at Ford consists of individuals from the host country, the parent company, and countries where the product will be marketed.
For multinational organizations, the effectiveness of intercultural and interpersonal processes in multicultural work teams has become a crucial question. Multicultural teams operating across time and distance are destined to have some difficulties. Multicultural teams can be both more effective and less effective than monocultural teams depending on the successful implementation of suited team building measures and team leadership development. The most common challenges of multicultural teams are cultural imperialism, location-centric thinking, cultural, communication, linguistic, and communication competence differences.
Cultural imperialism is a common mistake that people make when assuming that everyone thinks in a similar way. In addition to acknowledging differences in cultural norms, one must understand how cultural norms affect a global team's dynamics. The various cultures of team members trigger perceptions, influence interactions, and affect team performance [1, p. 86]. The nature of communication and decision making differs depending on cultural characteristics and the value emphasis of a certain culture. In a low-context culture where meaning is expressed explicitly, more clear and factual communication is necessary to arrive at a decision than in a high-context society. While high-context cultures rely heavily on restricted codes, contextual clues, and implicit meaning, the communication in low-context cultures is more elaborate, explicit, demonstrative, and straightforward. In the United States, Scandinavia, Switzerland, and Germany, low-context cultures, most of the information conveyed in communication is embedded in words.
«Location-centric thinking» involves communicating with team members around the world based on the central command view from one corporate office, dictating policy elsewhere in the world. A global team's planning sessions can be scheduled on Friday morning in the United States when it is Saturday morning for team members in Australia . Problems related to location-centered thinking have escalated in 1990s with a significant increase in the number of mergers, acquisitions, and global joint ventures. Structural rearrangements that cross external boundaries of nations often produce culture clash. When Pharmacia, a Sweden based drug company with a significant presence in Italy, and Upjohn, a U. S. based company, merged in 1995, clear communication between employees based in the three national cultures proved difficult. The Pharmacia/Upjohn management had to place corporate headquarters in London and maintain business centers in Michigan, Stockholm, and Milan to reduce location-central thinking and nationalistic tendencies of employees .
The values, beliefs, and behaviors of each global team member are different. While Americans are used to direct business communication, German counterparts prefer presenting a detailed rationale before talking about specific actions. Members of multicultural teams need to learn about one another's cultural differences because it «improves communication by reducing perceptual distortion and the tendency to rely on stereotypes» [4 p. 16]. To acknowledge these communication and cultural differences global teams have to establish very clear norms about communication and business interaction.
In a collectivistic culture, such as Russia, communication tends to have a higher degree of emotion and personality as opposed to the climate of an individualistic culture with its high degree of objectivity. Communication differences are even stronger due to a long rhetorical tradition in the Western world, where a primary function of communication has been to express ideas as clearly, logically, and persuasively as possible. Americans value simplicity and straightforwardness, favoring the «tell-it-like-it-is» or «what you see is what you get» approach in communication. Managers in the former Soviet Union, who often faced situations beyond their control, used communication that ensured avoidance of confrontation, risk-taking, and uncovering problems. Americans are action-oriented people and do not enjoy the intrigue of examining complex motives and situations the way Russians do . Therefore, without proper training, American and Russian team members might easily misunderstand each other, even when speaking the same language.
Language is not merely a tool for delivering a message. Language is a reflection of national character, culture, and national philosophy. People from different countries use their language and speech in different ways. Differences in speech and language styles bring misunderstandings and confusion to attempts to interpret messages. Whereas to the French, their language is a supreme instrument for analytical thought and logical expression, to the Russians their language is a great emotional resonator and repository of everything that can be expressed about the human condition.
Potential problems can occur due to the linguistic differences when translation is needed in a business setting. For example, the Japanese president of Mazda Motors Corporation estimated that 20 % of the meaning communicated was lost between him and his interpreter during his meetings with American representatives of Ford Motor Company. Another 20 % of the meaning was lost between the interpreter and American representatives.
Research on communication behavior reveals that the communication competence of an individual is related to willingness to communicate, communication apprehension, and communication assertiveness. Russian peoples' communication competence, communication apprehension, and willingness to communicate differ significantly from people in the U. S. and other countries. A study of students at Moscow State University in Russia showed that the overall willingness to communicate score for Russians indicated a lower willingness to engage in communication than the comparative countries, including the U. S. . Russian students are less willing to initiate communication with groups, dyads, strangers, and friends, ranking lowest among comparable countries. The mean communication apprehension score for Russians was identical to Finland; Russians reported the second highest introversion score while U. S. reported the lowest introversion. Russian students perceived themselves as lower on communication competence than most other groups, while indicating they are most competent when communicating with friends. Compared with the U. S., Russians reported lower assertiveness and higher responsiveness .
Cultural diversity not only poses a number of challenges to performance and operational outcomes of multicultural teams, but can also bring a number of advantages and increase team effectiveness. Multicultural teams can be more productive and can yield a higher level of performance than monocultural teams. Members of multicultural teams can put forward different viewpoints and more creative ideas when solving a problem or developing an organizational strategy [6, p. 75]. The dynamism of multicultural team processes forces an immediate awareness of different viewpoints. This immediacy of interaction in multicultural teams allows for reconciliation of otherwise latent differences in viewpoints and values that need to be addressed in any multinational organization.
Diverse or heterogeneous teams are able to solve problems more quickly if the members of the team are able to contribute complementary skills relevant to the task. Diverse or multicultural teams can reflect a larger number of alternatives, develop better ideas, be more creative, adapt more quickly to changing environmental conditions, render decision making more effectively than homogenous teams. Diversity reduces the danger of erroneous decisions, conformistic behavior, and group pressure due to groupthink. Diverse teams working on business case studies improved their results continuously over a long period of time and generated more creative alternatives to solve a problem than the homogenous control group .
Understanding common challenges of multicultural teams and maximizing on their potential advantages can help multicultural teams to deal productively with cultural diversity and to increase team performance. Managers of multinational organizations use a number of preparatory measures (team composition, clearly defined goals, transparent structures, strong leadership) and accompanied measures (team building, effective communication, team norms and team members' roles) to address common challenges and develop multicultural teams' positive potential. All of these measures demand high intercultural communication competence: team members must be able to communicate and listen effectively, change perspectives, tolerate ambiguity, and deal with varying action adequately.
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