Cross-cultural Team Building

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Cross-cultural team building is now considered a necessary imperative to work by various management as organizations now visualize and want more and more diversity within their teams to get talent and a competitive edge for them. With this diversity, the usually faced challenges get even more magnified in teams such as language and cultural barriers.

It is also crucial to understand that team building should also be seen as a continual ever-evolving process that primarily focuses on the team’s work, relationships, and different processes that affect their output and relationships. This process of team building can be undertaken in four steps.

Firstly, setting goals and priorities, secondly, considering members’ roles and responsibilities with respect to the group’s assigned task, thirdly, investigating the group’s norms, processes, decision making, and communication, and finally analyzing interpersonal relationships within the group.

Running a team nowadays is a more complex endeavor than it ever was in the past due to the emergence of cross-cultural teams. Working on these challenges can be confrontational for the management. Thankfully, researchers in the past few decades worked on how to manage these culturally diverse teams, one of those researchers is Geert Hofstede. 

Cross-cultural team building and Hofstede’s model

Geert Hofstede’s cultural dimension model provides a noticeable starting point for understanding what drives people from different cultures, as he suggests five dimensions of difference. These five dimensions are power distance, masculinity vs. femininity, long-term orientation vs. short-term thinking, individualism vs. Collectivism, and uncertainty avoidance.

Hofstede’s suggestions include how we adapt our working and communication styles in a team, determining the cross-cultural team’s effectiveness. Understanding and working with these dimensions can help management to find strategies to promote cross-cultural team building within their organization and the team.

Taking the first dimension into consideration. Power distance determines how much hierarchy in the organization dominates the environment. Therefore, teammates that come from different cultures such as high power distance Japanese and low power distance Americans work together in an American city, then management needs to find ways to help the employees build better understanding between them.

One effective way to build this understanding is by organizing cultural sensitivity meetings where everyone can share their cultural background and expectations about communication and working style amongst themselves..

The next dimension of Masculinity describes how much the organization and employees follow or internalized patriarchy. Hence, for employees that predominate in this and are working with a diverse culture, then their professional and casual interactions with female teammates can lead to conflict between them. 

This can be prevented by establishing norms within the team, specifically by including everyone in the process of formation of the norms. Other than setting rules and boundaries of interactions, each team can work on other factors such as setting rules for timeliness of email replies and the structure of the team reporting that helps to build a collaborative team. But the work doesn’t only get done by setting the team norms, management also needs to check in with the team regularly to see how effective these norms were. Remember, something that may sound good in theory may not work in practice, so it’s crucial to listen to the team’s feedback.

The dimension of Individualism shows how much the employees are giving priority to themselves over the group. Hence, when employees with predominant individualism, working with Collectivistic employees can lead to friction between them as they wouldn’t want to work on a project that doesn’t directly affect them. 

To prevent and manage this issue, management needs to develop a team Identity that builds a collective feeling of working together. Well building a shared goal and common vision isn’t particularly hard, what the higher management needs to work on, is how to communicate it. Team identity can be built by highlighting commonalities between team members, hence management can encourage the team to get to know each other in a social context. Another strategy to build team identity is by helping employees understand how their work is interconnected and what could be the possible benefits of everyone in the team working together.

In the fourth and fifth dimension of Long vs. Short term thinking and Uncertainty avoidance, which shows that how much employees are flexible with ambiguity and if they prefer long-term relations over the short-term. Again, if a team has employees on different ends of the spectrum for these dimensions, the team can experience some conflicts.

Here, management can provide training to those employees who are uncomfortable with ambiguity so that they can be flexible enough for the regular changes demanded by today’s industries. For long vs. Short term thinking, management should promote activities that help to build long-term relationships within the team members that furthermore build the essential trust and respect to work together. 

Having a cross-cultural team builds opportunities for creativity, innovation, and collaboration from others of a different background. Building these teams so that employees can work effectively with each other in spite of their cultural differences, is certainly a difficult task. Hofstede’s model provides five dimensions that management can use to understand their teams and build strategies to build collaborative teams. Therefore, it’s time for organizations to start thinking of building cross-cultural teams.

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