Success in any rapidly changing business environment requires learning how to create and lead more effective teams. This is especially true now that organizations are increasingly multinational in scope and cross-cultural teams have become the new norm.
If managed effectively, cross-cultural teams can bring major advantages to the company, such as diverse experience and different ways of thinking; but, having a team made up of members from across the world can also pose great challenges. Company leaders ought to harness the different cultures within their teams to maximize their effectiveness.
Know Your Team
High-performing teams rarely occur naturally; they must be created and maintained. Take the time to become familiar with each member’s individual backgrounds, as well as strengths and weaknesses.
Have each member complete an assessment to discover their natural working styles and tendencies and discuss the results as a team. Commonly used assessments include the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®, DiSC® Personality Test and the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument®. Time spent on learning each other’s personalities and work habits will help team members understand how to best relate to one another in order to achieve maximum communication and trust.
This team building activity will also bring to light the most natural role for each individual within the team and provide a foundation to help everyone understand where the perspectives of other members are coming from. Leaders should also use this knowledge to build team unity and foster innovation.
Understand Cultural Dimensions
Decades ago, psychologist Dr. Geert Hofstede developed a model of cultural dimensions that has become an internationally recognized standard to understanding workplace values around the world. There are six distinct cultural dimensions that serve to distinguish one culture from another. Hofstede scored each country using a scale of roughly 0 to 100 for each dimension; the higher the score, the more that dimension is exhibited in that society.
As an example, the figure below shows a comparison of the six cultural dimensions in China and the United States.
Leaders and team members should not only become familiar with other members’ cultural dimensions, but also have a collective understanding of the potential implications for the team – both the advantages and drawbacks. A good leader will strategize ways to harness the team’s strengths and mitigate potential pitfalls.
Create A Team Charter
Take the time to collaboratively establish a team charter at the beginning of each project. At a minimum, the team charter should include the following items:
- Mission & Vision
- Values & Norms
Make sure your team charter accurately reflects the behaviors and values you want to highlight throughout the project. This is important for any team to do, but particularly crucial for cross-cultural teams where norms and expectations can vary drastically. By creating this charter, members will have a collective understanding of the project’s goals and can avoid common problems such as lack of team identity, poor decision making, inefficient communication, and the inability to resolve conflicts.
One of the major hurdles in any cross-cultural collaboration is understanding what communication means to other members. By using the above techniques, you can foster a mutual understanding, slowly break down cultural barriers and build stronger working relationships within your team.
Successful leaders are acutely aware of cultural differences and how they influence team effectiveness. As you continuously adjust your style to fit the need of the group, team members will appreciate your leadership and hopefully be inspired to contribute their best.