How to make multicultural teams work


[tweet_quote hashtags=”#teams” ]Today, 1 of every 5 workers in the world is part of a distributed team[/tweet_quote],* and a lot of them come from different cultures. Managers must face new challenges when dealing with people from different cultures; how can you maintain a smooth work environment?

Embrace diversity

When we come from different cultures, we see, interpret, and analyze things differently. Unless you have lived in the same country that a team member is from, you probably have no idea of why that person is behaving in a certain way. Comparing your style to others won’t get you anywhere. Instead, be aware of the differences and embrace them.

Become aware of your own culture

Gaining consciousness of our own cultural dynamics is a difficult job because culture is not usually something that we consciously think about. Start by thinking about yourself: your values, beliefs, and perceptions. Ask yourself questions like:

  • Why do I do things in a particular way?
  • Why do we react in a certain way?
  • What do I expect from my manager?
  • What do I expect from my colleagues?
  • What do I think they expect from me?
  • How do I feel when my expectations are not met?

Encourage team members to be aware of their cultures

Do this exercise during 1:1 sessions with your team members; give them the questions in advance so that they can prepare the answers beforehand. During these sessions, you will learn about that person’s expectations and reactions at work, and you will gain more tools to react with if a conflict arises in the future.

During the face-to-face sessions, reply to these questions as well so that team members can get to know you and think about different points of view. If you work in a distributed team, make sure to have this meeting with video to increase the level of trust.

Be transparent about performance evaluations

Your company and you have a clear picture of the work culture and the way communications are expected to play out. However, different cultures value different things at work: some might value working 10 hours a day and not having much of a social life while others value creating good work environments. How does your company measure performance?

  • Does your company only value productivity?
  • Will the person be evaluated by the way he/she communicates with the rest of the team?
  • Will he/she be valued if a task goes outside of one’s comfort zone?
  • What other aspects do you value as a manager?
  • What aspects does the company value?

Once you have the questions to these answers, make them visible to the team and explain them to the different team members. This meeting will help team members from different cultures understand the environment where they are working and will help you avoid conflict. If you have been creating a climate of trust in the team, team members will be able to express their thoughts and emotions openly.

Avoid humor and sarcasm

Your worst enemy is humor. We all love it, but it varies too much from culture to culture. Unless you know people very well, avoid all kinds of humor and sarcasm. Instead, be friendly and caring. Empathy is international; sarcasm builds walls between people.

Even if your team has been working together for a while and you have already encountered some friction, it is never too late to create a good basis for a solid multicultural team. Do these simple exercises and you will see that the communication between team members improves and that there are fewer problems due to communication.


* “Ipsos/Reuters Poll,” Jan. 2012,

About Anna Danés

Anna Danés worked with many Internet startups in Europe, Asia and the Unites States, before founding Ricaris, a prosperous internet services organization. With her experience of managing distributed staff, as well as her beliefs that organizations are responsible for creating a better work environment and a better world, she has created Managing Virtual Teams, offering courses, training and consulting service for companies dealing with remote teams.

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