Top 6 Tips for Successful Cross Cultural Management


 — May 26th, 2019

Top 6 Tips for Successful Cross Cultural Management

It's perhaps an obvious statement to make in today's richly diverse, often remotely staffed workplace, but having the skills to successfully manage a multicultural team is paramount to business success. From the implementation of digital hangouts to the importance of an open-minded approach to cultural norms, here are six tips to help you navigate the sometimes fraught area of highly effective, cross-cultural team management.

1. Research and cultural awareness

On the subject of workplace diversity, a recent Forbes article states that in business “geographic borders are increasingly irrelevant, but cultural differences remain very real”. This is something to remember. In order to overcome potential culture clashes, faux pas, and misunderstandings, it's prudent to become aware of cross-cultural customs and idiosyncrasies in relation to your team. Google is your friend here.

Researching other cultures and their customs, especially in relation to how they operate in a business setting, couldn't be easier, especially when it comes to greetings and demeanor, with information freely available across the web. For example, in Singapore, it's appropriate to receive a colleague's business card in both hands.

2. An open-minded approach

If being aware of cultural divides is step one, then ensuring you're open-minded and non-judgemental of other customs and practices is a great second step. Forbes breaks this down into five key areas: Relational skills, tolerance of uncertainty, adaptability, empathy, and perceptual acuity. Which basically boils down to how you interact with people, how you react to unexpected cultural differences, how you adapt to said differences, and how you relate to that from the point of view of the other person. This may take some practice to perfect, but it's time well spent in the pursuit of managing a cross-cultural team.

3. Communication and remote working

We all know how words can be misconstrued, and how the tone of voice can mean everything, even in an email. When working with a multi-cultural team, especially in a remote capacity across locations and time zones, it may be helpful to consider the following as a quick-guide tool-set to help point you in the right direction.

  • First off, coordinate between time zones. Ensure that everyone's working by the same clock and that deadlines are clearly stated and everyone is onboard regardless of where they're based.
  • Speaking of communication, try to ensure that everything you impart to your team is both transparent and understandable to all involved. Leave nothing open to interpretation if you can help it, and rely on clarity to guide the team towards meeting their goals.
  • Set a firm response time for the turnaround of emails and replies, and make sure that everyone's working on the same page.
  • Finally, encourage your team to interact with one another. Personal interaction strengthens trust and builds relationships, and is shown to increase productivity.

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4. Taboos and cultural norms

This is one to watch out for. Being aware of the norms and taboos of a respective culture can mean the difference between a strong and focused team, and an icy, uncertain atmosphere. For example, author, marketing and business strategist Dorie Clark explains how different cultures treat instances of silence in different ways. In the east silence is embraced as a sign of good listening, while in the west moments of silence are equated with doubt and indecision.

Consider the reserved and self-deprecating nature of the British in comparison to the open, direct, and extroverted ways that tend to be used in the US. In comparison, Brits can occasionally come across as tepid, cold, and reserved. It's important to recognize these instances for what they are and respect the ways in which other cultures operate. 

5. Respect, empathy, and understanding

Once we've acknowledged cultural differences the next step is to respect those differences by putting ourselves in the other person's shoes, empathizing with their customs and actions by understanding who they are and where they've come from, what kind of an environment they were raised in and the cultural norms that have shaped and instructed their lives.

Birsen Tomar, president at The ABS Quarters, says that it's “important to understand how an individual's decision-making process is influenced by their own cultural beliefs and background,” and while our own background and point of view may feel initially different, entering the discussion with respect and understanding opens up dialogue and increases the chance of a favourable outcome and a better working dynamic.

6. Everyone needs a water cooler moment

Finally, whether working in the same office or across time zones and landmasses, it's important to blow off a little steam once in a while. Not only does taking time out from thinking about your workload increase productivity, but it's also a great way to foster friendships and cultivate trust, reset the grey matter and allow for a little breathing space.

The same is true for your team. If you find yourself managing a remote team consider the use of digital hangouts as a water cooler alternative, and encourage interaction and debate as a way of breaking the ice across cultural lines. It can be eye-opening to realize how much we truly have in common despite our cultural and political differences.

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