Start with cultural awareness training for team leaders
Much as we often want to start with looking at the team members, we first need to consider the skills required to lead a diverse team. I’m sure that’s no surprise to most of you. We know that managing any team takes skill. But managing a culturally diverse team brings very new perspectives. To be effective leaders in this environment requires cross cultural management training.
But where do you start to learn about cross cultural team management? As I discovered in my research, the topic of cross cultural leadership and management is relatively new and emerging. In that end, I have developed tools and techniques for managers, based on my research and my own experience as both a participant and manager of diverse teams. I published my book “How to Manage Culturally Diverse Work Teams”, and developed my online course to start the process of cross cultural management training.
Background on Cross Cultural Teams and Leadership
My goal in this article is to shed some light on some specific things managers can do to improve the performance of diverse teams. But for those that are new to this topic, I want to introduce some background.
In my first article on this topic, I introduced 4 Tips for Cross Cultural Team building. These tips are necessary for all employees and team members. I then introduced the concept of Cross Cultural Leadership, which adds in the role of managers and how they can be effective leaders in a multicultural work environment. I will now provide some specific tips for cross cultural management.
First Consider: What makes work teams perform well?
A team should perform greater than the sum of each individual performer. If not, then a manager might as well just break out tasks and assign them individually. But we usually form teams because we know that is where the potential lies for creativity and exceptional performance. Like a finely tuned machine, each component supports the others.
But we often overlook the human mechanics of the team. So often, we assign people to a team based on their technical expertise. Or because of their ties to a specific stakeholders. Or because they have knowledge and experience that we believe will benefit the project. But these are just ingredients, or part, so to speak. Until the members can express themselves freely, listen and understand each other – there is no synergy.
So if team performance is based on understanding and trusting each other, we first need to recognize that this is an essential component. Often, we think the social aspect of the team is just a “nice to have” but not necessary. After all, shouldn’t we just be able to figure it out? But often the emotional intelligence required to be a good team member has not been cultivated. It is not normally taught in universities, or in work places.
Differences in Cross Cultural Teams
Consider how communication and trust can be difficult even with people that are very similar. But the more we are different, the more challenges we have in this area. From a cultural perspective, we have all been raised with different beliefs and values. These in turn, drive our behaviour, and our expectations on how others should behave. When others don’t meet our expectations, it is difficult to develop trust. We have also been raised with different approaches to communication.
As the amount of diversity increases in the team, communication can become more complex and difficult. This can be further compounded by language, accents, learning styles, etc. But perhaps the most significant aspect is our different expectations on what behaviours are normal and respectful, versus those that are insensitive or impolite.
Consider how these differing values affect communication. For example, we may withhold our ideas and suggestions out of fear of offending someone. Or we may take offense to a comment which had no harmful intent. Or decide that someone is disrespectful because they failed to do something we expected.
So as you can see, it can be more difficult to develop the trust that is needed for teams for perform well.
What does cultural awareness training cover?
Consider, how can you as a manager help you team to learn how to communicate and develop trust? How can you implement diversity team building? There are many things you can do, and we cover a wide range of tools and techniques in my cultural awareness e-learning course. But the following 3 are ones that I consider most critical.
Clearly communicate ALL expectations.
Remember that people are each coming in with different values and expectations of “normal” behaviour. So you need to make sure that each team member understands how they are expected to behave. We can’t just assume that everyone knows what to do. For example, we might assume that everyone knows you are expected to give your opinion during meetings. Others might have been raised to believe that is impolite. Throw away any assumptions you may have that people know what to do, and explicitly explain it. And put it in writing!
Give them the training and resources they need.
Remember that the relationship development is a critical component, so devote appropriate time and resources to make this happen. If you have people from different countries or cultures, providing them with some training in cultural awareness and communication can be very helpful. Our cultural awareness e-learning course is very appropriate for your team members too!
Conflict management is another important skill for team members to develop. Make sure you give them space for meetings, and tools that support different types of communication (written, verbal, illustrations, demonstrations, etc.)
Give them time to develop their relationships and communication methods.
If you throw a big or complex project on them right at the onset, they won’t have time to develop their interpersonal skills. Without that foundation, chances are that people will become stressed and ineffective. Communication may break down, conflict may escalate. So be sure to build in some significant time for team formation, and ongoing time for the team to work together in a non-stressful environment. Find some time for social interaction and fun!
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