Team Management Skills

How Does Cultural Diversity Impact Team Performance?

Does cultural diversity have positive or negative impact on team performance?

In 2008, I enrolled in an international MBA program where more than 85% of the students were international.  I was one of the small minority (15%) of domestic Canadian students.  And while I had always been interested in learning about other cultures, this experience really provided an opportunity to dive deep.  In particular, I become curious about the relationship of cultural diversity and team performance.  Thus began my passion with the concept of Cross Cultural Leadership.

During my first research project into the management of diverse teams, I was surprised to find out this was still quite a new and fairly undiscovered area.   There were mixed opinions as to whether cultural diversity had a positive, negative or neutral impact of team performance.  And most studies focused on “domestic” diversity.  That is, people from different races living in the same country.  There was very little about people from different countries coming together for the first time.   And I believed these were very different situations.

How do we measure the impact of cultural diversity on team performance?

Discussing the results of this study with my faculty advisors, we began to see how this information could be applied to both the work place and to the learning environment.   Many MBA programs, including the one I was in, have students work on team projects.  The goal in this case is to help prepare students for working in teams in the work place.   And with increasingly international aspects of business, the cultural diversity could help to mimic the real world.

This international MBA program provided an opportunity to learn first hand about the dynamics of culturally diverse work teams.  And if properly designed, could also provide insights on the performance of diverse teams in the corporate world.  I believed it could provide valuable insights into managing diverse teams.  But the challenge comes in finding objective measures as indicators of performance.

In this case, we decided on measuring each team members’ satisfaction with the grade they received on the project as an indication of performance.  And we asked them the degree to which cultural diversity played a positive, negative or neutral role (nominal values of 2 to -2).  We also considered things such as the size of the team and the first language of the team members.  And we also interviewed faculty to identify other environmental factors which could influence the results.

Findings of our Research on Cultural Diversity and Team Performance

My colleague Dr. Bonita Russell and I conducted studies on two different cohorts in the same MBA program based on the above criteria.  Our paper  “The Impact of Cultural Diversity among MBA Students” was peer reviewed and published in the Association of Collegiate Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) 2010 Annual Edition.

Abstract

This research considered the relationship between grade satisfaction and the perceived impact of cultural diversity (measured as the number of different countries of origin represented on the team) on team performance for two cohorts of international students in a graduate program in business. The results revealed that factors such as team size, English language capabilities, prior group experience, and countries of origin were not related to grade satisfaction or perceived cultural impact. Content analysis of the respondents’ questionnaires revealed that other factors such as member participation, communication skills, team selection procedures, and the role of the faculty were used by the students to evaluate their group experiences.

We would be happy to share our results.  Please contact us to get a free copy of the full paper.

Learn specialized skills for managing in a diverse workplace

The Strategic Manager Learning System has been designed to support busy managers to learn at their own pace, from anywhere!  And I have developed my courses on strategic management all through the “lens” of my expertise on cultural diversity in the workplace.  Learn more about our advanced management courses in this brief video.  Then visit our site to view our courses and start building GREAT management skills!

View our strategic management courses