Managing culturally diverse groups


What is intercultural management and why is it important?

We live in a world that is becoming more and more globalized. This is reflected in a lot of different things: holidays becoming more flexible, new jobs being created and teams becoming more culturally diverse in a professional setting. This requires a new type of management from teamleaders: intercultural management.
Intercultural management is the ability to effectively navigate and lead such teams, acknowledging and leveraging cultural differences to foster collaboration and success. Having a diverse team is incredibly valuable for an organisation. It facilitates people having different perspectives, improves collaborations and increases profits (Darby, z.d.).

The challenges of different cultures
There are differences in cultures that can be challenging for people when they have to work together. This requires awareness from a manager and clear agreements between the employees. Generally speaking, there are three big challenges that people from different cultures encounter in a team:

1. Communication
With different cultures in a team, communication can be difficult in two different ways: practical and emotional (Raewf & Mahmood, 2021).
On the practical side this means that people need to make agreements regarding when they are available. For devout Christians, Sunday will be a day that they won’t be available for any questions. Furthermore, if people are scattered over the world and working from a distance there needs to be made agreements as to when people sleep and are off-work and when people are available.The second part regarding the communication issue is that people need to compromise on their communication styles. For example, Dutch people are known for their brutal honesty and directness. In Dutch culture, that is respectful while dancing around the truth is considered wasting someone’s time. Whereas an American might see that as unnecessary rude. These are things that need to be discussed.

2. Team-construction
Cultural differences in hierarchy, decision-making, and conflict resolution can impact team dynamics and cohesion. Employees from Japan will greatly value hierarchy whereas people from the Netherlands will see that as less of a problem. This needs to be understood since it can otherwise occur that you only hear one person talking. The Dutch person might have less of an issue speaking up, whereas the Japanese person will stay quieter out of respect.
Another big issue can be decision-making. In the Netherlands people will often make broad decisions in a team setting whereas the more detailed ones can be made by an individual. This is wildly different for an individual from Singapore. There, every micro decision needs to be made by the group and extensively discussed.

3. Values & customs
Divergent cultural values, norms, and attitudes towards work can create friction and hinder collaboration. It is important for everyone to respect each other and have an understanding for each other. It is essential that people adhere to each other’s expectation. For example, in Asia someone might prioritise work over a lot of other things, whereas in Western-Europe people will be more inclined to prioritise personal matters. People need to be understanding about this since it will otherwise create friction and misunderstandings.

The benefits of a culturally diverse team

While it now sounds like having a culturally diverse teams brings a lot of challenges; it also has its benefits.

– Innovations
Culturally diverse teams bring together a wealth of perspectives, experiences, and ideas, fostering creativity and innovation (Reynolds, 2022). By drawing from varied backgrounds, these teams can approach challenges from multiple angles, leading to more robust solutions and breakthrough innovations. This diversity of thought encourages critical thinking, stimulates creative synergies, and cultivates a culture of continuous learning, ultimately enabling organizations to develop solutions that resonate with diverse audiences and address complex global challenges.

– Profit
Furthermore, numerous studies have consistently demonstrated that diverse companies tend to outperform their homogenous counterparts financially (The culture factor group, z.d.). By leveraging the varied perspectives and experiences within culturally diverse teams, organizations can gain a competitive edge in serving global markets. Diverse teams possess a deeper understanding of diverse customer bases, allowing them to tailor products, services, and marketing strategies to meet the specific needs and preferences of different demographic segments. This enhanced understanding leads to improved customer satisfaction, increased brand loyalty, and ultimately, higher profits.
Additionally, culturally diverse teams bring a breadth of cultural insights and linguistic capabilities that enable organizations to navigate international markets more effectively, breaking down barriers to entry and expanding market reach. In today’s interconnected world, where diversity is not only valued but also essential for business success, organizations that prioritize diversity and inclusion reap the rewards of improved market competitiveness and sustained profitability.

MareVisie’s experience in managing a diverse team

Our team brings a wealth of experience from various international organizations, where working in diverse teams is the norm. This experience has shaped and enriched us. Moreover, our own team reflects that same diversity, with people from different backgrounds, cultures, and perspectives. We embrace this diversity as a strength, knowing that the best solutions often arise from the merging of different ideas and viewpoints. We foster a culture of openness and understanding, where we actively listen to the perspectives of colleagues and clients. By staying engaged in conversation and understanding each other’s backgrounds, we not only strengthen our team bond but also enhance the effectiveness of our communication and the achievement of our common goals.

Intercultural management presents unique challenges but also offers remarkable benefits. By embracing diversity and leveraging the expertise of organizations like MareVisie, managers can unlock the full potential of culturally diverse teams. With the right approach, cultural differences can become a source of strength, driving innovation, creativity, and organizational success. MareVisie stands ready to assist managers in navigating the complexities of cultural diversity, turning challenges into opportunities for growth and collaboration.

Darby, J. (z.d.). The Importance of Cultural Diversity in the Workplace. Thomas International.
Raewf, M. B., & Mahmood, Y. N. (2021). The Cultural Diversity in the Workplace. Mağallaẗ Ğāmiʿaẗ Ğīhān- Arbīl Li-l-ʿulūm Al-insāniyyaẗ Wa-al-iğtimāʿiyyaẗ, 5(1), 1–6.
Reynolds, K. (2022, 5 augustus). 13 benefits and challenges of cultural diversity in the workplace. Hult International Business School.
The Culture Factor Group. (z.d.). Intercultural management.