Multicultural teams have been both exciting and revolutionary for the modern globalized world. They have been at the forefront of the development of trailblazing software products. At the same time, they have also been the root cause of colossal investment costs and losses due to mismanagement and misguided expectations.
While they have been both the boon and the bane of the intricately connected modern world over the past decades, multicultural teams are now universally viewed as an important component of a global software company’s growth strategy. Strong multinational teams take time to integrate and develop; therefore the strength to grow comes from understanding each other’s cultural values, mutually trusting and respecting one another along with practicing corporate values that encompass both sides of the team.
Although the mix of cultures brings great benefits, it is not without potential pitfalls. Proper orientation and an ongoing attitude of learning and engaging are necessary to overcome these problems. Let’s take a quick view of the most common pitfalls, so you know what to expect when choosing to go offshore and also to learn how you can manage different cultural challenges associated with it.
If you want people to understand you, speak their language. – African Proverb
1.) Language barriers have infinite potential to create havoc, and this is especially true in a multicultural team. A lack of fluency in the official business language (most commonly, English) is sometimes wrongly seen as a lack of intelligence. Often times, due to a team member’s inability to express him/herself accurately, vast amounts of skill, expertise and knowledge remain hidden or misunderstood.
While language or dialect differences can easily be viewed as barriers among team members, in actuality, a lot of communication issues result from close mindedness rather than the actual gap in language. While it is important that everyone eventually become fluent with the official business language, care should be taken to not put down or underestimate any team member’s capability because of the initial hiccups. Being patient and open to communication will go a long way in building trust and rapport.
2.) Punctuality has varied degrees of importance from one culture to the next. While too much focus on punctuality can be seen as being overly structured in some countries, others may see it as a prerequisite to establish discipline and credibility in the team. One way to overcome this challenge is to mutually discuss and exchange thoughts on how this aspect should be approached. If you are expecting certain rigid standards you would like to carry from the parent organization to the remote team, then, ensure that these are being communicated in a documented manner to the offshore team.
3.) Multicultural teams are prefaced by a lack of trust in other cultures. As humans, we are sometimes naturally inclined to like and respect those who are most similar to us. Organizations should encourage their employees to get out of this backward mindset and embrace all the innovation and ideation that originates from other cultures. Since countries across the world have varying education and learning systems, the resulting permutation can foster creativity and growth in brand new ways.
4.) Leadership styles tend to become a bottleneck when remote teams are involved. Depending on the cultural context, there are variations in how the team members expect to be treated or approached by their respective team leads – such as being direct versus being accommodative. Take the time to understand whether the culture adopts a hierarchical structure or a flat one.
Gauge what your team is accustomed to and consider making tweaks to your approach, to come to a middle ground that is conducive to the overall success of the team.
5.) Lack of professionalism in a remote team or the parent team is sometimes deduced from various factors that aren’t immediately obvious to either party. It can be either stemming from having a widely different sense of humor or, not maintaining time and punctuality as expected. It can also be other factors such as taking way too many vacations or different levels of commitment to work. When working in a remote setup, such a wide gap in vacation policies or habits can cause potential rifts. For instance, in a country like India, due to the diversity of the population, there tend to be several days assigned to observing different festivals and rituals. This should be taken into consideration when planning sprints, deadlines and meetings. Forcing someone to give up their cultural observances will be viewed with resentment and is not conducive to the growth of a team.
Communicating the strategy in a documented manner early on can help avoid surprises and disappointments. Multicultural teams are bound to fail if there is not enough awareness on both sides to explore various factors that make up the bevy of cultures and human synergies. It is important for any parent organization to take the time to understand local habits and work culture to introduce or recreate policies that are both aligned with their corporate goals as well as the remote team’s culture. There are unique challenges faced by multicultural teams, but these are resolved by first acknowledging these conditions and then mutually investing in addressing them and consciously working on relationship building.
When multicultural teams are engaged and channelized in the right manner, they can bring companies a manifold competitive advantage of better performance, creativity, innovation and more importantly, making their organization’s presence felt around the world. The best results in remote teams are achieved when people from different cultural backgrounds look for solutions together with the stipulation that everyone is understood and feels included.