Multicultural teams – curse or blessing? Indeed, managing
multicultural teams can be a tightrope walk: on the one hand, when not handled properly, such teams can turn into extremely irksome stumbling blocks for a company or a project. On the other hand, companies and leaders who recognise the potentials of cultural diversity and find the right cultural mixture among the team members can achieve some substantial comparative advantages. The recent success in certain fields (for instance information technology) of “cultural melting pot” countries such as the USA or Canada testifies to the positive correlation between diversity and innovativeness.
It is above all the increasing globalisation of business that requires employees from various cultures to work together:
Shaw / Barrett-Power (1998) “Even in purely domestic operations, firms are being forced to form cross- functional, inter-departmental, cross-divisional, and interorganizational alliances in order to make maximum use of scarce resources and thus increase their competitive advantage.”
In their study of 70 global teams, Govindarajan and Gupta found out that only 18% of such teams perceived their own performance as “highly successful”, while a third felt that their co-operation had been utterly unsuccessful.Obviously, the ambiguity related to multiculturalism does not prevent managers from employing it extensively, constituting more and more multicultural global teams and continually increasing their diversity. The rationale behind such enthusiasm is usually one of hope for outstanding results, be it in knowledge creation, creativity, or innovation.
Harris / Harris (1996):
“A team is a work group or unit with a common purpose through which members develop mutual relationships for the achievement of goals / tasks. Teamwork, then, implies co-operative and co-ordinated effort by individuals working together in the interests of their common cause.”
“Culture is the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another.”
From the above mentioned definitions it can be said that a multicultural team is a work group working together for a common cause consisting of multiple national cultures. Multicultural teams have a number of advantages. Purdue.edu has highlighted some of the advantages. They are as follows:
1. Effective Marketing
Positive working relationships across cultures are an asset to an organization. Changing demographics in the United States are creating new customer groups and opportunities for niche marketing. In the United States in 1992, the total purchasing power of African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians was nearly $600 billion. To understand the new markets, organizations need to draw on the services that diverse team members have to offer. 2. Having a Competitive Edge
It is necessary for organizations to keep a competitive edge through innovation and problem-solving. 3. More Creative Solutions
Heterogeneity in problem-solving groups produces more creative responses in an increasingly competitive global marketplace. 4. Attracting the Best Talent
Organizations with the best reputations for well-integrated teams and good working relationships will win the competition for the best personnel. 5. Cost-Benefits
Organizations with a culturally integrated environment, characterized by employees who work well together, will have a cost advantage over those who don't.Even though multicultural teams have a number of advantages, teams whose members come from different nations and backgrounds place special demands on managers.A number of conflicts arise in multicultural teams.
Brett, Behfar and Kern (2006) have stated an example of conflicts arising due to differences in culture. When a major international software developer needed to produce...