Managing a multicultural team: no small challenge!

Over the past few years, managing a multicultural team has become a regular occurrence. Cultural diversity within a team is a huge opportunity! Nevertheless, between disagreements and misunderstandings, there are many pitfalls. To promote well-being and boost performance, it's essential to adapt your management style. How do you manage a multicultural team, making the most of its advantages and overcoming the challenges it poses?

Managing a multicultural team: what you need to know

Defining intercultural management

Intercultural management is an interdisciplinary field within the HR function which aims to facilitate communication, management and interaction between companies, particularly those expanding internationally, and employees from different cultures. When it is relevant and mastered, it enables companies to make the most of new talent to gain in competitiveness and guarantee long-term development. It’s about understanding and respecting other cultures in an international context.

It encompasses a set of strategies and techniques aimed at managing individuals in a professional organization, taking into account the differences brought about by cultures: knowledge, way of thinking, operating methods, etc…

Opening up to the world means understanding the challenges of intercultural differences, and the forms of expression and interaction between human beings.

In France, multinationals account for 1% of companies but employ nearly 50% of the total wage bill.

The challenges of intercultural management

The daily challenges are many. Each employee has a different background and culture. Certain habits can destabilize certain employees, and mentality can differ from one employee to another. The challenge for managers is to understand these cultural differences. Intercultural management is both an asset and a major challenge for companies, and the relationship with hierarchy is one of the specificities to be taken into account in human resources management.

For example, in France, employees are used to working late into the evening, which is inconceivable in Anglo-Saxon countries!

The benefits of intercultural management

Intercultural management helps you to understand cultural differences, accept them, anticipate them and overcome cultural problems. Cultural diversity enables us to manage different skills, resulting in greater efficiency and productivity, and to cultivate the human qualities essential to teamwork.

Open-mindedness fosters creativity and innovation. This is also a clear advantage over the competition. And for a company looking to expand internationally, it’s vital to have employees who speak the local language.

Cultural differences enable us to better understand our customers, in all their diversity. But we still have to allow this diversity to express itself freely, and to flourish, by implementing appropriate intercultural management!

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A company's cultural diversity can become its personality, if it's properly promoted!

The limits of intercultural management

Managing a diverse team is no easy task, especially when there are major differences in the way work is conceived, and operating cross-cultural teams brings its own set of challenges:

-difficulties in making their voice heard individually within a team;

-more complex integration, due to cultural prejudices or stereotypes ;

-the risk of misinterpretation ;

-distrust and prejudice on the part of employees within the same team

In other words, the greatest difficulty lies in understanding the cultural differences expressed within the team.

Quality of an intercultural manager

It is essential to understand and respect cultural differences. He or she must be open-minded and do everything possible to develop collaborative work. For quality management, it’s essential to feel integrated and considered.

One of the first mistakes to avoid is imposing your own working methods on your employees. It’s always a good idea to adjust the way you work to the differentiating factors within the team. Open-mindedness is therefore essential to avoid this type of situation. There’s no room for judgments and prejudices, just a clear understanding of cultural differences.

The manager must adapt to the values of each team member. And when things go wrong, you need to show self-control and consistency.

Empathy is one of the other qualities required of a manager of a diverse team. You have to listen to every member of the group and give them your undivided attention.

Our 6 tips for good management

Personalize your management

The concept of “blindess culture” is still too prevalent in French companies. Numerous studies have shown that cultural diversity promotes the success of different projects, provided that intercultural management is well defined. Empathetic management is a way of looking after the well-being of employees. It’s a good idea to diversify the means of communication, using English and a chat system for example. Open dialogue must be the rule.

Some companies are adopting a "case management" approach, which allows employees to feel truly valued.

Demonstrate emotional intelligence

An emotionally intelligent manager will be equally tolerant of himself. He’ll be able to create a sense of belonging and care, with considerable results in terms of performance. As a result, employees are more likely to stay with the company, feel included at work and are much less likely to be exposed to stress and burnout. To develop emotional intelligence, managers need to adopt an assertive communication style, develop active listening skills and practice active emotional awareness.

Building trust

The relationship of trust is one of the fundamental foundations, and refers to the notions of security and reliability. The more trust there is, the more effective relationships will be, and the smoother projects and work organization will be. To do this, you have to be exemplary, keep your commitments, take a sincere interest in the other person and acknowledge your faults.

A good manager has an advanced knowledge of the societal codes in force in the countries from which his new talents come!

Communicating well

Different people have different ways of communicating. Not only in terms of language, but also in terms of the behaviors that enable communication. So we need to show more empathy and care. A team manager must also take an interest in the way in which each member of his or her team positions him or herself in relation to work.

We need to make sure that everyone understands our missions and objectives. Whenever possible, you should communicate in the same language. And for better understanding, important documents need to be translated.

Recognizing individual skills

The role of a manager is similar to that of a coach, who values his teams and encourages them to become better. To do this, you need to provide regular feedback, and not hesitate to say when things have been done well and where improvements are needed. This also means encouraging them to take part in training courses and anticipate the skills they will need for their careers.

Promoting social ties within the team

Neither language nor habits should be a hindrance to teamwork. Setting common goals is also a good way of forging links. It’s interesting to organize events like :

  • team buildings
  • corporate parties
  • escape games
  • group activities

Teamwork should be encouraged with collaborative projects to reinforce cohesion and adaptability.

It is also advisable to take an interest in the different intercultural management practices of other companies. For example, BlackRock has encouraged its managers to take diversity and inclusion training. Dropbox also values diversity and creativity, encouraging all employees to integrate their interests and passions to come up with more innovative solutions.

In other words, the keys to success for a multicultural team are: listening, consideration for others, fluency in English, explicit communication and the absence of value judgments.

As you can see, managing a multicultural team is no easy task. It’s important to have the distance and background to understand cultural differences and to help employees understand each other, so that they can work in harmony and as efficiently as possible. Diversity is a must, so don’t make any mistakes!

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To sum up

En 3 Questions

  • Managing a multicultural team

    Managing a multicultural team is part of everyday business life, and requires certain qualities. The essential pillars are :

    -The manager’s commitment to using the uniqueness of each culture;

    -rules of behavior that must be agreed from the outset;

    -the instructions for use of each culture to be explored in order to create common instructions for use

  • The advantages and disadvantages of intercultural management

    Intercultural management aims to improve interactions between employees of different nationalities. Managing a multicultural team is not only a way of ensuring long-lasting professional relationships, but also of attracting the best skills. Skill diversity is often rooted in multiculturalism. By bringing together employees from different backgrounds, the company’s potential is multiplied tenfold. However, there are risks involved, particularly if the manager does not adapt to the values of his team members.

  • Our tips for intercultural management

    To successfully manage a multicultural team, you need to: diversify your means of communication, recognize the skills of your colleagues, adapt your management approach on a case-by-case basis if necessary, and foster social cohesion within the team. The manager can draw on a range of tools.