A diverse workforce fosters creativity and innovation. However, being part of a multicultural workforce can affect an employee’s ability to communicate and work on a team productively. Taking the time to understand one another leads to more effective working relationships. Cultural awareness workshops, seminars and online tools can provide a solid foundation upon which a global workforce can build successful teams.
Many ethnic groups prefer to communicate indirectly. They ask questions reluctantly, for fear of damaging relationships or appearing incompetent. Employees who communicate this way seldom offend other employees. However, workers from more direct cultures may ignore indirect remarks and miss important information. To get a multicultural workforce to work together effectively, both types of communicators need to recognize the other’s behavior patterns. Direct communications need to probe more, and indirect communicators need to speak up when problems arise.
Some cultures treat time as limited. For example, employees in the United States typically view tasks as linear and sequential. They complete one task at a time and schedule appointments that dictate when and where they meet with other people. Other cultures, such as Latinos, view time as abundant. They may be reluctant to end one conversation just because it’s time to go to another meeting. However, chronic lateness might be perceived as a performance issue by another culture. Setting team expectations at the start of any project can minimize any misconceptions and avoid conflict.
According to cross-cultural researcher Geert Hofstede’s theory of cultural dimensions, five dimensions can be used to explain differences between cultures: power distance, individualism, uncertainty avoidance, masculinity, and long-term orientation. Power distance reflects the extent to which less powerful members of the organization accept unequal power distribution, and in cultures that endorse low power distance, teams tend to be more democratic. Individualism is the degree to which employees integrate into groups. Uncertainty reflects a culture’s tolerance for ambiguity. Masculinity defines the distribution of emotional roles. Long-term orientation describes how societies view the future. Multicultural workforces work better together when they recognize their differences as well as their common approaches.
Multicultural workers may differ in their approach to the importance of happiness at work. According to sociologist Michael Minkov, in a culture that values indulgence, a higher percentage of people declare themselves happy. Work-life balance is important to these people. Restraint tends to prevail in Eastern Europe and Asia. When workers from both ends of the spectrum work together, they need to balance their own preferences with the team’s needs.