The challenges of managing diverse teams

 

Tracing back to the preceding decade, leaders used to manage a homogenous team, which consist of people from one culture with similar point of view. Diversity was originally seen as something unique and uncommon. In contrast with the past, nowadays, diverse teams are ubiquitous in any organizational landscape, considering people are living in a more globalized world. According to BCG (2014), there is a significant increase in the willingness of people to work abroad, with the global average of 64% in 2014 compared to below 50% in 2006.

Traditionally, people believed in universalism, a uniformity based on rules, where individual characteristic being suppressed without any consideration. As time goes by, the advancement of technology led to the inception of multiculturalism, the acknowledgement of various cultures without demanding them to solely subordinate to one particular behavior. Subsequently, people are not only acknowledging culture differences, but also stimulate intercultural behavior between each other (Chibber, 2015).

As an International learner, I have been consistently experiencing such global environment, where there are many nationalities in one area. First, I thought, it is enough to deal with it only by compromising differences. However, at some point, compromising without understanding and adopting the variances background, would likely make me feel frustrated because there is some value that I cannot accept no matter how hard I try. Therefore, understanding and stimulating intercultural dimension is a very critical skill in this age and time.

Nonetheless, the implementation of it is not as simple as flipping your hand palm. Understanding diverse attitude, motivating a diverse team and achieving certain level of efficiency are the top challenges of managers in managing cultural diverse teams (Majlergaard, 2012). Since, unconsciously, as a human being, people tend to compare others’ behavior and values with their own standard.

Based on Hall’s cultural dimensions in Nijhuis (2012), there are two terms of characteristic, Monochronic time and Polychronic time, which also considered low-context and high-context people. Mono-time people measure their accomplishment in a specified period of time, thus they like to create daily schedule and “to-do” list. On the other hand, poly-time characteristic includes, flexibility and openness as they focus on several aspects of every circumstance. When some problems arise without any acceptance of differences, frustration and hostility will prone to occur.

For example, James (Monochronic), an operation manager from the U.K. in Hotel Z, has an appointment at 5:30 with Aisha (Polychronic), a marketing manager from Nigeria. But then, although their meeting has not finished yet, he rushes to his office at 6:00 to continue his research, which written in his daily schedule. Aisha thinks that, James is merely taking care of his own job and ignoring colleague relationships.

James might not have such thought because it is just the way he does things, but still in Aisha’s perspective, he is an individualistic person. The situation above also reflects the theory of Hofstede’s cultural dimension. United Kingdom scores, 89 in Individualism compared to Nigeria with 30 (The Hofstede Centre, 2015). Individualist people are used to be very independent and work for themselves, while Nigerian as a collectivist society; they foster great relationship in any circumstances.

Moreover, motivating diverse teams is also a big challenge as one rule can be seen through various ways depending on people’s perspective, which resulted to different interpretation. As an example, U.K. and China have a different education system that lead to different working behaviors. British people might find it very motivating, when they are being given a freedom on how to deliver the job. However, Chinese people will feel uncomfortable if they are not being given a job description on how to get the job done. As China has a lower power distance dimension (35) compared to the U.K. with 80 (The Hofstede Centre, 2015). Through this measurement, a society with high ranking of PD accepts inequalities amongst them, where the workers-leaders relationships tend to be polarized and vice versa for Britain. When this happen, declination of organization’s effectiveness might occur.

Consequently, achieving the desired level of efficacy is unquestionably a great deal because each person has different level of expectation, thus difficulties in setting collective goals rise up. For instance, Spanish society with a relatively low individualism amongst other European countries (51) tends to consult with their colleague before making a decision. On the other hand, British people (89), are taught from their childhood to think for themselves, hence they are pretty confidence in making decision without any discussion. Some people might think that making a quick decision means high efficiency and such people tend to see people that take time to analyze something comprehensively as inefficient. However, in reality balancing both types of decisions is the best way to reach maximum effectiveness.

Equally, research has always shown that heterogeneous team delivers higher performance, as long as they are well led (Hansen and Ibarra, 2011). American Sociological Association in Smedley (2014) finds, that there is a 3%-9% rise in revenue for every 1% rise in the proportion of ethnic diversity. It shows that companies can increase their bottom line by boosting their innovation, expanding their market share as well as having wider range of viewpoints.

However, when team members do not try to respect others cultures, diverse team that actually has a bigger prospect to increase the bottom line profit of an organization, might even be a threat to the company. Thus, one thing need to be noted, based on Tuckman and Jensen in Abudi (2010), at some point a team will go through several stages in different time, like forming, storming, norming and adjourning. So, conflicts are very common to happen. That time is actually where people will understand their members even better. Yet, it depends on how team members deal with it, whether they see it as an opportunity or threat.

Nevertheless, in my opinion people from the some country might even have different approach of their own culture, which is why generalizing people based on their nationalities are always been a wrong way in understanding nation’s culture. There will always be pros and cons in this evidential situation, however one thing for sure, organizations with proper cultural understanding of diversity can heighten performance and increase productivity. Therefore, being an open-minded person, having an open-door policy in the workplace combined with possessing a high level of understanding are the critical success factors in leading a diverse team.

References:

Abudi, G (2010), The five stages of project team development, [Online] available at <http://www.pmhut.com/the-five-stages-of-project-team-development > [5 March 2015]

BCG (2014), Workers’ Increasing mobility, [Online] available at <https://www.bcgperspectives.com/content/articles/human_resources_leadership_decoding_global_talent/?chapter=2> [5 March 2015]

Chibber, K (2015), The key to success in the global workplace is being culturally fluent, [Online] available at <www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2015/03/03/key-success-global-workplace-being-culturally-fluent> [5 March 2015]

Ibarra and Hansen (2011), Are you a collaborative leader?, [Online], available at <https://hbr.org/2011/07/are-you-a-collaborative-leader> [ 5 March 2015]

Majlergaard, F (2012), The top 5 challenges managers of cultural diverse teams are facing, [Online] available at <http://gugin.com/the-top-5-challenges-managers-of-cultural-diverse-teams-are-facing/> [6 March 2015]

Nijhuis, G (2012), Culturally sensitive curriculum development in international cooperation, [Online] available at <http://www.narcis.nl/publication/RecordID/oai%3Adoc.utwente.nl%3A79600> [4 March 2015]

The Hofstede Centre (2015), Country comparison, [Online] available at <http://geert-hofstede.com/countries.html > [6 March 2015]

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11 thoughts on “The challenges of managing diverse teams

  1. Nice article with good research. You have put on much effort to study the topic and presented relevant theories, examples as well as the views for different authors. Great work!
    Based on your experience at workplace or university, have you encountered any challenges working in a diverse team?

    Like

    • Thank you and the answer is absolutely yes. There was one time I had a group consists of 4 people, 2 from India, 1 from Malaysia and me myself. Me and the Malaysian already discussed about the project since the day we received it. We always encouraged them to start researching something on it from the first day, however they always say we still have more than enough time to do, relax. So the challenges that I had was about the level of motivation and commitment.

      However, I am not generalizing India as that kind of person who takes everything easily because some of them are even way more diligent than me.

      Like

  2. Ellen Augustine says:

    Thank you for the knowledge above. I have experienced the same thing in my work place. When my boss gave the freedom to us, some of my colleague were complaining while others were really grateful and motivated to do the job. In that situation, what kind of suggestion will you give to a leader to overcome those issues?

    Like

    • I would suggest the leader to approach their employees differently and situational leadership is the most appropriate style in this situation. The leader needs to explain the reason why he/she give such freedom, not just simply delegate the task and give the freedom because one of the things that the leader needs to do is providing resources for their follower to be able to do the job.

      I hope it helps.

      Like

      • Karina Suryawinata says:

        Nice article, Natalia. Continuing from the question addressed, what if I condition you as a team leader who work with 4 group members, 3 of them are individualists and the other one doesn’t feel convenient to work in individualism environment. What are you going to do to boost your group performance without leaving one of your group members behind? What is the win win solution for this case?

        Like

  3. Gabriella Dhea says:

    I do agree with all your points, however, from the way you said it at the last part, it means that people in one country does not necessarily have the same culture. Why do you think so?

    Thank you

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  4. Some people, they might have two parents that have different nationalities. Some of them might go to some international school, which influence their perception. Others might go abroad for their university and experience some culture shock of their own culture. Above all, every single person is unique and different. So generalizing people’s characteristic simply because of their background is not a valid reason in my opinion.

    Like

  5. Paulus says:

    I do agree to some extent, yes at some point when a diverse team can work together, the results might be better than homogenous team as they have different perspective. However, I think the challenges that they face is somewhat not worth the time of clashing with each other, especially for short-term project. So what do you think in that regards?

    Thank you

    Like

    • That is a good question. However, in regards to short-term project, I think the challenges that they might face is not as complex as long-term project because the longer you spend with someone, the better you know them. And people will show their true face at some point once they feel comfortable with others. So I think adjustment and concession will likely to happen in such circumstances. Since nowadays we live in a globalized world, respecting each other culture and being open-minded are not the hard thing to do anymore.

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  6. Thank you Karina, when I am in that kind of situation, I will use the situational leadership approach because when you are in a group and none of them has their own initiative to compromise, you need to initiate that action by talking individually according to each member characteristic. By doing that, you will try to accommodate each individual and at the same time, you also bring them together to achieve the same goals.

    Like

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