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.


Abudi, G (2010), The five stages of project team development, [Online] available at < > [5 March 2015]

BCG (2014), Workers’ Increasing mobility, [Online] available at <> [5 March 2015]

Chibber, K (2015), The key to success in the global workplace is being culturally fluent, [Online] available at <> [5 March 2015]

Ibarra and Hansen (2011), Are you a collaborative leader?, [Online], available at <> [ 5 March 2015]

Majlergaard, F (2012), The top 5 challenges managers of cultural diverse teams are facing, [Online] available at <> [6 March 2015]

Nijhuis, G (2012), Culturally sensitive curriculum development in international cooperation, [Online] available at <> [4 March 2015]

The Hofstede Centre (2015), Country comparison, [Online] available at < > [6 March 2015]