How To Manage A Cross-Cultural Business

Cross Cultural ManagementDid you know that the fastest growing languages in Australia are Mandarin, Arabic and Hindi? Participating in a diverse workplace is no longer a possibility; it’s a certainty. Nearly half (45%) of Australians were born overseas or at least one of their parents were. So it’s more important than ever that Australian business leaders understand how to manage a cross-cultural workforce. 

Tips for managing a cross-cultural business smoothly

1. Be able to identify cultural differences and sameness

It can be difficult to identify cultural differences, because you are often “unaware of your own cultural assumptions,” says Art Markham writing in HBR. So make an effort to learn about the different cultures operating within your business and find out what their norms are, what is impolite and what is respectful. 

Find out about the social dynamics of their different countries. Dutch social psychologist, Geert Hofstede outlined a number of ways in which cultures differ: Power Distance, Individualism vs. Collectivism, Masculinity vs. Femininity, Uncertainty Avoidance, Long Term vs. Short Term Orientation and Indulgence vs. Restraint. For example, American and Western European cultures tend to be individualist (valuing the action and freedom of individuals), while East Asian cultures tend to be collectivist (valuing the needs of the group). 

However, ethnography researcher Xiaoran Song proposes that Hofstede’s dimensions of national cultural value differences do not provide effective guidance for understanding cross-cultural business communication, particularly where Chinese culture is concerned. Instead, he says, “it is the sameness that provides the conceptual bridge and the common ground for communicability and manageability.” So, try to find the commonalities between different cultures and use them as the context for building your own team identity (see tip number 5).

Compare individuals not with your own expected behaviour and cultural norms but with their own behaviour exhibited at different times. For instance, if someone is usually energetic and passionate, it should be a red flag when they respond in a downbeat or indifferent manner.

2. Pay attention to communication

86% of employees in a recent survey cited ineffective communication as the root cause for workplace failures. And you need to pay extra special attention to communication in cross-cultural business teams. 

It’s a good idea to encourage open communication around the cultural diversity within a team. Use ice breakers in a team meeting to get everyone to share their cultural background and expectations about communication and working style. 

You may want to use standard operating procedures for certain aspects of collaboration and communication to avoid inconsistency and confusion; for example, timeliness of email replies, frequency of team meetings, even communication templates. 

Practice and encourage active listening. Be sure to watch your nonverbal communication. And when it comes to electronic communication, err on the side of over-communicating and be careful with word choice. Use clear and simple language, and check the other party has understood what you said by asking them to rephrase it back to you. Always try to cultivate an environment where questions and clarification are welcomed. 

3. Stay up-to-date with technological innovations

Technology has made managing a multinational, cross-cultural business much easier. So if you are experiencing issues, consider how digital tools can help to solve them. 

Here’s a quick example: Qtok is a recommended business translation app, with over 546 live interpreters to provide full translations within seconds. A tool like this could dramatically improve your cross-cultural communication. 

4. Promote and celebrate diversity

There can be multiple challenges presented by different religion, customs and communication within a workforce. It’s important to treat diversity not as a problem, but a strength. Promote cultural diversity openly internally and celebrate it. 

Embracing the differences and commonalities between cultures can be a powerful thing, particularly when pursuing common goals and a shared business vision. A truly diverse and culturally-dextrous workplace requires effort by everyone. A top tip is to develop a diversity training program throughout your company.

5. Prioritise team building 

Since there could be many culture-based differences within your team, it can be helpful to develop a team identity. This avoids confusion, promotes teamwork and develops pride in pursuing that shared goal.

Within cross-cultural businesses, team building is an extremely useful exercise. Building meaningful relationships between employees keeps everyone engaged in the tasks at hand and performing well together. Video games are an increasingly popular tool for team-building because of their ability to transcend geographical barriers. You could try a weekly gaming session to build camaraderie and encourage open dialogue. 

Finally…

The goal of the above exercises is always to bond your team and cultivate trust between its members. It’s about creating an environment in which everyone feels safe so they can better collaborate with each other. Finding common ground, celebrating diversity as a strength, paying attention to clear communication and having a common goal help build unity within a team.

Australian business leaders should prioritise getting to know their team members. Try out Patrick Lencioni’s ‘Personal Histories’ exercise, which is available for free on his website. By learning more about one another, we understand each other better and work together more effectively.

If you’re looking for support to better understand strategies to help you succeed in the workplace, consider Behind Closed Doors as your support and leadership network.

We welcome your comments and experiences in dealing with multicultural workforces.  In our experience leaders are still grappling with managing multi-generational teams!

Warmly, Donny

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