Latest research shows that cultural diversity in teams increases profitability. A homogenous workplace often closes its doors to insights, world views and experiences of a truly global marketplace. Multicultural teams, meanwhile, can deepen knowledge and expertise in a variety of markets. A staff that’s ethnically diverse drives innovation. They are able to generate fresh ideas and foster creativity that’s organic to who they are.
But as most international employers know, an overly multicultural company can also be a headache. Conflicts can arise when people from different backgrounds work together. In those cases, good leadership is key.
When I founded BRIC Language Learning in 2010, our company only serviced customers in the United States. Eight years later, BRIC has spread its operations to four continents: Asia, North America, Europe, and South America. Because of our growth, I was determined to build a strong international team that can service a diverse geographical market.
Today, our staff is composed of Americans, Brazilians, Mexicans, Russians, Ukrainians, Irish, French and English. As you can imagine, my role as a CEO became even more challenging than it already was.
But over the years, I learned skills that helped my employees feel more empowered and respected at work.
Here are strategies managers of multicultural teams can do for a more effective leadership:
Have a vision.
This is true for all companies. It starts with a clear strategic vision. This is especially important when your team members do not all speak the same language and are located in multiple locations with different time zones. If the strategy isn’t clear, nothing will work.
Do a SWOT analysis. Lay out your international business plan.
If you don’t have one, no one in the company will know where to go.
Regardless of cultural backgrounds, your employees’ career goals should align with your company’s direction.
No strategy can be implemented successfully if it isn’t communicated clearly. Top management should be able to openly and effectively talk with people in the front lines. If they fail at this, you can foresee how this will be aggravated in a multicultural and multinational environment.
Take the time to answer the “5 W’s and an H” (Who, What, Why, Where, When and How?). It sounds simple. But if you don’t lay it out clearly, things can get lost in translation. In answering these key questions, make sure you are not ignoring obvious cultural differences. Anything that your workers don’t understand about the basic tenets of your company should be addressed right away.
Learn at least a minimal amount of the languages your team speaks; and this applies to your staff as well. This may be a challenge, but all your efforts will go a long way. To illustrate, one of the clients we work with is finally considering to offer Mandarin classes to its American employees. The company’s Chinese team speaks very good English. However, their American workers don’t know a word of Mandarin. They’ve requested the company several times to learn Mandarin, as a sign of respect. I’m certain these language learning classes will help build camaraderie amongst employees — no matter which side of the world they come from.
You can also set up events where your international team can get together in one place for a weekend. At BRIC, we set up times where our whole team has a virtual drink. On Saturday mornings, we all get on a Skype call for our weekly happy hour and have a few cocktails together.
You need to show your employees that you respect them in any successful business. This is especially true when dealing with an international team.
I once tried to set up a Monday night phone call with our traditional China office. It was their Tuesday morning, May 1st. I was reminded that it was China’s Labor Day Holiday. My employees in China offered to get on the phone. I thanked them and told them to enjoy their day. Also, if you’re invited into someone’s home, a wedding, or any party, you should go. Their invitation should not be undervalued.
Again, it sounds simple, but you should, at all times, respect the people and their culture – including their holidays.
Trust and build trust.
Apart from BRIC, I also run Tricam Industries. I remember the distrust between our employees in the US and China. This was perpetuated by my boss then who had the motto “Don’t Trust Anyone.” Our US team at the time didn’t trust their Chinese counterparts. I took a position which I thought was a huge risk — I trusted my Chinese employees. Ultimately, the Chinese side was right. They weren’t trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. Because of this, I won their trust as well.
Since then, we’ve built mutual trust across both operations.
In the end, what’s important is to be human. Learning what ticks your employee from across the world is tough. It won’t always go well and you’ll make mistakes along the way. You should always strive to be real. Lead by example and, above all, treat everyone around you with the deference they deserve.