It’s a small world, or is it? For all the talk of globalisation and the homogenisation of cultures, we still have our own, unique ways of working and conversing with each other.
Language barriers aside, communication styles and social hierarchies can differ greatly between cultures and regions. As organisations expand and remote working becomes common practice, these are just some of the many challenges facing managers overseeing teams comprising multiple nationalities and backgrounds.
While a certain degree of inter-cultural understanding comes down to the life experience of the individual themselves, multicultural leadership is a skill that can be learnt and honed like any other. Here’s how to begin:
1. Know your own style…
As the manager you are the cultural bridge between all those working under you, so you need to have a clear understanding of your own leadership style before you can attempt to synthesise those of others. Are you someone who prefers a direct or indirect form of communication? Do you believe in strict hierarchies or a flat structure? These are all things you first need to have clear in your own mind.
2. …then learn those of others
The next step is to invest time in understanding the different cultural sensitivities and expectations of your team. Don’t rely on pre-conceptions. While it’s easy to assume there will be a strict Western, non-Western demarcation between employees in terms of cultural practices, often the differences are far more nuanced and will depend on the individuals themselves.
3. Find common ground…
While a ‘one size fits all’ approach is unlikely to suit all contexts, it may be useful to establish a common set of standards for communication and working together, which can help to avoid confusion and mixed messaging. This should be drawn from each of the different nationalities and cultures represented in the team so as not to alienate any one individual or group.
4. …but be willing to adapt
Flexibility will still be key, however; you can’t expect to fully homogenise a wide range of different working styles and traditions within a short space of time. Employees will need to be willing to compromise and adapt to others; while encouraging a flexible, fluid work environment will make it easier to deal with issues and challenges as they arise.
Fostering cross-cultural working is one of the more challenging demands placed on modern day managers. However, with some careful planning and forethought multicultural working needn’t be a significant barrier to success.