Managing multicultural teams

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Managing people is no easy task. It requires leaders to really understand the motivations that power their employees and find ways to encourage them. For some workers, it is easier to find out what makes them tick and leverage relationships with them to influence change and accomplish goals. For others, it will require time and effort to understand the root of their problems and help them transition from being "difficult" employees to become productive members of the team.

The prospect of managing a big team or workforce gets even more complicated when culture and ethnicity come into the equation. With the economies in some emerging markets seeing remarkable growth, particularly against the backdrop of the post-recession era of many Western countries, it makes a lot of sense to expand internationally, as it helps firms reach a broader audience.

While going global may be an attractive proposition for businesses, it is crucial that managers consider carefully how they engage native workers. Managers and leaders are often sent to foreign offices and locations to get these branches off the ground, and they will be the people responsible for forming the work culture and setting the tone. Understanding the motivations of workers from different backgrounds will play a critical role in managing them successfully and creating a respectful, productive multicultural business.

Understanding the differences in culture
A recent blog featured on the Harvard Business Review noted the complexity of trying to figure out how people from different backgrounds respond to the various types of management.

For instance, Chinese workers tend to be more top-down when it comes to making a decision – they expect someone to give them orders and they follow these directives. Conversely, Japanese workers are more consensual when it comes to decision-making, meaning they like to get input from multiple people before starting work on a task.

When it comes to establishing a level of trust, Germans are more likely to pin their allegiances to a person of power. Conversely, French, Japanese and Chinese workers are all more likely to trust people with whom they have prior relationships.

Conflicts and disagreements are a part of any workplace, however, people handle these issues in different ways. Germans and the French tend to be much more confrontational – if they see someone performing a task incorrectly, they are much more likely to address them directly with criticism. On the other hand, the Chinese and particularly the Japanese are more likely to avoid confrontations when possible and may even feel offended when receiving feedback as a result.

Learning and adapting to different cultures
When businesses enter new markets, it is very easy to forget about culture gaps and just continue work as usual. This is especially the case for organizations that may be highly process-based or leaders who have served in a position of power for a long time.

Influence is an important part of managing people and it all starts by building relationships with coworkers. This can only be done when managers are aware of cultural differences and can adapt their leadership styles to better meet the needs of their workers.