Fact: Multicultural teams outperform homogeneous ones. Fact: The addition of one “foreigner” to a team increases financial turnover. Fact: Cultural differences can enhance our work environments. But let’s be honest. It’s not always easy.
The “culture factor” can be overwhelming (and that’s okay, too), but it’s not worth sacrificing the business potential multiculturalism brings along. Getting started with making multicultural teams blossom is as simple as staying curious and mindful of one’s own cultural lenses.
I attended a one-week course with Amcham community member Itim International to study the cultural dimensions that any multinational company could – and should – use in planning its HR, sales, communication, organizational structure, and even reporting and incentive mechanisms. Here are some of my takeaways:
Manage expectations. This is what it all boils down to. Depending on the cultural backgrounds there are, certain management styles may resonate with some better than others. Some cultures are accustomed to strong and straightforward leadership, while some cultures are used to management playing a more consultative role. This contrast is especially stark, for example, between the Nordics and our neighbors to the East.
The team that plays together, stays together. Or does it? Again, depending on the cultural tendencies the very concept of a “team” may mean different things to different people. Whose email should I reply to? Am I accountable for what this colleague oversees even if we work for the same company? Who has earned my loyalty?
With a little cultural awareness, instead of getting frustrated, approach your colleague from a different angle and (tada!) doors open and emails get answers.
“Treat others as you would like to be treated.” Sorry. Nope. The deeper intent of the Golden Rule is of course unquestionable, but the means of showing gratitude or respect ought to be culturally aligned. There’s no one size fits all. For some, schedule flexibility and extra time with family is a reward in itself – for others it’s a fancy title and a nicely humming BMW that gets you to that next sales target.
Red tape. What neither Bono, nor big companies, can’t live: with or without you. Many cultures value and even find comfort in a more extensive display of rigid and formal rules, and preferably in writing. So, before streamlining the organization globally, be aware that in many subsidiaries the opposite of your initial instinct might bring better results.
It’s not just a cliché how much richness is embedded in multiculturalism. This wealth is worth nurturing and investing more in. For this reason, Amcham is proudly supporting the COME project in identifying and telling the success stories of multicultural companies as well as advocating for an even more international Finland.
By Virve Ilkka