by Qiqi Zhang
Culturally diverse workplaces are becoming more and more common; as cited by Business Times, there are 6,000+ multinational companies (MNCs) in Singapore alone. MNCs are companies that are the most successful in the current market economy. For example, Facebook. Facebook currently has 47[i] centers of operation around different world cities, and has a total worth of $558.79 billion dollars as of July 9th, 2019[ii]. Facebook, as an MNC, is a huge player in international business. As a big company, they attract many different kinds of people from different places, creating an environment filled with intercultural diversity and population variety.
The benefits of a diverse workplace is becoming more and more recognized: globalization allows for a rapid expansion of business, greater adaptability and flexibility of your staff, multilingual resources, and a varied and rich company culture. However, as a result, this cultural diversity may pose adjustment problems for many companies, including misunderstandings and sensitivity. However one of the most crucial problems related to cultural diversity emerges from miscommunication.
Miscommunication can arise in many different ways: from language barriers to writing styles, there are many ways that communication can go awry. Certain cultures approach business meetings in a certain way, and the customs that they are used to in their culture may be misinterpreted in a business meeting setting. In China, for example, it is more common to form working relationships off of existing relationships[iii], while in the US it is more ideal to keep working and personal relationships private[iv]. This difference in norms can lead to miscommunication that may not be obvious at first glance.
However, while there are difficulties, they can be mitigated through cognizant leadership. Here are 3 ways that managers can better lead culturally diverse teams:
1. Increasing Awareness
A manager is often the cornerstone of a team, often having the responsibility of helping employees work together. By being aware and understanding that different employees have different cultural needs, managers can better relate and “manage” people underneath them. For example, by being aware of cultural holidays that their employees celebrate. Additionally, by promoting cultural sensitivity they can reduce tension and implicit discrimination. Drawing from personal experience, in my own student groups, being aware of our diverse cultures allows us to recognize that not everyone has had the same exposure to cultural contexts and skills like varied cultural etiquettes, which allows playing to different strengths within a project. By encouraging their teams to appreciate the qualities that make them different, they can encourage a safer and more open environment. For example, in Bain’s affinity group programs: they do not serve to isolate certain groups but rather allow employees to celebrate and be proud of their culture, which often attracts new talent and company interest[v].
2. Unified Goals
By creating an inclusive corporate culture and clear goals that work to ensure harmony in a culturally diverse workplace, no matter their cultural background, workers are more likely to work together in a more cohesive way. Affirming a common goal is useful for any company, since many workers can get caught up in the day-to-day tasks without connecting it back to the overall vision. However, when you add in things like geographical factors, translation-specific miscommunication, and differences in prioritization within cultures, having a clear company vision is even more essential. For example, Google’s vision is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. Clear-cut and non-jargony, it allows Google’s employees to focus and give them something to relate back to their day-to-day tasks. Defining the vision itself and making it clear across all components of your company helps dissipate the confusion and get all employees in the same mindset for success.
3. Aim for Cultural Synergy
Cultural synergy is the state of mind that a business can have which basically encourages each worker to celebrate their own culture while learning more and appreciating another’s culture. This can be encouraged by the company through international-style potlucks, work mixers, and other bonding events. Cultural synergy allows all the employees to be proud of their own culture and also promotes openness to different ideas or approaches. It paints an interculturally diverse staff as an asset rather than a liability. At PEPWorldwide, communicating across 27 offices globally sometimes makes communication a challenge, due to time zone issues, working styles and language barriers. Yet, we thrive because we recognise how important it is for employees within multinational corporations to see the value in cultural differences and the benefits they bring as well as to have access to resources about different cultures and how that impacts individual ways of thinking. This fosters greater understanding between and within teams.
While communication may always be an issue in the workplace, whether or not intercultural discourse is experienced, being aware of these issues and their impacts can be exponentially productive for a company. A diverse and multicultural company can prove to be something that sets you apart from the competition, however it does not come without challenges. Working to improve your company’s communication and setting a clear vision allows you to experience an endless amount of benefits and advantages in the current global market.
About the Contributor:
Qiqi Zhang is a Business Development Intern at PEPWorldwide Asia this summer. She is a rising junior studying Economics and Psychology at Emory University in Atlanta, GA and is originally from Boston, MA. Some of her hobbies include going to art museums and finding good coffee shops.