4 Best Strategies for Managing a Multicultural Team

More often than not, business teams today are multi-cultural and remotely managed. Employees or freelancers are often international. Even when startup founders do their best to prevent language barriers, miscommunication can occur and create unnecessary challenges.

[Related: 5 Tips to Help Companies Attract and Retain Minority Female Talent]

At Hubstaff, we work with a diverse team of development and marketing professionals from around the globe. In my experience, sticking to these four best practices will help maintain a harmonious working relationship with individuals from a different cultural background than your own.

Be Clear About Your Expectations and Assume Nothing

Management practices differ widely across cultures, as do expectations about feedback, checking in, asking questions, and the overall hierarchy within an organization. Different cultures also have different expectations about the amount of passion or energy with which a person should communicate, how to deliver criticism, and whether deadlines are fixed or mutable. What seems like passionate disagreement to them might seem aggressive to you, or a frustrating lack of updates could be the employee’s way of respecting your authority as boss by not pestering you.

Be prepared to explain things you’ve always taken for granted. It’s true that employees should also be responsible for learning the norms of your corporate culture, but trying to meet them halfway will probably result in higher retention and engagement. Invest a little bit in learning about business culture in their country of origin and their own cultural assumptions, and ask them how they compare to working with someone from your own culture. If they come from a culture where saving face is important, consider delivering feedback in private. If the local business culture where they’re from offers more flexibility in meeting deadlines than what you can afford to give on a project, make it absolutely clear that there is no leeway in getting a deliverable ready (or consider setting a deadline a few days earlier than when it actually needs to be done).

Stick to a Neutral Language and Neutral Subjects

One of the most important culturally-determined variables in business management is the appropriate use of language. Humor, sarcasm and criticism are all very different depending on each set of culturally determined beliefs; so are religion and faith. Business decisions, development, and user issues are all universal. They demand your team’s focus no matter employees’ personal differences.

That having been said, it’s often not practical for one manager to have to adopt a different tone for each member of a mixed-culture group. Imagine a Skype meeting for a team not unlike my own, with members from Turkey, Poland, Pakistan and the U.S. I can’t be simultaneously straightforward while also couching negative statements within positive ones. Catering to all cultures leads to mixed messages, a sort of communication schizophrenia.

Use as neutral language as possible, sticking to the facts and using ‘I’ statements when you can. It’s also important to prepare each person for your management style as a leader during the on-boarding process. Always check to make sure everyone understands your message after meetings.

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