Managing Multicultural Team Diversity

The purpose of this work is to illustrate literature that suggests that member of multicultural team brings all new fresh ideas and approaches to problem solving. Those members however come up with a challenge by also introducing different understandings and expectations regarding team dynamics and integration (Ochieng and price 2009). Dealing with the question of how being attentive to the diversity and creating the structure required for success, a manager can effectively work and same time influence multicultural team diversity. This paper uses a case study of heavy construction engineering projects and its Findings identifies key multi-dimensional factors that either facilitated or limited the effectiveness of multicultural teamwork. The result has implications for managers who work with multicultural teams and are committed to improving team performance and productivity (Ochieng and price 2009). However, it revealed key dimensions to consider but it would not instantly transform multicultural teams into high-performing ones. Originality/value – Though the benefits of multicultural teams have been acknowledged, the study helped to develop an understanding that conflict, misunderstanding and poor project performance can occur because of the cultural differences among teams (Ochieng and price 2009).


While diversity efforts have the potential to strengthen organizational effectiveness and efficiency, and to advance social justice, study has shown that realizing the full benefits of diversity is neither a simple nor a straightforward process. It is quite another to develop a supportive work environment that enables people of diverse backgrounds to perform at their highest levels, contribute fully to the organization and feel professionally satisfied. It is an even greater challenge to integrate fully the varied knowledge, experiences, skills, creativity, perspectives and values that people of diverse backgrounds bring into an organization’s strategy, goals, work, products, systems and structures. (Adle and Gundersen 2008)

Managing diversity is an on-going process that organises various talents and capabilities which a diverse population bring to an organization, community or society, so as to create a wholesome, inclusive environment, that is “safe for differences,” enables people to “reject rejection,” celebrates diversity, and maximizes the full potential of all, in a cultural context where everyone benefits (Rosado 2006).

Results have shown advantages and disadvantages (Williams and O’Reilly 1998, Chevrier 2003). In fact, workforce diversity isn’t a competitive organisational strength unless it’s effectively managed. Allard (2002) founded that diversity itself does not guarantee greater success in business nor does it guarantee qualitative social and creativity improvements. Ancona and Caldwell (1992) explain that difficulty of merging different cognitive styles, attitudes and values, such as those found in teams with diverse members. Diversity if not well managed can create internal processes that slow decision making and keep members distracted from the task. Teams made up of individuals from different “thought-worlds” may find it difficult to develop a shared purpose and an effective group process. (Worman 2005)

The general motivation in growing use of teams is the degree of diversity in the workforce of multicultural organization; multicultural team provides an efficient and flexible way to coordinate production requiring a diversity of skills, talents, and information (Eckel and Grossman 2005)

Team diversity may permit greater productivity than could be achieved by individual effort as no individual possess all task-related characteristics necessary to achieve the desired goals. The cross-fertilization possible in a diverse work team leads to more creativity; diverse teams are more effective (Northcraft et al., 1996).

Literature review:

The emergence of globalization means organizations no longer rely upon the traditional teams. There is a need of people from different cultural background to work together to make global enterprises succeed in the global marketplace” (Steers & Nordon, 2006) they also founded that Multicultural teams provide an open opportunity to integrate widely differing social, cultural, and organizations perspectives into key decisions that affects the success of all international operations(liaqat et al 2008)

The management and development of teams within a global context unavoidably leads to a consideration of diversity and related challenges. For appreciation of international context and development of abilities to understand everyday issues from different cultural perspectives it is essential that managers receives help form organisations. Bartlett and Goshal (1989) identified the main challenge facing organisations intending to work overseas as the introduction of practices, which balance global competitiveness, multinational flexibility and the building of global learning capability. The authors further argued that if organizations have to achieve this balance, they must develop cultural sensitivity and the ability to manage and build future capabilities. The world’s most innovative firms, such as Microsoft, took advantage of diversity by introducing multicultural teamwork as (Ely and Thomas, 2001) diversity increases the number of different perspectives, styles, knowledge and insights that the team contributes to organizations complex problems. However, team integration requires organisations to value explicitly multicultural teamwork, to adapt to it and use it to generate improvements in work performance and team effectiveness. There are literatures on cultural diversity which examines team members, demographical backgrounds and other such relevant factors to their diverse cultural characteristics, values and discernments ([Ansari and Jackson, 1996].As confirmed by McLeod and Lobel (1992) multicultural team generates more high quality ideas in brainstorming tasks, and when it comes to identifying and solving problems culturally diverse teams perform better than homogenous teams Jackson et al. (1992). And a better utilization of multicultural team by organization yields significant gains in productivity Townsend et al. (1998). For example, Ng and Tung (1998) a multi-branch financial services firm with culturally diverse team gained more financial profits than to their culturally homogenous counterparts. More recently, Marquardt and Hovarth (2001) established that if the energy and synergy of individuals from diverse culture are managed, organisations could generate creative approaches to problems and challenges that are faced by corporate teams in tasks, they provide their significance for organizations in international marketing activities, expertise to decision making and managerial actions, a greater possibility to implement the decision in a timely manner, “there is limited empirical evidence that decision consensus actually leads to decision implementation speed or success” (Preim et al 1995). Multicultural Teams in few cases reach to a consensus on a decision by overcoming conflicts but at time of implementation they still face problems, “Alternatively when groups “smooth over” task related disagreements decision consensus suffers because of the remaining latent conflicts among the group members” (Preim et al., 1995).

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Findings of certain studies reveal that communication in multicultural teams fosters the formation of an emergent team culture. Team culture has a straightforward rules, performance expectations and individual perceptions upon which multicultural team develops and depends. Earley and Mosakowski (2000) further confirmed shared individual prospects facilitate communication and team performance resulted from strong emergent culture of effective multicultural team. This also suggests that the performance and team effectiveness can be improved and boosted through the positive effect and trust generated by the perceived shared understanding. Most importantly, the formation of strong emergent team culture can be facilitated by effective interaction among team members Pearson and Nelson (2003). Nonetheless, as multicultural teams are particularly susceptible to communications problems this can affect team cohesion. Individuals in multicultural teams can have different perceptions of the environment, motives and behaviour intentions. Shaw (1981) argued that due to impeded social cohesion the effects of such differences could result in lower team performance. Further research by Evans and Dion (1991), on these two variables showed a positive correlation. Even Elron (1997) asserted that cohesive teams are more efficient and respond faster to changes and challenges. Generally the most common challenge to multicultural teams is Managing cultural differences and cross-cultural conflicts (Elron, 1997). The main cause of conflict is the cultural issues among team individuals because working style of each culture is significantly different from other culture and other reasons are misunderstanding and poor performance (Shenkar and Zeira, 1992). As (Pearson and Nelson, 2003 found there is five important distinctive challenges that managers face are: developing team cohesiveness; maintaining communication richness; dealing with coordination and control issues; handling geographic distances and dispersion of teams; and managing cultural diversity, differences and conflicts). Because of the distinct perception managers from different countries have on environmental opportunity they are likely to translate and respond differently to the same strategic issues or team tasks. To address rapidly changing and complex nature of working environment multicultural teams must improve their ability to combat such external challenges. The sense of belonging to a group gives a growing feeling of safety and comfort to team member in return can enhance the response to task challenges (Schein, 1985).

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Case study: E.G. Ochieng and A.D.F. Price caries out interviews to the eight organisations that were selected, operated in the energy, pharmaceutical and petrochemical sector. The selected organisations were well balanced in terms of size, status and projects managed, where 20 of the participants interviewed were picked on the basis of project management experience with each having long-standing familiarity in managing large and complex projects over a period of many years, Being familiar with cultural issues empowers project leaders with the requisite knowledge for improving the efficiency of managing multicultural project teams. Addressing the poor performance of multicultural project teams remains an aspiration within the construction industry (Baiden, 2006 Baiden, B.K., 2006. Framework of the Integration of the Project Delivery Team. Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, Loughborough University.Baiden, 2006). There is mounting evidence and opinion indicating that integrated teamwork is a primary key in efforts towards improving product delivery within the construction industry (Egan, 2002). There is a growing trend towards discussing cross-cultural complexity more openly within the construction industry as the demand for international construction projects with multicultural project teams have been exceeding, same time to examine if cross-cultural complexity and cross-cultural communication can be effectively managed, before exploring the effective management of multicultural project teams. The finding shown, that all team member need to trust and understand each other in order to achieve a fully integrated multicultural project team. It is also evident that when it comes to carrying out project tasks all participants’ favoured collectivism over individualism. The research established that communication in the multicultural teams is a significant factor in the successful completion of heavy construction engineering projects. It is essential for project leaders to ensure that the nature of the interactions do not affect the strength of the relationships between project teams and their ability to transfer knowledge and information required to complete project tasks successfully. As substantiated from the findings, project leaders need to implement a clear and robust procedure of resolving conflicts that might arise. Participants further acknowledged that in a multicultural project team, individual achievement is not valued in a collectivist culture; whereas in an individualistic project team it is one of the most important values. Thus, in a collectivist project team, even though the project leader might play the most important role in successful realisation of a project task, reward is often given to all team members. The consensus that emerges in this study is that a collectivist culture in heavy engineering projects emphasizes the importance of team effort to success, and is not likely to attach failure to an individual person even though this person is the project leader. From the above, four key factors has been identified by the authors that influence multicultural project teams at team levels. These were cross cultural communication, cross cultural collectivism, cross cultural empathy in project leadership and cross cultural trust. What needed to be well understood is that the effective structure of a multicultural project team depends on a well structured integration system, between the client, project manager and the project team. As illustrated by the two groups in this study, the culture of a project manager plays a major role in how the project team will perceive cross-cultural communication on projects.

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Evaluation: Katzenbach and Smith’s have outlined three team goals in his model of team basics: performance results, personal growth and collective work products. Management sets the Measurable performance in order to give the team a rationale to exist. The individual as they have the responsibility for personal growth, they must align with and contribute to the team’s goals. The last is collective work products instead of individual products.

To achieve all three goals team needs skills, commitment and accountability. To master the assigned tasks Problem solving, technical, functional, and interpersonal skills are necessary. The team’s sense of responsibility culminates in accountability for the assigned tasks. Furthermore, only the collective unit not the individual will be responsible for the team’s collective product succeeds or fails in fulfilling expectations. Finally, the individual’s commitment is important when conflicts, difficult tasks or other critical situations arise.

Study by several authors found that Power Distance moderates the relationship between participation and organizational commitment whereas; resistance moderates the impact of culture on satisfaction and commitment (Kirkman and Shapiro 1997). Katzenbach and Smith’s model has two more dimensions; the collective and individual dimensions. According to agency theory (eraz and Earley, 1993), individual tends to maximize his self-interest, and accordingly faces a dilemma when working in organizations. Triandis (1995a), and later Eraz and Earley (1993), found that individualists performed better alone than working in an ingroup or outgroup. Conversely, collectivists work better in an ingroup than in an outgroup or alone. This shows how the degree of heterogeneity is not the only determinant of performance. The involved cultures and their characteristics must be considered to assess whether the team is likely to perform well.

Conclusion: multicultural team encounter specific problems that can be summarized in three categories: attitudinal problems (mistrust, stress), perceptual problems (stereotyping, tension) and communication problems (Adler, 1991:) however, cross-cultural teams are more effective at generating ideas (enhanced creativity, more alternatives, better solutions) and display limited “groupthink” (critical evaluation of diverse ideas, self censorship).

With the findings of the case study it has been concluded that if the maximum benefits are to be obtained from multicultural team, it is imperative that these negatives should be overcome by proper managerial initiatives. Team managers need to know how to ensure successful behaviour integration among diverse group members (Wright and Snell 1999; kreitz 2008)HR managers must ensure that team managers have adequate training to help them develop needed skills in the emotional aspects of group management, intervention techniques, communication, and team building so that they can manage diverse work teams effectively.

Effective teamwork requires members to recognize the team as a unit with common goals, values, and norms (Lembke and Wilson, 1998). The more that team members identify with one another, the more likely they are to believe they hold similar goals, values, and norms, and the more willing they will be to cooperate and work together as a team.( Cummings 2004; Kreitz 2008) Managers must remember “that not all sources of diversity in work groups enhance the value of knowledge.”87. Jonathon N. Cummings, Work Groups, Structural Diversity, and Knowledge Sharing in a Global Organization, Management Science 50 (2004), p. 360Different diversity characteristics should be chosen to enhance team performance and should be aligned to the team’s purpose and goals. An individual who perceives herself as a member of a team is more likely to perceive the fate of the team as her own (Ashforth and Mael, 1989). This commonality is more likely to be recognized if team members are, or perceive themselves to be, of the same social category.

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