Multicultural Teams In Organizations Management Essay


The purpose of this paper is to present literature that suggests that teams comprising members from culturally diverse backgrounds bring fresh ideas and new approaches to problem solving. The challenge, however, is that they also introduce different understandings and expectations regarding team dynamics and integration. The question becomes how a manager and organizations can effectively work and influence multicultural team diversity, at the same time being attentive to the diversity and creating the structure required for success. The paper uses a case study of heavy construction engineering projects revealed a number of multi-dimensional factors that either facilitated or limited the effectiveness of multicultural teamwork. Findings – The proposed framework has implications for managers who work with multicultural teams and are committed to improving team performance and productivity. The utilization of the proposed framework would not instantly transform multicultural teams into high-performing ones; however, it does identify key cross-cultural dimensions, which need to be considered. Originality/value – Though the benefits of culturally diverse teams have been acknowledged, the study highlighted that cultural differences among teams can cause conflict, misunderstanding and poor project performance.

Introduction: taken 4:

While diversity efforts have the potential to strengthen organizational effectiveness and efficiency, and to advance social justice, experience 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. (wwd 3)


Managing diversity is an on-going process that unleashes the 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.

Results can show advantages and disadvantages (Williams and O’Reilly 1998, Raghuram and Garud 1996, Dwyer et al 2003, Chevrier 2003). In fact, workforce diversity isn’t a competitive organisational strength unless it’s effectively managed. Allard (2002 p14) notes that, ‘Just having diversity does not by itself guarantee greater business success nor does it guarantee qualitative social and creativity improvements.’

Ancona and Caldwell (1992 p323) explain the negative effects of diversity:

‘The group literature points to the difficulty of merging different cognitive styles, attitudes and values, such as those found in teams with diverse members. If not managed effectively, this diversity can create internal processes that slow decision making and keep members from concentrating on 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.’


The premise motivating the growing use of teams is that they provide an efficient and flexible way to coordinate production requiring a diversity of skills, talents, and information.

Another increasingly common feature of the workplace is the degree of diversity in the workforce. The concept of diversity has multiple dimensions (McGrath et al., 1995). One dimension has been categorized as informational diversity (Jehn et al., 1999). Informational diversity encompasses the mix of information set, talents, skills, or visions that different workers bring to a team. As no one individual is likely to possess the full complement of task-related characteristics necessary to achieve the desired goals, team diversity may permit greater productivity than could be achieved by individual effort. The cross-fertilization possible in a diverse work team leads to more creativity; diverse teams are more effective (Northcraft et al., 1996). Furthermore, diverse work teams make each team member more efficient; the productivity of any team member is greater as a result of the interaction with other team members. Team members complement one another rather than serve as substitutes for one another.

Literature review:

Taken 2:


the phenomenon of

globalization emerged organizations could no longer rely upon the traditional teams. “Success

in the global marketplace increasingly requires people from very different cultures to work

together to make global enterprises succeed” (Steers & Nordon, 2006).

“Multicultural teams provide an opportunity

to integrate widely differing social, cultural, and business perspectives into key decisions

affecting the success of international operations” (Steers & Nordon, 2006).

Taken 2:

“A Multicultural team is a group of employees selected from two or

more countries who are brought together to coordinate, develop, or manage some aspect of a

firm’s global operations” (Steers & Nordon, 2006).


In Katzenbach and Smith’s model of team basics, three goals of teams are outlined: performance results, personal growth and collective work products. Measurable performance results are to be set by management in order to give the team a rationale to exist. The individual has the responsibility for personal growth, which must be aligned with and contribute to the team’s goals.

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The last characteristic is the focus on a collective work product instead of individual products. In order to achieve these goals, the team needs skills, commitment and accountability. Problem solving, technical, functional, and interpersonal skills are necessary in order to be able to master the assigned tasks. The team’s sense of responsibility culminates in accountability for the assigned tasks. Furthermore, the collective unit and not the individual will be held accountable if the team’s collective product succeeds in fulfilling expectations, or fails. Lastly, the individual’s commitment is necessary when conflicts, difficult tasks or other critical situations arise.

Chow et al. (2001: 13) found that organizational culture affects commitment and other outcomes; Francesco and Chen (2001) found that Power Distance moderates the relationship between participation and organizational commitment. Kirkman and Shapiro found that resistance moderates the impact of culture on satisfaction and commitment (Kirkman and Shapiro, 2001: 18). Two additional dimensions of Katzenbach and Smith’s model are the collective and individual dimensions, which are also culturally contingent: collective products, personal growth and individual accountability have been found to vary according to the dimensions of Individualism and Collectivism (Hofstede, 2001: 235-237; Triandis, 1995a: 129-130). In summary, an analysis of Katzenbach and Smith’s model in a crosscultural perspective supports the contingency approach: “skills” may be hypothesized to be the only universal component of their model.

This is also in line with agency theory (Earley, 1993: 320), where an individual tends to maximize his self-interest, and accordingly faces a dilemma when working in organizations. Earley’s assessment in individualistic and collectivistic settings shows that individualists are more inclined to engage in social loafing than collectivists. Triandis (1995a: 130), and later Earley (1993: 340), found that individualists performed better alone than if they were working in an ingroup or outgroup. Conversely, collectivists work better in an ingroup context 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.

Taken 2:

E.G. Ochienga, Corresponding Author Contact Information, E-mail The Corresponding Authorand A.D.F. Priceb

The management and development of teams within a global context unavoidably leads to a consideration of diversity and related challenges. Within overseas roles, it is essential for organisations to help their managers to appreciate the international context and develop the ability to understand everyday issues from different cultural perspectives. 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 organisations must develop the cultural sensitivity and ability to manage and build future capabilities if they are to achieve this balance.

(Ely and Thomas, 2001) and (Jehn et al., 1999) demonstrated that diversity increases the number of different perspectives, styles, knowledge and insights that the team bring to complex problems. The world’s most innovative firms, such as Microsoft, took advantage of this by introducing multicultural teamwork. However, current thinking on team integration requires organisations to value explicitly multicultural teamwork, to adapt to it and use it to generate improvements in project work performance and team effectiveness. Although teams from different cultures may well bring different perspectives and styles, the necessary conditions, likely consequences and overall performance implications are yet to be universally accepted.

Existing literature on cultural diversity examines team members’ demographical backgrounds and other factors relevant to their cultural characteristics, values and discernments ([Ansari and Jackson, 1996], [Jackson et al., 1992], [Kandola and Fullerton, 1998] and [Watson et al., 1993]). The cultural diversity of a team has a number of benefits, including the variety of perspectives, skills and personal attributes that multicultural team individuals can contribute (Maznevski, 1994). As confirmed by McLeod and Lobel (1992) diverse groups generate more ideas of high quality in brainstorming tasks. Culturally diverse teams perform better than homogenous teams when it comes to identifying problems and generating answers Jackson et al. (1992). According to Townsend et al. (1998), organisations that utilise multicultural teams make significant gains in productivity. For example, Ng and Tung (1998) established that culturally diverse teams of a multi-branch financial services firm reported higher levels of financial profitability compared to their culturally homogenous counterparts. More recently, Marquardt and Hovarth (2001) established that by assembling the energy and synergy of individuals from different backgrounds, organisations could generate creative approaches to problems and challenges that are faced by corporate teams in project-based operations, 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, Harrison, & Munir, 1995). Teams in some cases overcome conflicts to reach a consensus on a decision but when it comes to 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; Schweiger, Sandburg, & Ragan, 1986).

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It has also been ascertained that communication in multicultural teams stimulates the formation of an emergent team culture. Unlike homogenous or monoculture teams, multicultural teams cannot refer to a pre-existing identity because of their short lived individual project-based life cycle Earley and Mosakowski (2000). They develop and depend on a team culture of straightforward rules, performance expectations and individual perceptions. Earley and Mosakowski (2000) further confirmed that an effective multicultural team has a strong emergent culture as shared individual prospects facilitate communication and team performance. This suggests that the positive effect and trust generated by the perceived shared understanding can fuel performance improvement and boost team effectiveness. Most importantly, effective interaction among team members can facilitate the formation of a strong emergent team culture Pearson and Nelson (2003). Nonetheless, multicultural teams are particularly susceptible to communications problems that can affect team cohesion. Individuals in multicultural project teams have different perceptions of the environment, motives and behaviour intentions. Shaw (1981) argued that the effects of such differences could be visible in lower team performance due to impeded social cohesion. Further research by Evans and Dion (1991), on team cohesion and team performance showed a positive correlation between these two variables. Elron (1997) asserted that cohesive teams respond faster to changes and challenges and are more efficient.

Managing cultural differences and cross-cultural conflicts is generally the most common challenge to multicultural teams (Elron, 1997). Richardson (1996) noted that the recognition of techniques such as lean production and business process re-engineering are indicative of this point of view, as they mirror fashions in mainstream management, which are themselves based on a traditional culture of prescription and control. Cultural issues among team individuals can cause conflict because working style of each culture is significantly different from other culture, misunderstanding and poor performance (Shenkar and Zeira, 1992). Five of the most distinctive challenges 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 (Pearson and Nelson, 2003).Managers from different countries are likely to translate and respond differently to the same strategic issues or team tasks because they have distinct perceptions of environmental opportunities and threats.

As the environment is becoming more complex and changes occur at a rapid rate, multicultural teams must improve their ability to address such external challenges. The sense of belonging to a group gives a feeling of safety and comfort to a team member (Schein, 1985). This feeling gives the team better options for responding to task challenges. It also breaks the comfort zones and can help foster innovative solutions to project issues that might arise.

Case study:

Aspirations : Aspiration of the construction industry

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 a need for increased research efforts in understanding influential factors that affect managing cultural complexity and communication in multicultural project teams. 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).

Due to the demand of international construction projects involving multicultural project teams, there is a growing trend towards discussing cross-cultural complexity more openly within the construction industry. Before exploring the effective management of multicultural project teams, there is a need to examine if cross-cultural complexity and cross-cultural communication can be effectively managed.

The eight organisations that were selected, where 20 of the participants interviewed, operated in the energy, pharmaceutical and petrochemical sector. The selected organisations were well balanced in terms of projects managed. In general terms there was a link between the existence of project work and the type of projects undertaken. The 20 participants were selected on the basis of their project management experience, with each having long-standing familiarity in managing large and complex projects over a period of many years

This study reveals that participants in Kenya and the UK acknowledged that effective communication on projects is aided by the early establishment of clear lines of responsibility and clear robust issue resolution process within the integrated team. It was established that effective communication is the key to managing expectations, misconceptions, and misgivings on multicultural project teams. As confirmed, good communication strategies are primary in establishing, cultivating, and maintaining strong working relationships on heavy construction engineering projects.

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Most participants agreed that trust is a fragile, intangible, and generally difficult to quantify but it is essential to the success of multicultural teamwork. It emerged trust can be cultivated where there are good interpersonal skills and mutual respect between project leaders and team members. It has been shown, in order for a multicultural project team to be fully integrated, all team members need to trust and understand each other. It is evident from the findings that all participants favoured collectivism rather than individualism when it comes to carrying out project tasks. Participants in this study highlighted the counter productive effects of individualism within their projects. Although vastly experienced in terms of managing project teams, participants agreed that the project manager’s role is to balance their decisions in such a way to merge the requirements of all multicultural project teams involved.

The research has established that communication in 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, the authors identified four key factors 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 needs 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.

Conclusion: Catherine C. Eckela, 1, E-mail The Corresponding Authorand Philip J. Grossman

If the maximum benefits are to be obtained from team production, it is imperative that distrust, lack of cooperation, miscommunication and general unwillingness to work with others created by social category diversity be overcome. 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. 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.


Managing Diverse Work Teams

HR managers must recognize the ways in which group diversity can enhance performance but can also have neutral or negative effects. The performance impact of diversity is inconsistent because organizations often fail to manage group processes effectively. Team managers need to know how to ensure successful behavior integration among diverse group members. 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.

By examining the degree to which a team’s external knowledge-sharing activities bring increased team performance and outcomes, this study found that structurally diverse work groups outperformed demographically diverse workgroups. 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.

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