Multicultural Work Groups And Teams Essay

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Diversity is increasing within organizations at an astronomical rate. Organizations are increasingly operating in multicultural  contexts,  building strategic alliances, exporting  work, and facilitating mergers and acquisitions inside and outside their primary domain of work. Concurrently, organizations are implementing work groups with greater frequency to integrate the knowledge  of workers  across  broad  geographic  locations and  cultural  contexts.  However, disagreement  exists regarding  whether  a diverse cultural  composition  of groups leads to positive or negative group outcomes.

On one side, cultural diversity in groups and teams becomes most advantageous  when the organization wants  to  expand  its  perspective,  tactics,  strategy, or approach.  Diversity can become an advantage in attempting  to reposition the organization, reposition a strategy, create a new idea, develop a new marketing plan, or assess emerging trends from a new perspective. If diversity is well managed, with the emphasis on management,  it can increase creativity, flexibility, and  problem-solving  skills, especially for  complex problems, improve effectiveness in working with culturally distinct clients, and improve understanding of the dynamics and communication patterns within the organization. The ability to operate more flexibly and to stay open to new ideas is a necessity for the management of the culturally diverse workplace. In fact, managers  in this environment need to focus on the multiple perspectives and avoid groupthink.

On the other side of the debate, diversity frequently causes problems in convergent processes, at times when the organization  needs employees to think or act  in similar  ways. Diversity renders  communication and integration  more difficult. People from different cultures fail to understand each other; they do not work in the same way or at the same pace. The potential for increased ambiguity, complexity, and confusion becomes highest when the organization requires direction and clarity, or in other words, convergence. Diversity causes problems when managers and employees overgeneralize organizational practices and process from one culture to different countries and cultures. It causes problems when a culturally diverse group must reach an agreement, whether this is formal or informal, and increases complexity and  difficulty in  developing  companywide  policies and procedures. Finally, cultural diversity might incite intergroup  bias leading to negative group outcomes.

Joseph  DiStefano  and  Martha  Maznevski,  looking at the performance  of multinational teams, have noticed that these teams usually fall into one of three performance  categories: the destroyers, the equalizers, and the creators.  Destroyer  teams were categorized as such because their members  were observed to mistrust each other—they guarded information jealously and took every opportunity to attack other members of the team. Equalizer teams were observed as suppressing  differences and, in turn,  suppressing differences in ideas and perspectives.  This category resembles  what Alfred Adler calls ignoring cultural differences in teams.

Finally, creator  teams  were found  to  perform  at high levels. In these teams, differences were explicitly recognized  and  accepted,  even nurtured, and  their implications were incorporated into every facet of the group’s processes. These teams seemed to develop a constantly  shifting dynamic that  incorporates  innovation and cooperation  structures.  These teams were observed creating value by bringing highly successful products to market in record time, achieving quantum leaps in cost savings in highly competitive industries, inventing new types of alliances with global suppliers and clients, and moving successfully into territory that others  have been unable to conquer.  The key to this high performance  was not in the membership  of the teams but in the interaction  processes, i.e., how they understood,  incorporated, and leveraged these differences. Creator  teams  interacted  according  to three principles of mapping, bridging, and integrating.

Models of effective multicultural  teamwork  have moved  away  from  merely  conceptualizing   teamwork at the level of behaviors and processes in favor of understanding teamwork at a cognitive level. Indeed, Lynne Millward-Purvis  suggests a model of team  effectiveness based  on  shared  mental  models and meta-cognition. In this model, the authors  suggest that  for a team  to self-regulate, it must  have a sound  knowledge of itself (its role, goals, strengths, and weaknesses) and be able to reflect upon, review its knowledge and practices, and subsequently refine or correct  these. This is essential for the team to be adaptable  and  flexible in  changing  circumstances. This process not only requires a shared mental model of the team and its task, but cognitions at a meta-cognitive level in the  self-regulatory  sense as well as a sense of team motivation.

In this model, two important aspects of team motivation  are identified: identity  and potency. The identity of the individual is affected by whether  the individual is proud  to be part of the team such that self-concept and esteem will be related to team success. Potency on the other hand, the authors explain, refers to the collective beliefs that the team can succeed and be effective.

Other   models  for  effectiveness  in  multicultural teams focus on leadership and social interaction.  For a multinational team to be effective, a clear sense of direction  must  be established  at the  beginning  of a conceptualization phase. After an initial period of euphoria over the internationalism of the project, there is a drop  in team  morale; communication problems and different styles of working and decision making, leading to culture shock. If the project leader does not succeed in building up trust in the early phases of the project, thereby holding the team together  by a common goal, there is a risk that the project will never get off the ground. Especially at the beginning of international projects, it is important to give priority to trust-building measures  and team development.  For these purposes, social events may be organized and can be more effective than any other sort of social interaction.



  1. Taylor Cox, “The Multicultural Organizations,” Academy  of Management  Executive (v.5/2, 1991);
  2. Patricia Nemetz  and Sandra Christensen,  “The Challenge of Cultural  Diversity: Harnessing  a Diversity of Views to Understand Multiculturalism,” Academy  of Management Review (1996);
  3. Sonja A. Sackmann, ed., Cultural Complexity in Organizations (Sage, 1997);
  4. Susan C. Schneider and Jean-Louis Barsoux, Managing Across Cultures (Prentice Hall, 1999);
  5. David C. Thomas and David C. Thomas, CrossCultural Management: Essential Concepts (Sage, 2008).

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