4 ways to get the best results from a cross-cultural team

We all know that diversity in teams does wonders – and a McKinsey study proves it, showing diverse companies perform 21% better than non-diverse ones. 

And in theory, the results you get from effectively managing a cross-cultural or monocultural team might not look all that different. You get the best results from people. You avoid conflict. You nip any miscommunication issues in the bud.

But there’s no one-size-fits-all approach for a global workforce. Give people from all walks of life the chance to perform at their very best with these four key tips.  

Get the best from a cross-cultural team with these 4 key tips

1. Understand the unique challenges

The number one challenge of managing cross-cultural teams is different communication styles.

Take Germany, for instance: there, people might favour direct feedback that sounds like harsh criticism. In Korea, some may prefer a softer approach.

Similarly, work ethics will vary, and not everyone will agree on what is considered the right way to work. In the US, it’s more or less expected to be available at all times (weekends and evenings included), while in France, labour laws are very strict about how employees must switch off outside of business hours.

All of this can lead to a warped view of how cross-cultural teams see their colleagues. They may question their motivations and goals, which could lead to internal friction, information gaps and lost productivity in the long run.

2. Ensure everyone is acknowledged and heard

The first step in working with multicultural teams should be to acknowledge the differences. Far from framing it as an obstacle, managers should highlight how positive it is to be able to gain so many different perspectives in the same room (or virtual office).


Chances are, team members are already well aware of these differences. But it’s your job to ensure that cultural diversity is a force for good. And acknowledging differing norms, values and, of course, languages, is a great place to start. 

Though it’s also important to look at team members as individuals. For instance, a staff member from a country where hierarchy is important, like Japan, might find it liberating to speak their minds freely. Inversely, an Australian employee, who might be expected to provide blunt public feedback, might feel more comfortable giving feedback in person, rather than in groups.

In fact, it’s not a bad idea to set some time aside for a conversation about culture, where individuals and teams can discuss their backgrounds and working styles. Ideally, it should be an informal way for everyone to realise that there are differences, but that they shouldn’t get in the way of good work. 

3. Establish norms and align goals

Once those differences are acknowledged, it’s time to re-align the goals. There should be a clear and compelling direction, and the goals should be available at all times. More importantly, the norms about what is and isn’t acceptable should be strict and unchanging, regardless of personal preference. 

But you should also give support to people who have to adapt the most. For instance, if you insist that Western-style punctuality is the norm, you can spend a bit more time explaining why other teams might have to adapt their daily routines.

So standard management techniques and common sense apply here, but it’s wise to track, monitor and adapt the goals you enforce regularly. For the norm-setting, you can be more strict, as long as you clearly lay out your reasoning, and how it will benefit the team as a whole.

4. Deploy the right training programmes

When a mix of cultures works together in a business environment, organisations can promote casual interactions, as well as upskilling opportunities via the right training. In fact, deploying certain programmes could tick a lot of boxes, by mixing social activities, on-the-job experience, and formal learning.

The most obvious candidate here, for multicultural teams, is, of course, language courses. Communicating with someone in their mother tongue is a universal sign of respect. This is true whether you are conducting business with clients, or working with team members from different nationalities. 

But there’s more benefits than simply learning a new way to communicate. Language courses have been shown to: 

  • Help employees develop skills valuable for themselves as well as the company
  • Promote a better understanding of local cultures and customs
  • Improve team work, morale, and communication skills

Help cross-cultural teams perform better with Busuu

At Busuu, we have developed business-specific language courses that are designed to foster better communication between cross cultural teams. 

To see why over 200 global companies such as Uber, Puma and more than 100 million learners worldwide chose Busuu, contact us today.

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