Managing a multicultural team…some key qualities required…

The ability to embrace change.

Managing and leading multicultural teams is fraught with chasing constantly moving targets and watching the objectives that you thought were within your reach, suddenly fade into the distance as one change or other slams into you and your team.

If you treat the introduction of a Multicultural team into the environment as a significant Organizational change in and by itself, you will be well served to remind yourself of the 5 stages of dealing with loss and grief. We all experience very similar sensations when trying to cope with extended change that causes a broad and deep impact to all involved:

1. Denial: When we first begin to hear about the change or feel it’s effects for the first time, there is a tendency to deny that it is occurring. This is a normal defense mechanism to help us buffer the shock.

2. Anger: As the buffering effects of the denial begins to dissipate, we begin to once again sense the reality of what is happening and this brings back the pain. The intense emotions we feel begin to get redirected and expressed as anger.

3. Negotiation: A normal reaction to a sense of helplessness or loss of control causes us to start thinking about what we should have done, or could have done, or perhaps what we could have prayed for, etc.This is the normal negotiation phase that we all go through when dealing with change – we resort to trying to negotiate or bargain our way back to a time when the change had not yet occurred.

4. Depression: This is the sense of abject loss and willingness to go on. This comes out of the failure of our bargaining and/or negotiation attempts in step 3 above.

5. Acceptance: This is the ultimate phase, when we begin to realize that all our efforts notwithstanding, in stages 1 through 4, did not, and will not bring back the world as we knew it before the change had occurred. we tend to become withdrawn, though calm, and we each transition through this phase as a deeply personal experience. Everybody experiences this stage in a unique and personal context.

So as a Manager/Leader of a multicultural team, try to envisage what is going through every team member’s mind – as they personally grapple with the 5 stages listed above.

This will help you work through the changes with better insight and understanding of what your team is experiencing.


Now for some reverse psychology …we have all shared thoughts that are mostly supportive and encouraging…even self-deprecatory when it comes to (some of ) the most important qualities we may need to develop to manage Multicultural Teams (MC teams)

So what about some of the more difficult qualities we may need to develop (while dealing/managing MC teams) to ensure we are preventing:
Missed commitments
Failure to deliver to expectations
Lack of ownership and accountability

Here are my top three focus areas:

1. Develop and document a clear and transparent process that defines the Rules of Engagement, Roles and Responsibilities, Processes that will need to be taken over by the MC team, Timeframes to become 100% self reliant, Reporting procedures and checks and balances (not a comprehensive list but you get the idea).

a. What is the ‘early warning’ system to use to communicate something getting off the rails
b. What is the escalation process
c. Who are the key contacts and their accountabilities (the singe throat to choke)
d. Reports (what, when, why, by whom, and frequency)
e. Emergency updates and support request procedures

2. Develop /implement a document of agreement (DOU) that clearly defines, goals, objectives, roles and responsibilities, penalties and recognition and rewards (again not a comprehensive list but you get the idea)

The DOU is a great place to start in ensuring that we are clear about what our expectations are from the MC team and that they are also clear about what they are required to deliver as a part of the DOU. This is where you clarify exactly how the roles and responsibilities are to be transferred to the MC team and by when you expect them to become 100% self reliant and accountable.

3. Feedback process:
Agree on the process and frequency for providing the MC team with developmental feedback (the frequency may need to be more early in the DOU cycle, and could possibly taper off as the MC team gains maturity).
Timely feedback is key to ensuring that transition/transformation losses are minimized, and that we have fewer implementation hiccups in the initial phase.

Feedback needs to be accurate and based on the reality as evidenced by factual data that you are able to draw on. Recognize Cultural Norms during the feedback process – there may be special considerations based on language, how seniority is respected, hierarchical expectations, etc within the MC teams structure.
Be sensitive and considerate in the process of providing feedback but keep it honest and fact based always. You want to ‘tell it like it’ is while maintaining decorum and professional courtesy at all times.


The thing about ‘Culture’ is that we mostly distil it down to the way one looks, the shape of the eyes, the colour of the skin and any external behaviours, especially w.r.t to religion and social mores, that we observe in others. We need to view the world from a ‘global village’ perspective more and more. The freshly minted graduate in that village in Nairobi watches the same YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, etc Social media outlets that the kid in the U.S does…so like or not, there is cultural exchange happening, both ways, that will leave indelible marks on both – the kid in the U.S and the Graduate in Nairobi. Organizations who jealously guard ‘Holy Cows’ representing “that’s how we do it here,” need to sacrifice them in the name of breaking out of the box of habit. They need to embrace the Tsunami of Change that is hitting us all. We deal in an “outsourced” business environment where time needs to shift so that a 10 hour difference between India and the U.S is rapidly becoming a non-issue, as teams in India swop day for night. Managers and Leaders across the great divide need to become familiar with holidays and festivals in the geographies they receive services from. Language and communications need to adjust to the new environments we create…all of which require a dynamic, ever-evolving Organization culture. Not one that is cast in stone If it was China or Brazil yesterday, it may be Russia or India tomorrow…so holding fast to “the way we’ve done it all these years” will not hack it. Culture is all about being able to say: “I think I understand your point of view…I think you understand my point of view…and if we disagree, thank God for that. Because if we both nod heads to everything….one of us is redundant.

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