Skills for a team leader in a multicultural group
The major challenges in leading multicultural teams have to do with interpersonal relations with each other, inter-communication with one another, and the different cultural orientations that people portray (Young, 1998, cited in Halverson and Tirmizi, 2008, p.2). Iles (1995) on the other hand believes that major challenges in multicultural teams have to do with “misunderstanding, stereotyping, lack of competence and contribution and the mutual blaming which in turn create conflict and tension in teams” ( Halverson and Tirmizi, 2008, p.2). Moreover, Shenker and Zeira (1992) observed that cultural differences had the potential to escalate conflicts and misperceptions which in turn result in poor performance (Halverson and Tirmizi, 2008, p.2). Therefore, according to Halverson and Tirmizi (2008, p.2), “leadership of multicultural teams largely involves dealing with a variety of challenges that emerge as people from different cultural backgrounds interact with each other to accomplish the team task.”
The first skill as a leader in a multicultural group is the ability to measure personal strengths and weaknesses. This enables an individual to carve out his or her situation of operation, identify sources of frustrations and stress and know how to deal with them. Moreover, this skill enables an individual to formulate clear visions and goals, and hence set targets for achieving the goals. The second skill is the ability to set clearly defined objectives, outlining how each member’s contribution will be realized and what to expect from the members. Indeed, the setting of objectives should involve members of the team.
Another skill needed is delegation of duties and empowerment of members. A team leader has to know that members in a multicultural team have different approaches in carrying out their tasks and therefore, the members will want to adopt different channels of completing the tasks. As a leader, the important step is to delegate assignments among members with set targets and without having to force a particular decision on the members that may result in a conflict.
The next important skill is building trust among the members. As a leader, it becomes necessary to move fast in creating and building strong trust among the members. This will be essentially critical in accomplishing major assignments since all members will be willing to contribute to the success of the group.
Another important skill is effective communication. As a leader, it is important to promote open and honest communication among the team members, be articulate in providing clear guidelines and communicate clear expectations. In addition, as a leader, it is advisable to be a good listener to all members and to ask effective and non-offensive questions. Another vital skill necessary involves believing, accepting, and valuing differences. This will be important in removing personal prejudices and attitudes that may be detrimental to accomplishing the team goals.
Major problems in a multicultural team
Adler and Gundersen (2008, p.134) say that diversity makes most teams’ functionality to be more challenging since members in such teams find it hard to see, understand and act on situations in similar ways. Generally, in culturally diverse teams, there is the tendency of “misperception, miscommunication, misinterpretation and misevaluation and members largely disagree on expectations, appropriateness of relevant information and the need for particular decisions and as result, members highly experience stress” (Adler and Gundersen, 2008, p.134). Therefore, it can be suggested that diversity in most teams increases ambiguity, complexity, and natural confusion in the functioning of a team. This in turn reduces the productivity and performance of the team. Therefore, as a team leader, it becomes necessary to create sustainable cohesion among members of the group and to facilitate integration, and help the team to develop common norms that will be beneficial to the team members.
Problems due to lack of personal contact between team members
Lack of personal contact in a team may result in what can be regarded as interpersonal problems between team members, for instance, lack of personal contact may lead to a lack of clarity about team goals, procedures, responsibilities, and roles. What becomes evident is that, as members fail to see and know each other, there develops a vague or vacuum as far as responsibilities, roles and goals of the team are concerned. Furthermore, lack of personal contact brings about decreased information exchange and feedback, and this poses problems to the group in accomplishing the set targets. At the same time, team members not meeting face-to-face may lead to little and unpredictable communication taking place, lack of trust among group members, the poor establishment of conflict resolution mechanisms, and lack of commitment among the team members. Moreover, this lack of personal contact may largely influence members to perform below the expected standards since there is no close supervision and monitoring, members may end up blaming each other due to ineffectiveness and generally, members may end up losing interest in the team’s activities.
To deal with such problems, Jones (2004) suggests that, to change a poorly working team to a team that works well, the team leader needs to have a clear vision of what the team should achieve, be able to communicate the vision to the members, shape the values and aspirations of the team, motivate and inspire team members, maintain high standards of personal performance and behavior and also demand the same from the team members and lastly, demonstrate the flexibility of approach to bring members together. This will be in addition to holding regular meetings together, communicating to members on the need to meet together, assigning duties that need information-sharing to members, and allowing participation of others (Jones, 2004, p.428).
Top problems facing multicultural teams and how to solve them
One major problem believed to be facing multicultural teams is misunderstanding brought about by lack of trust among members. This misunderstanding may escalate into conflicts that might be detrimental to the team. Therefore, to overcome this, effective communication tools in the team need to be developed to help members to minimize their lack of trust and misunderstanding. The second problem is that of incompatibility, as a result of having members with different background orientations, the team may experience a lack of positive social relationships among its members. Members may differ in beliefs, interests, and values, and due to these differences, team fit may be a problem. Although disagreements sometimes may be healthy for the team, it is important as a team leader to harmonize the team’s vision and the operating team’s philosophy to the diverse interests of the members. Open discussions should be encouraged but again flexibility in accepting certain decisions should be encouraged.
Another big problem facing multicultural teams has to do with decision-making processes. In many instances, due to different perspectives and cultural orientations, members exhibit different approaches to decision making which impact negatively the group. Therefore, proper channels of decision-making need to be developed that put into account the diversity of members. The last problem that faces multicultural teams has to do with expectations. Different members due to their cultural orientation exhibit different perceptions on how goals need to be achieved and the processes to be followed. Dealing with such problems requires effective communication of the team’s goals to members at an early stage and participation of the members in setting the targets.
An effective leadership style is important in managing multicultural teams. What the leader should know is that goals can only be achieved through effective communication channels, bringing members together, setting realistic goals, appreciating diversity, and developing effective interpersonal skills. At the same time, developing effective conflict resolution mechanisms and promoting empowerment among the members will be crucial in sustaining the goal. In leading diverse teams, Duren and Associates, Inc., sums up what a team leader should communicate to the members in building a strong team: the purpose of the team, tasks assigned to the team, goals for the task at hand, clarify roles of team members, set mutual objectives, identify personality and diversity preferences of team members, discuss ways to work together and take advantage of strengths of each team member, develop mutual expectations between team members and lastly, teach members how to use basic team tools such as the consensus decision making and team problem solving (Duren and Associates, Inc.,2002).
- Adler, N. J. and Gundersen, A. (2008). International dimensions of organizational behavior. KY, Cengage Learning. Web.
- Duren and Associates Inc. (2002). Building a Cohesive Diverse Team. University of MI, Michigan.
- Halverson, C. B. and Tirmizi, S. A. (2008). Effective Multicultural Teams: Theory and Practice. NY, Springer. Web.
- Jones, R. (2004). Oxford textbook of primary medical care. NY, Oxford University Press. Web.