Managing multicultural teams: 5 tips on how to do it

One of the phrases that often gets tossed around in a business setting these days is “multicultural team”.

But, the entire idea of a “multicultural team” needs to be clarified:

What is a multicultural team? 

What are some multicultural issues in work?

And, most importantly, how do you manage a multicultural team?

According to the definition, a multicultural or cross-cultural team is a team composed of team members who come from different countries and cultures, as well as have different values and speak different languages.

Considering that the team members come from different backgrounds, they need to work with their manager and among themselves – and all that in order to find the best possible ways to ease these cultural differences and work together towards a common goal.

Here’s what you need to know about managing a multicultural team, alongside some tips for working in multicultural teams:

Tip #1 – Work out the multicultural barriers

When looking at the best ways how to manage multicultural teams, you’ll first need to focus on diminishing multicultural barriers:

Work around the language barrier by deciding on a common language you’ll all use in meetings and business – pick the language everyone in your team is most familiar with, be it English, Spanish, Chinese, or any other.

Play around with the language barrier by having everyone learn a few key phrases in each language – then, encourage them to use these phrases regularly.

Work out the culture barrier by learning about everyone’s culture – you can do this by throwing get-togethers where you can all casually talk and ask questions about culture-specific foods, customs, holidays, past-times, etc.

As a result, you’ll be on the best possible road to showing individual team members that they and their “differences” are all integral to the team – which will, in turn, make people feel more comfortable in the workplace and thus more productive.

Tip #2 – Plan and delegate according to time zones

This point applies to virtual multicultural teams – if the deadline for a project is 7 p.m. EST (Universal Standard Time minus 5 hours i.e. UTC-5 hours) on 1st October, you’ll need to make sure other people are aware of what that means in other countries:

For example, let’s look at how the official deadline “7 p.m. EST, 1st October ” fares in other time zones, and what it means for different members of your team.

Let’s call them Olivia (from the UK), Ethan (from California), Jana (from the Czech Republic):

  • 12 a.m., 2nd October in the UK (UTC+1 hour) – Olivia
  • 4 p.m., 1st st October in California (UTC-7 hours) – Ethan
  • 1 a.m., 2nd October in the Czech Republic (UTC+2 hours) – Jana

As you can see, different time zones can be a serious challenge – the deadlines sometimes won’t even fall on the same days for your team.

So, you’ll need to take precautions to delegate tasks and expect results according to people’s time zones. 

Want to make some urgent, yet unexpected final tweaks to a project three hours before the 7 p.m. deadline?

Then Ethan from California (where three hours before the official deadline is 1 o’clock in the afternoon) is your best bet.

To compare time zones in order to make plans, you can use an interactive time zone map or try World Time Buddy, an online app that lets you compare different time zones in a grid view.

If you want to study your team’s work patterns to improve planning and task delegation, you can also instruct them to track their work time – this way, you’ll be able to see when people tend to clock in and when they tend to clock out. Perhaps you’ll find that Olivia from the UK is a night owl who’ll be more than happy to take on a job at 10 p.m? 

multicultular team time tracking
If you are looking for the right solution for tracking the time employees spend on tasks and projects, try Clockify timesheet software. It’s free.

Tip #3 – Pay attention to various culture customs

To make sure your multicultural organization operates as a clock, you’ll need to make the effort to understand and respect their individual culture customs:

Different countries have different work schedules – some may be accustomed to working as much as 12 hours per day, but others may be more acquainted with an 8-hour workday.

Different countries have different vacation rules – the norm may be anywhere from a couple of days to 30+ days (paid holiday time included or not). Keep that in mind when discussing the team’s paid vacation time – and try to strike a balance in people’s expectations.

Different countries have different holidays – you already knew this, but it’s important to stress that some people may not be able to work on certain days due to holidays their culture keeps. On the other hand, others may be perfectly fine with working on Christmas – because they simply don’t celebrate it.

It’s also important to be current with the situation in your team member’s countries – this includes political situations and happenings that may make some topics too sensitive to be discussed at the office.

Motivation is another factor that depends on a culture – some cultures may expect promotions and bonuses for their hard work and others may be contempt and inspired by frequent feedback and recognition.

In the end, it’s also vital that you don’t stereotype people – just because you expect certain behavior from an individual, it doesn’t mean that you’re right. So, talk with your multicultural workforce about their workflows and expectations before making official decisions.

Tip #4 – Don’t be bias towards a culture

When working in a diverse project team, it’s important that you don’t favor one culture in front of all others. This way, you’ll be able to nip multicultural conflicts in the bud:

Be open to and encourage trying something new – this includes new foods, but also new work practices that are common (and efficient) in other cultures, but new to you.

Don’t use a language one of your team members isn’t fluent in  – people usually suggest English as team language, but it’s not an advisable choice if half of your team is only partly fluent in English.

Don’t try to promote a popular culture at all costs – for example, the US has a dominant pop culture but may be perceived in the wrong light by members of other cultures.

Your best choice is to experiment with different approaches and workflows, but ultimately let the team members show you how they like to approach their differences, and what cultures and work customs they prefer to highlight. The value of a real-life experience with diversity is always greater than that of any textbook version.

Tip #5 – Implement cross-cultural training

When it comes to multicultural management strategies, you should never overlook the benefits of proper cross-cultural training. Cross-cultural, or multicultural training, is meant to help people overcome cultural challenges at the office – this includes interacting with others whose cultural beliefs and values they’re not familiar with.

There is no one-size-fits-all cross-cultural training program – but all of them are focused on helping you brush up on your multicultural skills.

You’ll learn how to:

✅ How to lower people’s culture barriers

✅ How to deal with stereotypes and prejudices

✅ How to understand your own culture better

✅ How to expand on your “people skills”

✅ How to communicate and listen better

✅ How to focus more on common values than differences

As you can see, cross-cultural training can be beneficial for your team on a higher level than just bridging the multicultural gap – you can ask your HR department to help with devising and implementing a multicultural program that would work best with your team.

Wrapping up…

When it comes to the ways how to manage an international team, it’s important that you respect the team’s cultural differences – without emphasizing them. You’ll be most efficient if you were to approach the said matter by:

  1. Working out the multicultural barriers
  2. Planing work according to time zones
  3. Paying attention to various culture customs
  4. Treating cultures equally, without singling out one against the team’s preferences
  5. Implementing cross-cultural training

As an end result, you’ll get a multicultural team that uses their diversity to their own advantages in order to pursue a common goal and team vision.

💡 Clockify pro tip

For more about team management, check out our other team management guides:

Managing a new team – how to do it?

Managing virtual teams – how to do it?
Managing freelancers – 8 steps for streamlining freelance workforce
Team Management Guide

Marija  Kojic

Marija Kojic is a productivity writer who's always researching about various productivity techniques and time management tips in order to find the best ones to write about. She can often be found testing and writing about apps meant to enhance the workflow of freelancers, remote workers, and regular employees. Appeared in G2 Crowd Learning Hub, The Good Men Project, and Pick the Brain, among other places.


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