Globalisation has changed our society and, of course, has not stopped at the professional world. Today, multicultural teams can be found in start-ups as well as in larger corporations all over the world. The cultural differences might lead to conflits which can mostly be avoid.
One of the many challenges in dealing with multiculturalism in companies lies in effective internal – and intercultural – communication. As each culture brings its own diversity of values, education and social codes, it is important to make internal team communication as effective as possible to ensure better mutual understanding.
Looking beyond stereotypes
Cultural differences lead to preconceived opinions that reduce certain groups of people to some characteristics – so-called stereotypes. These can be found everywhere. Since many of them are already embedded in our upbringing, everyone carries around their own and the associated preconceived opinions. These are then often taken into the workplace. However, the transition from the environment in which we were brought up to the more global, intercultural environment that comprises business life in the 21st century can quickly become complicated.
This is because it requires confronting different educational backgrounds, cultures, habits and ways of living together. Stereotypes can easily lead to conflicts in a company, because dealing with unnoticed differences is difficult. How do you not offend a colleague who has been taught that you hug each other every morning as a greeting – while in other cultures this is already very intimate? Or how do you deal with colleagues who are always late – while in their culture punctuality does not play a big role?
The key to overcoming stereotypes is and remains openness, which in turn is promoted by functioning internal communication. This is how a climate of trust and openness towards each other’s differences can be created. Let’s take a closer look at how to foster such a “culture of understanding”, even if differences and the unknown are by nature rather a source of concern for people.
- Observe the behaviour of our colleagues and try to understand other ways of functioning without judging them.
- Respecting that others do not function as we do.
- Always be open to dialogue.
- Trying to take a step towards the other.
Respecting and trying to understand a colleague from another culture is an exercise that can be very difficult. Especially in an internationalisation process, it is nevertheless necessary if you want to build a relationship of trust so that your cooperation runs as smoothly as possible. Don’t forget: not everything you do is “normal” for your counterpart either.
Our advice: Why not organise a joint team event or theme days to get to know a new culture, to create interest in the cultural diversity in your company? These kinds of informal measures for intercultural communication also help team members to get to know each other better and ultimately work better together.
The benefits of cultural diversity in the company
Valuing cultural diversity in companies makes it possible to create an open corporate culture. All employees will appreciate being able to speak openly about a wide range of issues, so communication will be strengthened in all areas of the company’s operations. Different points of view will meet and enrich the discourse, create new ideas and move the company forward. This tolerance and diversity will therefore lead to more open and thus higher quality communication and greater efficiency in the company.
A great cultural diversity used in your company also means a greater creative range and more innovations and ideas. Different ways of working also mean different ways of thinking, which contribute to the bigger picture. These diverse approaches are a great asset to your team. When you open yourself to greater cultural diversity, you create a sea of ideas that multiply among themselves. In short, cultural affinity and intercultural communication are a virtuous circle. Through knowledge of other cultures, minds are broadened and shared strengths multiplied. Through multiculturalism, it is possible to confront different opinions and break new ground. It is also possible to more clearly identify potential problems that an action might cause in a new market. Let’s keep in mind: improving internal and intercultural communication increases team performance and leads to a positive cycle that opens up new ways of thinking and inspires ideas. Multiculturalism is a strength for companies.
Our advice: Take it slow and make sure you don’t rush the introduction of an intercultural corporate culture without preparing the teams first. You can start by setting up working groups where cultures and ideas intersect.
Stereotypes are a major obstacle to the integration of diversity in companies and can certainly complicate intercultural communication. The adaptation of corporate culture, which is therefore often necessary in the course of internationalisation, is complex, but also represents a great enrichment. Multiculturalism, if wanted and encouraged, can quickly become a positive effect that enriches all aspects of everyday business life.
Would you like to learn more about dealing with multiculturalism in the internationalisation of companies? Read our article Conflicts at work due to cultural differences: how to avoid them?