In every culture, each individual has her own approach to tasks. Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner, authors of “Riding the Waves of Culture: Understanding Diversity in Global Business,” describe culture as the “way in which a group of people solve problems and reconcile dilemmas.” Successful teamwork depends on tolerance, patience and a willingness to see things from another person's perspective. A positive aspect of the challenges of teamwork is the opportunity to learn from others.
Challenges of Diversity
Cultural and diversity issues usually manifest themselves as breakdowns in communication, or interpersonal conflict. Communication behaviors differ from one person to another; one staff member might communicate in a direct manner while another may prefer a more nurturing approach. Working styles also vary; someone with a more extroverted personality may be unhappy working individually, while an introvert may prefer working independently. Successful team relationships are built on mutual respect, taking the time to listen to each team member, and taking their opinions into consideration. It is important to instill a feeling of being valued in everyone.
Benefits of Diversity
Successful teamwork across different cultural backgrounds often is reflected in superior results. As Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner state, “Where this challenge is met, valuable connections result.” With more people comes extra knowledge and resources that can be harnessed to boost creativity. Many companies realize the benefits that can be obtained from cross-cultural teamwork, and are encouraging interaction such as social networking in the workplace.
Ways to Make it Work
A report by the U.S. government documents in-depth research conducted on team dynamics during the development of NASA's Space Shuttle. The study examined the individual capabilities of team members and their ability to work in the team environment. How well they did as a team was reflected in the output and quality of output. Successful teamwork requires initial investment in time and relationship-building. The team should agree upon workplace formalities and should appoint an overall leader or project manager. The team must discuss roles and responsibilities, and should set communication styles and channels.
Reassess Team Dynamics
Team members should regularly meet to discuss and attend to any problems or conflicts that may arise. It is hard at the outset to envision all that needs to be addressed, but open communication and regular check-ins, in conjunction with a willingness to adapt, are wise strategies for a successful team experience.
Caroline Banton has more than 14 years of experience in the communications and publishing fields, working in global development and finance. Her articles have covered business, economics and recruitment, among other topics. Banton holds an M.B.A. in marketing management.