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5 Tips for Managing Culturally Diverse Teams

5 Tips for Managing Culturally Diverse Teams

Superior communication skills are essential company-wide. Continuous improvement and reflection build success: from daily interactions to international negotiations.

Australia is in a unique position, attracting recruitment interest from around the globe due to its lifestyle, relatively stable economy and career opportunities. With a decrease in births and an increase in its aging population, Australia relies on migration to fill jobs and economic stability. This means that the landscape is changing for businesses small and large and those who adapt will set themselves up for a future that is ready to capitalise on the increasingly globalised workforce.

More than 23% of Australia’s workforce is born overseas with 13% being born in non-English speaking countries and if we look more broadly again we see over 30% of the population either born or having a parent born overseas.

Currently, however, Australia is not capitalising on its culturally diversity as much as it could, meaning employers are not taking full advantage of the breadth of direct and indirect skills available to them. This large proportion of the workforce not only have the technical skills for success, but also the unique exposure to cultures, languages and sections of society that allow access to new markets and ideas.

Here are five ways to best benefits from this changing pool of talent.

Capitalise on Culture

Diversity Council Australia (DCA) published its paper ‘Capitalising on Culture: A Study of the Cultural Origins of ASX 200 Business Leaders’ in October 2013. Director Nareen Young says that “a culturally diverse and capable leadership team can provide enormous benefits for organisations, such as the benefit to boost local market share, enter international markets, create strategic alliances, maximise innovation and meet critical talent shortages.”

TIP: Seek the advice of your staff members who have experience in specific cultural areas when it is relevant to your business development and client interactions.

Identify Current Shortcomings

A shortcut to embracing an effective and diverse team is to understand the mistakes of the past. The recent DCA paper shows that ‘culturally diverse’ people are underrepresented in directorial roles. Asian representation is particularly poor – especially considering the particular importance of Japan, South Korea and China as trading partners – with 1.9% of executives and 4.15% of directors having Asian cultural backgrounds versus 9.6% of the general community.  

TIP: When recruiting and internally promoting staff, don’t overlook the unique contributions of culturally and linguistically diverse staff in the historical or potential growth of your business.

Value the Hidden Skills of Multiple Language Users

Those from non-English speaking backgrounds are often identified as lacking in communication skills. While local language skills might still need to be polished, there are also less-obvious benefits that are often overlooked. Psychologists say that speaking two or more languages improves cognitive process – more specifically, it heightens the ability for problem-solving, multi-tasking, focusing, decision-making and even having the likelihood for higher resilience.

TIP: Firstly, continue to elevate the English skills of your overseas-born staff members – but, secondly, introduce a company-wide strategy for building more effective communication skills from socialising to negotiating – including native English speakers.

Evaluate the Ability for Good Communication

Good communication is a difficult goal to achieve between speakers of the same language let alone different languages. Good communicators go beyond simply having a good command of grammar and vocabulary. They also possess an acute sense of how to successfully socialise, debate, contribute to a lively discussion, successfully build rapport and appropriately inject humour.

TIP: When evaluating a staff member remember to look beyond the grammar weakness and also evaluate their ability for building rapport with colleagues and clients.

Develop a Holistic Approach

Even though one-off cross-cultural seminars and targeted language training can eliminate immediate problem areas, building a holistic foundation for communication means all staff members benefit on a deeper level by regularly reflecting on the importance of

  • identifying different communication styles,
  • learning specific vocabulary around adaptability and cultural sensitivity,
  • building in a company culture of sociability, idea-sharing and, consequently, inclusivity, as well as
  • refining Cross-Cultural Communication Competency (CCCC) company wide.

TIP: Create many structures and opportunities within your organisation that allow all staff to learn from each other – a great way of doing this can be the Brown Bag Meetings held during lunchtimes.

Cross-Cultural Communication Competency is not only beneficial for international dealings, but is equally importantly for successful daily interactions. From recruitment to retention and promotion, incorporating values around strengthening communication competency builds better functionality across all areas of your business.

Dearin & Associates provides cross-cultural consulting to companies operating in the Middle East and North Africa, Iran, Indonesia, Malaysia and China. register here to find out how to build up you Cross-Cultural Communication Skills forBusiness. 

To find out how we can help your team, visit our site.  

About Leonie Tillman

Leonie Tillman has worked in language and cross-cultural communication for over 18 years and run her own business E4B | English for Business since 2013. She is passionate about workplace diversity and navigating companies through the challenges diversity and communication bring towards achieving the heights of creativity, productivity and problem solving in multinational teams.

She speaks French, Dutch and some Spanish after living and working in Europe for 5 years. However, in the past 13 years, she has focused on diverse teams within Australian where she has gained a broad cultural knowledge and expertise in the nuances of communication and how conflict is created, connection is achieved or broken down and how understanding is reached.

She has a strong appreciation of the main cultural and communication challenges that are faced by executives, managers and other staff members and has developed strategies for working more cohesively within teams and companies.

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