In this modern and connected world, it’s no longer surprising to find yourself working with a team that’s comprised of people from other countries. Multicultural teams are now the norm thanks to the advent of technology.
The diversity in teams open a lot of avenues for further learning. Collaboration can yield fruitful results because team members can learn a lot from each other not just professionally but also professionally. Cultural exchange can significantly contribute to the personal and professional development of employees.
But let’s face it: working in a multicultural setup will have its challenges.
For firms to create and maintain successful (and highly productive) teams, it’s important to recognise possible challenges that can get in the way of a harmonious working relationship between team members.
Communication will be among the first concerns of people in multicultural teams. It’s a good thing that Filipinos are among the most competent English-speakers in the world. The Philippines was ranked 15th in a worldwide study of the best English-speaking countries in the world.
Communication barriers often lead to misinterpreted messages, which results in inaction or errors in output. Teams who do not clearly understand each other are bound to fail to deliver. Ultimately, the inability to communicate effectively with each other will negatively impact work relationships and the firm’s overall performance.
The manner in which we speak will have an impact on how others respond to us. In a setup where team members come from different cultures, this can pose a challenge because a certain individuals may misinterpret the way someone talks and mistake it for being aggressive, for example.
Some common observations are: Americans are informal in speech; the British mostly have dry humour; Filipinos can be very sensitive. These traits will affect how each one responds to each other, which is why it’s important to understand how each one communicates to avoid misunderstanding.
Nuances In Communication
Most of the words used in daily conversations are universally understood. However, there are words that either have multiple meanings or importance. These nuances can lead to problems in establishing an understanding between people in conversations. Certain statements can have different meanings for different people (see Symbolic Convergence Theory below).
Cultural differences can lead to misinterpretation during conversations. A native-English speaker will naturally have different nuances compared to someone who is not. While most of the things we say in usual situations are universally understood, there will be certain terms, phrases, or statements that may not be easily understood.
Since different people can interpret words and statements differently, their perception (and expectations) about things will vary. This will definitely influence how we act, which makes establishing shared meaning between team members important, so they can be on the same page every time.
Lack Of Symbolic Convergence
Developed by Ernest Bormann, the Symbolic Convergence Theory (SCT) explains how shared meaning and experiences form the basis of communication within groups. “Shared fantasies provide group members with comprehensible forms for explaining their past and thinking about their future,” writes Bormann.
To have a clearer idea of what symbolic convergence is, watch this video:
Simply put, SCT deals with shared experiences that help build and strengthen group cohesiveness. Groups, like offshore teams, can communicate a lot more effectively when they have established shared meanings. Shared meaning is manifested in the way teams understand each other by associating emotions with words or through values and beliefs.
This explains why certain groups have inside jokes or immediately “get” each other in conversations where the context is not generally understood by others. Using terminologies when talking about certain processes at work is another example. By having these shared experiences and meaning, teams are able to create a reality that’s unique to them. This kind of dynamic is essential in establishing connections within organisations.
This is even more important in a multi-cultural setup because teams comprised of culturally diverse individuals inherently comes with communication challenges. Shared experiences can transcend communication barriers and provide a common ground.
Effective communication is integral to the success of offshore teams. Regardless of size, the ability to relay messages without difficulties can greatly impact a team’s productivity and efficiency. By overcoming communication barriers and effectively establishing an understanding between each member, firms will be able to implement and carry out strategies.
Teams that understand each other are bound to succeed because they will be able to take directions well and deliver quality work.
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