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How Culture Impacts Teamwork and What You Can Do About it

By Neil Payne, Commisceo Global

October 24 2013 - So, you have your team of international superstars assembled and ready to go? Everyone is gearing up for a cracking year, right? So far you've provided all the mod cons for your new team, snazzy chairs with back support, the latest cool computers with bells on, team meetings, team days out. You might even have thought of a microwave, biscuits and a tea tray.....hang on a second though...are you one of the many team leaders up and down the country who've forgotten about the culture factor i.e. how culture impacts teamwork?

If you have, then listen up, because these days, paying attention to cultural factors that impact team relations, team communications and team cohesion can all matter a hell of a lot more than those snazzy chairs, or the latest software does.

A lack of attention to cross-cultural communication in a team setting can bury your organisation in strife, muted conflict, poor motivation and worse. Its sounds like, but isn't, scare tactics to say that many an organisation has failed terribly because of a failure to recognise how culture impacts teamwork.

Here's the good news does not have to be like that and you can read on to find out how to ace the culture factor within your team.

1. Identify cultural diversity

If you have a culturally diverse team, and no idea of the precise ethnic make-up of the team, then trouble is sure to be brewing for you in the cultural awareness department. The first rule of thumb when approaching any cultural awareness strategy is to identify different cultural groups in your team. This matters because a group of ethnically diverse people often have different traditions, ways of communicating and even differing work styles. Knowing the cultural makeup of your team helps you to make culturally sensitive decisions surrounding team building efforts, office rules and work strategy. Here is a practical example: Muslims don't drink alcohol. How do you think a team bonding night out at the pub is going to go down? Like a lead balloon is how. Something like this can get quickly get teams off on the wrong foot, and that's bad for business!

2. Plan

If you think a cultural awareness strategy is something that will just 'work itself out', you shouldn't because it won't! Like any strategy a cultural awareness strategy must be planned to a 'T'. Once you have identified the ethnic make-up of your team you can get to work planning your cultural awareness strategies. Plan how you want to get the best out of your team, when training or activities will be needed, what your milestones are and how you plan to audit the effectiveness of your strategy.

3. Get feedback and evaluate

If you are operating a cultural awareness strategy, find out how you are doing by asking people. This will help you see how you're getting on, avoid mistakes and constantly improve your company diversity strategy. Don't rely on anecdotal feedback or base your evaluation on your thoughts. Be objective and critical as this is the only way of making sure what you do is going to have a positive impact.

4. Committees

The EU has given the committee a very bad reputation. Committees are associated with bureaucracy, time wasting and...well the list goes on, but a committee can help your team bring people of different cultures together and ensure your organisation is at the top of its game in the cultural awareness stakes. Use a committee that meets regularly to discuss milestones, issues, solutions and anything else that needs tackling. Plus....they will never tell you upfront, but most people love the glamour of being a 'committee head', 'committee chair' or 'committee secretary', and this kind of work looks great on the old CV too!

5. Add some budget

Allocate some of your budget to the planning, implementation and overseeing of a cultural awareness strategy. Days out, training days, literature, committee meetings, etc can all help create good team relationships and provide platforms to disseminate strategy goals and the like.

About the author

Neil Payne is Director of Commisceo Global
London based cross cultural communications consultancy providing cultural awareness training.




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