Pros and Cons of Multi-cultural Teams

Introduction

A multicultural team is one in which its members are from different backgrounds, nations and cultures. The world is growing immensely and is getting densely populated so multicultural teams will soon be the norm in organizations. The trend of such teams began in the year 1990 and now it is inevitable since people of all colors, castes, creeds will be part of teams in organizations. American statistics say that non-Hispanics have been 49% of recruitments in organizations since 2005, similarly minorities have comprised 51% and the women participation in the labor force has shot up to 62%. Globalization has made this phenomenon inevitable in growing organizations. Communication and transportation have improved awe-inspiringly with the advent of globalization and trade barriers have been reduced thus interaction of all kinds of people amongst each other has increased. Multicultural teams are in vogue nowadays but it has its pros and cons which are discussed further in the paper (Sinha, 2009).

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Pros

The pros of multicultural teams have been discussed as follows (Adler, 2002):

  1. Multicultural teams encourage creativity since different people from different backgrounds come up with numerous ideas and coming from broader perspectives obviously. Heterogeneous teams have less groupthink and different perspectives and thinking patterns churn a great number of creative ideas.
  2. Multicultural teams create an environment where listening and understanding others becomes a necessity in order to respect each other and maintain group synergy. Such teams have different people presenting their ideas and the others listen carefully making the members good listeners. Different people have different perspectives that have to be respected and considered. Since people are from different backgrounds the same things might have a different meaning to some which need to be taken care of in a way that the intended meaning is specified primarily. Different perspectives might result in arguments but only if they remain healthy for the cohesiveness of the team otherwise it has to be dealt with. Thus, the members learn to respect each other and consider each other’s perspectives.
  3. Creativity receives a boost in a multicultural team and creativity gives a boost to problem-solving and the generation of new solutions. Different perspectives can help achieve better definition of problems and generation of new plus unique solutions. Better and more alternatives are derived that lead to better problem solving and decision making in organizations.
  4. Multicultural teams are more productive since creativity, problem solving, cohesiveness and alternatives for a solution are all derived as benefits of multicultural teams (Benefits of Multicultural Teams, 2009).
  5. Organizations that have effective multicultural teams working cohesively in an integrated environment will obviously have a cost advantage over competitors thus leading to cost benefits to the organization (Benefits of Multicultural Teams, 2009).
  6. Multicultural teams working effectively are an asset to the organization in terms of effective marketing. The demographics of the consumers are changing rapidly and to serve a diverse consumer base a multicultural team is the best solution. The overall purchasing power has increased leading to an ever-increasing market and a multicultural team can work towards meeting diverse needs of the market (Benefits of Multicultural Teams, 2009).
  7. Effective multicultural teams working well in an organization is a reason for the organization becoming an ‘employer of choice’ as a result, attracting the best talent to the organization (Benefits of Multicultural Teams, 2009).

Cons

The cons of multicultural teams have been discussed as follows (Adler, 2002):

  1. Multicultural teams lack cohesiveness generally because of differences. A lack of common perspective amongst the team members leads to lack of cohesiveness in such teams. This might waste time and also lead to conflicts.
  2. Miscommunication is a major con of multicultural teams and this is clear from the example discussed further in the paper of an American Manager leading Japanese team members for a US and Japanese combined customer data system. Mistrust is also a problem because people from different backgrounds find it hard to trust each other since they interact less due to their differences. Stereotyping leads to miscommunication and mistrust within such teams since a popular saying “Birds of a feather flock together” says it all. The language barrier is also a problem and an example discussed further in the paper of a Latin American member of a multicultural consulting team proves the barrier exists. Often groups within the team are formed that further cause problems leading to miscommunication and mistrust amongst members of the team.
  3. Multicultural teams require efforts from the members to communicate smoothly which gets tougher with people from different backgrounds thus it leads to increased amounts of stress amongst the members of the team.
  4. Multicultural teams lack cohesiveness and that creates certain issues. The members can not reach an agreement where it is necessary to reach an agreement. There is no consensus amongst the members and there is also an inability to validate ideas and people for accomplishing tasks.
  5. Multicultural teams due to the problems discussed can become ineffective, inefficient and less productive as a result.

What the Companies are experiencing good/bad of this phenomenon?

Brett et al. (2006) in their research paper published in Harvard Business review state that multicultural teams need to be managed effectively to make sure they work and due to this companies have had good and bad experiences with multicultural teams. Multicultural teams backed by an environment that encourages workforce diversity and values can prove to be very effective and successful. One such example is McDonald’s fast-food chain where diversity is a way of life for the organization. Mcdonald’s realized the importance of these teams and the ever-changing consumer base and today Mcdonalds is an example for organizations to follow. Fortune Magazine ranked Mcdonald’s as the top company for minorities to work and as a result the restaurant has lower absenteeism, lower attrition rates, lesser turnover and a highly motivated workforce. A survey included 141 US corporations in terms of diversity and Mcdonald ranked first. Mcdonald’s is the most apt example of successfully integrated and effective multicultural teams. But organizations have had bad experiences as well with multicultural teams and the reasons can be many but mainly it’s the management of these teams that are important (Diversity at Mcdonald’s, 2005).

Coca Cola is one such company that could not manage its multicultural teams effectively as a result three to four black former or current employees filed a class-action suit against the company for getting less pay, limited opportunities to grow within the firm and existence of discriminating policies (Coca Cola sued for discrimination, 1999).

Another example of An American Manager who was leading the US and Japanese customer data system was managing a team of Japanese members. This is a classic example of miscommunication. In Japan people talk and discuss a matter then take a break before commencing talk over the issue since their major goal is to maintain peace within the organization thus they are excellent listeners but that does not mean they agree with person talking. When agreement was reached the American manager spotted certain flaws in the system and emailed them directly to the American boss and Japanese members. The members were embarrassed since they believed in discussing the problems before informing the administration to save face. As a result the Japanese members did not react favorably in fact they isolated the manager by shifting her office to the storage room thus they physically and mentally isolated her (Bret et al; 2006).

Another example of a Latin American member of a multicultural consultant complained that the language barrier always kept her behind because often she could not express what she is trying to convey and the other team members with a command over English language would always lead the discussion which was demotivating for her (Bret et al; 2006).

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Similarly, a Mexican Manager working in an American company with American members found herself in a bad position. In Mexico it’s polite to be humble to whatever any person says and they are supposed to put everything in the form of an open-ended question in order to convey their idea thus this norm worked against the Mexican Manager since the American managers thought she was incapable and a bad manager (Bret et al; 2006).

An American member of a multicultural team from an organization narrated the conflict between two managers one was a Greek woman and the other was a Polish man. Both of them never reached an agreement over anything as a result the Greek manager resigned from the organization and dissatisfied employees spread negative word of mouth which can be damaging to the organization’s image (Bret et al; 2006).

A financial services call center had a very effective multicultural team that worked on each others setbacks and focused on the quality of work. Majority of the team was fluent in Spanish but some were North Americans and some Latin Americans. The team’s performance was measured by call answered per hour and the team was lagging because one of the Latin American member’s was wasting time chatting with the customers and when she was questioned she admitted that she did not know how to politely end the call so the team explained to her how to rectify the problem and monitored the call. In case her call went beyond the limit another member would take over the call politely excusing and then ended the call. Thus, she gradually improved (Bret et al; 2006).

Similarly, an Indian manager in an organization and his Singaporean teammate met with two Japanese members over an IT project. The Japanese members listened and agreed to everything the Indian manager and the Singaporean teammate suggested but their efforts were insufficient which frustrated the manager. Instead of going to senior manager to complain the Indian manager and the Singaporean teammate held a business roadshow conveying their idea and their strategy worked because the Japanese members were motivated and wanted to be part of future roadshows and as a result the multicultural team worked effectively with no need of informing or complaining the senior management (Bret et al; 2006).

Conclusion

Multicultural teams as we have seen are inevitable and companies have had good as well as bad experiences with such teams. But some studies show that such teams churn creativity and efficiency but studies have also shown that if these teams are not well integrated with the organization then negative implications might be the result. These negative implications can be seen in the examples of lawsuits against Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, Xerox and other examples discussed above. It is important to manage such teams well since people from diverse backgrounds have to be managed effectively since it’s true to say that people spend more time with their colleagues compared to their spouses and children (Sinha, 2009).

References

Adler, N. (2002). Pros and Cons of Multicultural Teams. Global TMC. 2009. Web.

Benefits of Multicultural Teams. (2009) International Extension Curriculum: StrengtheningExtension’s Capacity for International Engagement. Web.

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Bret et al. (2006). Managing Multicultural Teams. Harvard Business Review, 1-7.

Coca-Cola sued for discrimination. (1999) AP Online. 2009. Web.

Diversity at Mcdonald’s. (2005) B Net.. 2009. Web.

Sinha, R. (2009). Key Factors of Multicultural Team Management & Leadership. Ezine Articles. Web.

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