Challenges and Solutions When Working With Cross Cultural Teams

Challenges and Solutions When Working With Cross Cultural Teams

by Georg Klausner February 10, 2021

Globalization of the workplace is more prevalent than ever. As such, it’s important to recognize how cultural diversity plays a role in the way companies support their teams. Across the automotive, pharmaceutical, and insurance industries, the need to diversify teams brings potential rewards as well as challenges. 

Here are five challenges when working with cross-cultural teams, and five solutions for making a cross-cultural team thrive.

Challenges with Cross-Cultural Teams

1. Communication Barriers

The single greatest challenge in working with cross-cultural teams is communication barriers. This does not include just language barriers. It includes differences in styles, types of humor, and tone. A team from countries with hierarchical power structures will communicate and interpret communication differently than a team from countries where assertiveness is valued. 

This is especially true in the automotive and pharmaceutical industries, where each country has its own unique views on how best to sell products or beliefs about health and medicine. 

2. Differences in Work Ethic

Different cultures have different attitudes about work ethic. Some teams may have no problem working overtime to achieve the goals set by the team leaders. On the other hand, some teams may be unwilling to work beyond a certain hour of the day. These varying attitudes can create conflict amongst the team if not understood and handled properly. 

3. Sharing of Information

Cross-cultural teams must be able to access information in order to work effectively. The difference in time zones between teams can create challenges when it comes to meeting deadlines. 

This is especially true if there isn’t a shared platform for teams to access the necessary information to complete the project. This point ties in with communication challenges. If a team does not communicate effectively, it is easy for unnecessary frustrations to arise.

4. Lack of Cultural Awareness

Teams who bring their own biases and assumptions into the workplace run the risk of creating a toxic environment among the other team members. We all have these biases. No team member wants to feel as if they are not valued for their unique identity. This is especially true of cross-cultural teams. 

5. Performative vs Authentic Diversity Tactics

Where previous generations may have gotten away with a surface level acknowledgment of diversity in advertising and work teams, this is no longer the case. The automotive, pharmaceutical, and insurance industries are highly customer-focused, and as such, incorporate a wide array of diversity, especially at the global level. 

If customers see a team that doesn’t reflect the diversity it says it values, they may feel the company is dishonest in its marketing and move on to a company that practices what it preaches. It’s not enough to hire people who “look” diverse. The company must also embrace and adjust its company model to illustrate that diversity.

The challenges of working with cross-cultural teams are real. They can be devastating to a company in the age of globalization. But there are tangible, simple ways to avoid these challenges. Implementing these strategies will stop many problems before they start, and resolve problems as they arise.

Solutions When Working With Cross-Cultural Teams

1. Promote Open Communication and Active Listening

The vast majority of problems within cross-cultural teams are resolved simply by encouraging open communication. A cross-cultural team needs to feel their issues are respected and addressed. Communicating about why one team works differently than another, and how those differences stem from culture promotes understanding and empathy. 

This fosters a team’s ability to be flexible, recognizing that different methods of getting the job done aren’t bad or unproductive. Different strategies that achieve the same outcome for a cross-cultural team give rise to encouragement and a sense of camaraderie. 

2. Have Clear, Common Goals For The Team (Common Language)

“Common language” here means team language. The language that unifies the end goal. This needs to be clearly established from the beginning. Fostering cross-cultural team building can include team exercises and regular fun events outside of work — even if those events take place over Zoom. These build trust and morale. Taking time to get to know each member of the team allows them to understand what the end goals and expectations of each other are. 

3. Be Flexible With Praise

Every culture has their own way of giving and receiving praise. For some, a simple “great job today” is enough. Other team members value a stellar benefits package. This can include time off or bonuses. Once again, this is an area where communication and awareness of customs are key. Establishing this understanding from the beginning will allow team leaders to enable praise that motivates and inspires cross-cultural teams. 


4. Address Conflicts Immediately

Conflict inevitably arises with any team. But this is especially true within cross-cultural teams. However, most of these conflicts can be reduced when open communication and understanding are emphasized. Any other conflicts that come up should be addressed immediately to avoid long-term hostility. 

5. Be Genuine

No one can be expected to know or understand every side of a particular culture. By emphasizing a growth mindset in this area, companies foster a sense of pride in the work their cross-cultural teams do. More diversity means more ideas and unique perspectives are brought to the table. That kind of encouragement from a company will translate to the customer. 

Cross-cultural teams in the automotive, pharmaceutical, and insurance industries are necessary in the age of globalization. While the challenges to having such a team are complex, the solutions are often quite simple. If your business needs some assistance in establishing an effective cross-cultural team environment, I specialize in Business Consulting and can be contacted through my website here.


Social Shares

Subscribe for FREE Marketing Pro Newsletter!

Subscribers get the best curated content for you

Related Articles