How to Succeed with Multicultural Teams?

What does it mean to be a global company? How do you best make multicultural teams perform? Why do some companies find value in having an international workforce? How come some companies succeed with their international workforce while others fail?

With the current rapidity in technology development, it is more and more important to become international in order to adapt to the client´s needs.

On a regular basis, I meet with people telling me that it can be difficult to make different nationalities work together – of course, this is about human beings and different values …this is always challenging – even when we come from the same country!

Strong Internal Culture

To achieve the status of a truly global company, the strategy has to be anchored both within the board and with the top management. The strategy needs to be driven by business needs and integrated in all levels of the company.

Globalization means that business strategy and business ethics cannot be separated from each other – Ofra Strauss

Creating a strong company identity, culture, and business ethics is important to make sure all employees get a sense of community and belonging.

I have had the pleasure of working in two global companies that truly managed to create strong internal cultures. Both in extremely different sectors. These companies do not train in cultural differences. They both had in common that they train people thoroughly in company values when new recruits join in order to create a community.

Some international companies fail to become global as they have a strong internal focus on the country of origin. Not too long ago, I spoke with an employee in one of these companies. He told me – “after reading your blog about belonging – I realized that I can never truly belong to the company culture as I am not of the same nationality as the company”.

A strong internal culture and a common respect is the basis to create a global workforce…and of course, it is an understatement that there needs to be a common language in which all communicates – any email should be possible to forward at any time!

Hire for Attitude

Global companies define the values they look for in new employees. This is applicable to all nationalities, and most importantly, also to the people from the company’s country of origin.

Yes, we can – Obama

These companies hire for attitude. What is easier than recruiting people who have already shown interest for the international either by travelling,learning new languages, living or studying abroad,  …I am a third culture kid myself – and believe me, we tend not to see the differences in the cultures as they are so integrated in our values.

As competency comes first in the recruiting needs, the level of competency required should be the same to all new recruits whatever country they come from.

Next step is obviously to give equal promotional opportunities to all. To get to this international level, the company needs to have a consciously structured career development programme. A truly global company has different nationalities amongst their top management and board members.

Common Structure

Global companies are excellent in creating common structures to give all their employees the same opportunity to perform.

Work processes have to be made the same in the whole company. In this way, it is easy to transfer any person to another country or project as the basic structure is the same. Hence, the employee doesn’t need to learn a new way of working and he or she will naturally integrate the new position.

As a scientist, you feel a sense of team spirit for your country but you also have a sense of team spirit for the international community – Saul Perlmutter

All strategies need to be reflected into the common structure and business objectives. As a part of this, the visionary focus on innovation, technology and business mission should be common to all employees regardless of their working location.

….and of course, these companies also have an HR policy that ensures that there is a fair balance in giving and taking and the remuneration system is created to support the business strategy and the employee performance.

Global Teams Create Good Results

When you manage to create global dynamics in your company you will truly be able to get enhanced results.

Global teams are good to solve complex problems as they create more possible solutions. Depending on their country of origin and school system, each team member will approach the problem differently. Together, and again, thanks to the common work structure, they will be able to find optimal solutions.

You must be the change you wish to see in the world – Mahatma Gandhi

International employees are used to constantly adapt to new cultures, and as a result, tend to develop new skills easily. Therefore, the speed of the global teams can also be quite high. Due to the different cultural approaches in the team, they also tend to be more creative.

An obvious benefit from having multi-cultural teams is obviously the understanding and communication with the clients – combined together, all the qualities in multicultural teams increases the total results of the company.

…and should you ever be tempted to set up a cultural training for your employees – be aware that in these successful global companies, the biggest cultural shock is when you return back to your home country!

Good luck with creating a productive international organisation!


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