Or so claims Jeanne Brett in a recent Harvard Business Review blog post. I will agree that most of the multicultural teams I’ve worked with over the past 28 years have been dominated by a sub-group of members. My guess is that’s the same for most teams, no matter the visible diversity of their composition.
This idea caught my attention, and I also really liked that rather than the usual analogy of talking about multicultural teams as symphony orchestras or likening them to herding cats, Jeanne relates multicultural teams to fusion cuisine. And who doesn’t like fusion cuisine? Way to sell multiculturalism!
“It turns out that fusion teams often … break a large team into smaller subgroups, encourage informal conversations, and thereby get input from previously quiet team members. Eventually, the subparts have to be integrated back into a whole; this turns out to be less of a problem than you’d think. In the teams we studied, the trust and respect generated within the subgroups made it reasonably easy to facilitate collaboration in the larger group.”
Another of Jeanne’s points very much echoes what the six expert, globally dispersed authors of Cultural Detective Global Teamwork have to say. Many of you know what a dynamite package that is and, if you don’t, please be sure to check it out! To quote Jeanne’s post:
“We’ve come across team leaders who achieve the same result (getting the most out of all cultural subgroups) by carefully establishing team norms at the start of a project. For example, we know of one manager who was leading an English-language software-development project; English was not his first language. In fact, his English was strongly accented. When he met with the team for the first time, he told them, ‘You’ve probably noticed I have an accent. If I could get rid of it, I’d be happy to do so, but since I cannot, we’re going to have to communicate … regardless of my accent or for that matter yours. If you do not understand me, or one another, whether it’s because of accent or anything else, we need to communicate until we do understand.'”
What do you think? In what ways are multicultural teams like fusion cuisine? What are some of your tried-and-true best practices for multicultural teamwork?