Multicultural Teams: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Teaching English English in Ecuador

ID-100311292Multicultural Teams: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Even within the same organization, the amount of diversity present in any given team can vary. The team can be homogeneous; it can be diverse in terms of domestic multiculturalism but not in terms of international or global multiculturalism. It can contain one token member from another group, it can be made up of two primary cultures working together, or it can be truly internationally diverse.

Regardless of the composition of the team, if it is diverse in any respect, this can present certain challenges, especially in terms of communication, expectations, relevancy, and decision-making. This can make working in a multicultural team stressful and ineffective.

Here are some common disadvantages that arise when diversity within teams is not handled effectively. Have you ever been in a team like this?

icon14Attitudinal problems: dislike and mistrust. Lower interpersonal attractiveness, inaccurate stereotyping, conversations happening primarily within culturally-delineated in-groups.

icon13Communication problems: inaccuracy, misunderstanding, and inefficiency. Slower speech among non-native speakers; translation problems; less accuracy.

icon15Stress leading to decreased effectiveness: counterproductive behaviors increase; tensions; disagreement; failure to reach consensus; important perspectives and voices silenced

Having to deal with that might make you never want to work with a diverse team again! Fortunately, diversity properly managed can be a gateway to tremendous adaptability and creativity.

Look at this scenario. When it is well- utilized, diversity can:

icon16Generate more and better ideas. Different perspectives and ways of thinking and doing lead to different insights on problems and opportunities. Disagreements and the need to compromise can result in better, more flexible products or policies. When each member on the team is able to deliver their best work, the results can bring advantages not only domestically but internationally — because of the diversity of the team.

  • icon17Limit “Groupthink.” Groupthink results in reduced efficiency, reduced reality testing and accurate risk assessment, increased inefficiency, lack of initiative, stagnation, and lowered ethics. Everyone is trying to fit in and get along, so no one wants to stand out, suggest something new and possibly startling, or challenge existing ideas, even when they are bad. Properly supported multicultural team members are less likely to self-censor, share illusions of unanimity, directly pressure others to conform, and accept self-appointed mindguards who would silence new ideas.

Given the huge advantages that diversity has to offer in a workplace — and the risks that accompany it when it is present but managed poorly — it is worth the investment of the time, resources, and energy to learn how to leverage diversity to the maximum degree.

Isn’t it time you maximized your organization’s potential?

Talk with us about how we can help.


Ideas gathered from: Adler, N.J. and Gundersen, A. (2002). International dimensions of organizational behavior. Mason, OH: Thomson South-Western.

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About The Author

Desiree Beauchamp

Teacher, trainer, coach, consultant. Find out more about me at: About Us