Leadership Crossroads Newsletter

In Focus:  Multicultural Team Development

Jim was getting nervous. He had expected this to be much easier than it turned out. After all, he was quite an experi­enced team lead, albeit not with teams as diverse as this one.

The two French team members, Marc and Jean-Louis, were constantly at each other’s throats, seemingly unable to agree on anything. Sandhya, the Indian, kept asking irrelevant questions, while the Chinese and Japanese team members, Weiwei, Xiong, and Hiroshi, were irritatingly silent and showed little interest in the tasks assigned to them.

More and more, leading this new team felt like herding cats. Cats with ADD, actually.

Forming a team with members from different countries and guiding it to high performance levels is one of the toughest leadership challenges. Leaders needs to closely monitor their team’s progress and frequently adjust own behaviors to those of the team. A Western model originally presented by Bruce Tuckman recognizes four distinct team development stages:

Forming — Team members may not know each other at all, and levels of trust are low. People mostly remain pas­sive; they commonly avoid serious issues and feelings. At this stage, it is crucial for the leader to educate the team on mission and objectives, roles and responsibilities, accept­able and expected behaviors, etc. In parallel, creating opportunities for relationship building is very important.

Storming — Team members start opening up to each other and confront others’ ideas and perspectives. Different ideas compete for consideration in ways that can be contentious and sometimes unpleasant. If things go well, the team will develop trust and cohesion at this stage. The leader needs to ‘sell’ mission and objectives to the team and orchestrate the process, which can take a long time.

Norming — Team members have developed trust in each other and start taking responsibility for the team's success. The team agrees on a common goal and mutual plan to achieve it. The leader supports the team in developing shared norms.

Performing — Teams that reach this stage function as a unit. Members are motivated and competent; they trust each other enough to allow conflicts to become productive, and the team is able to make decisions without super­vision. The leader mostly facilitates and delegates at this stage.

The good news: this model has universal applicability with do­mestic teams and global ones alike, as all teams share certain development characteristics. The not-so-good news: the leader­ship practices required to support the development of the team vary considerably across countries and regions, as culture-specific views of aspects such as the role of the leader, the value of relationships, and the importance of face-saving play a major role. What works well within one culture does not necessarily work with another.

At no stage is this more evident than during Storming. In the U.S., Canada, and several parts of Europe, teams usually storm ‘automatically,’ as competing perspectives become inevitable once individual members start voicing their ideas and concerns. Facilitating the process, the leader concentrates on two aspects: encouraging quieter members of the team to share their views, and challenging the most vocal ones to remain constructive, if needed. Should conflicts get intense and emotional, the leader steps in and helps resolve the dispute. There is general agree­ment in these countries, however, that bringing disagreements into the open is productive and helpful.

This concept of ‘constructive conflict’ is largely unknown in much of Asia and other parts of the world. Here, people expect everyone to save face and not openly share their thoughts and emotions. Leaders are authority figures whose statements and ideas are rarely, if ever, challenged. In these cultures, compliance with stated expectations and directives is the dominating team behavior. Members commonly do not indicate problems and issues on their own, as local management practices hold the leader responsible for staying ‘in the know’ and proactively identifying issues such as emerging conflict within a team. It can take substantial time for members to develop strong mutual trust and reach higher levels of team autonomy. Trying to accelerate the process by forcing conflicts to surface is often counterproductive.

So what is a leader to do whose team is comprised of members from different regions of the world?

The most important step is to reset your views of how team storming is supposed to happen. Once you realize that construc­tive conflict is not a universal concept and allow the Storming stage to look different, you are ready to create an environment that allows global team cohesion to develop. Use different, cre­ative ways to identify issues and conflict. Because non-Western team members may bring up issues only if ordered to do so, ask them to discuss (as a group) the likeliest reasons why the team might fail and tell them to get back to you with their Top 5 list, for example. Let them work out the list on their own, and encourage a collaborative, rather than contentious, approach. Since there may be a risk of strong Western individualists keeping others on the team from voicing their concerns, split up the team into smaller groups with similar cultural backgrounds if needed.

Throughout the process, emphasize and encourage team harmony and togetherness, and educate your team members about the cultural differences within the team. Remember: the key to achieving a sense of ‘one team’ lies not in doing everything together but in nurturing a profound understanding of each other. That is your most important challenge when leading a multicultural team.

This article is also available in PDF format  (requires Adobe Reader ).

Book Of The Month
Global Change


A practical case study look at the link between corporate culture and higher perfor­mance.

(click title for full book review)


Web Site Of The Month
Australian Government - Countries & regions


A broad collection of country briefings, fact sheets, travel advisories, and more for almost 240 countries.

(click title to visit this web site)


Quote Of The Month

A small group of
thoughtful people
could change the world.
Indeed, it’s
the only thing
that ever has.

Margaret Mead


Kindle E-Book edition
also available!

Negotiating International Business book

All 50 individual Country Sections from Negotiating International Business are available online  for free.

Download Country Section PDF files now!

Leadership Crossroads
is a competent resource for

  • Global Business Coaching & Training
  • Negotiation Training and Assistance
  • Cross-Cultural Project Management
  • Organizational Learning and Development
  • Executive Coaching
Would you like to know
    more about us?

Attend Managing International Projects
on October 24-26 in New Orleans, Louisiana

This three-day workshop is part of the Project Management Institute's SeminarsWorld 2013 offering, held in conjunction with the PMI Global Congress.
Facilitated by Sue Freedman, PhD, and Lothar Katz, the workshop explores critical cultural differences and best project management practices, as well as their implications on the design and execution of international projects. The interactive workshop teaches the critical skills for success and includes explorations, tool sets, and practice using case examples from a variety of industries and project settings.

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Free "Business Anywhere"  Android App

You're doing business internationally? Do you have an Android-based tablet or phone?
Here's your perfect way to prepare: a new series of business references, covering cultural characteristics, business practices, etiquette rules, caveats and pitfalls, telling you what time it is there, how the weather will be, how much the currency is worth, relevant statistics about the country, and, and, and...
A rich collection of Quick Facts for 50 countries comes with the FREE APP !  Extensive country-specific book excerpts from The Global Business Guide for different regions of the world can be activated for a small fee (e.g., $2.49 for the Americas region, $8.99 for the whole world).
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Remote Management - Workshops for Managers and Employees
Today's global corporations often put together multinational teams across distances, time zones, languages, and cultural barriers.  This new form of collaboration presents huge challenges to managers and team members alike: they need to learn how to communicate and work together remotely, bridging cultural differences and leveraging technology to achieve high remote team performance.  Our Remote Management workshops teach the skills that matter, from effective communication to promoting trust in an international remote team environment.
We already delivered Remote Management workshops successfully with participants from more than 15 countries.  Participant feedback was consistent and extremely favorable.  Please contact us if your company might benefit from a similar program.

Lothar Katz

Lothar Katz is the founder of Leadership Crossroads.  He has helped many clients achieve productive cooperation across cultures and drive business success on a global scale.
A seasoned global executive, he regularly interacted with employees, cus­tomers, out­sourcing partners, and third parties in numerous countries around the world.

Contact : info@leadershipcrossroads.com
Leadership CrossroadsSM, 2013

Global Business Practices:
Ten More Tips for Doing Business in South Korea

  • Strong, trusting personal relationships are a precondition to doing business with Koreans.
  • Levels of service expected from a vendor tend to be very high here. Consider this carefully before you reject a client request.
  • Timeliness matters in South Korea.  Being late for an appointment can be an insult.
  • Business protocol demands that people enter a room in hierarchical order. The Korean side may assume that the first foreigner to enter is the head of the delegation.
  • Be patient if your counterparts have side discussions in Korean. These conversations help clarify misunderstandings and are vital to the decision process.
  • While Korean companies are often very hierarchical and bosses are clearly 'in charge', team members are commonly heard before decisions are made.
  • Businesspeople here often move very fast once they made up their minds about something.
  • Without exception, control your emotions - even when your counterparts don't. Outbursts of temper will only damage the respect you receive.
  • Always dress conservatively when doing business in the country.
  • Keep your eye contact infrequent. Koreans could take it as a personal attack if you stare at them excessively.

Our newsletter is a quarterly publication about all aspects of International and Cross-Cultural Business Management.  Past issues can be found in our  newsletter archive.

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