How to Manage Conflict in Cross-Cultural Teams

How to Manage Conflict in Cross-Cultural Teams
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Managing conflicts in cross-cultural teams can be challenging, especially if you haven’t had training in how to manage such situations. Working in teams is a norm in the business world, but team management and conflict resolution are still evolving arts. Let us explore the importance of managing conflict in cross-cultural teams and what strategies to use to achieve this goal. 

What Are Cross-Cultural Teams?

With the increasing globalization of businesses, it isn’t surprising that there has been a rise in cross-cultural teams. A cross-cultural team includes people from unique experiences and backgrounds. A person is a byproduct of these experiences and culture, and it has a significant impact on an individual’s frame of reference, values, and communication style. 

Challenges of Managing Cross-Cultural Teams

One of the key challenges in managing cross-cultural teams is the difference in expression and communication. Those who have not been exposed to different cultures often make the mistake of assuming that all people mean the same thing when they say or act a certain way. For example, people in Japan and Russia are often reluctant to speak up against their seniors and are less likely to voice their concerns. This is different from the United States, where there is relatively more open communication. These differences in communication styles can be difficult to manage in a team. 

Another key challenge comes from the difference in motivation factors. Not everyone has the same values or rewards system. Team members from different cultures might not share the same enthusiasm for certain goals or objectives. For example, workers from Scandinavian countries generally have a more laid-back approach to work life and tend to work less compared to people from Japan, who are known to work long hours. If they are put on the same team, there could be a serious mismatch of expectations, leading to conflicts. 

While there are challenges in cultural delivery at a workplace, there are also several benefits, such as the ability to draw from a diverse talent pool and tap into local market knowledge. 

Strategies to Manage Conflicts in Cross-Cultural Teams 

We have established why conflicts happen in cross-cultural teams, but we might wonder why conflicts need to be resolved. Won’t they just get resolved on their own? Why put in the effort and time required for conflict resolution? 

Conflict at a workplace can lead to serious problems, including low employee productivity, high employee turnover, inability to reach business outcomes, and a hostile work environment. Fortunately, there are ways to avoid these undesirable outcomes. Here are a few strategies to manage conflict resolution in cross-cultural teams:

Know Your Team Members 

Your goal should be to have all team members on the same wavelength. A great way to achieve this is to know each member of the team. What might be an established norm or understood practice might not be the same in other cultures. The only way you can know the differences is if you know your team members. You need to understand their journey to understand their frame of reference. This could help you identify the source of conflict. 

Business leaders and managers who develop conflict resolution skills for multicultural teams develop a habit of learning about other cultures. Some of this knowledge can also be obtained through specialized training programs and interacting with people from different cultures. An important aspect of understanding different cultures is to first establish a strong understanding of your own culture. 

Identify Cultural Dimension 

One of the first things you need to do is identify a cultural dimension to the conflict. Not all workplace conflicts are a result of cultural differences, and there can be more than one cause for a conflict. Identifying the cultural dimension will allow you to focus your conflict resolution efforts on the cultural aspect of the problem. 

You also need to have open communication with team members to establish a willingness to address the cultural dimension. All parties must show a willingness to work in this cultural dimension. As a first step, you need to ask the parties what they find offensive in the situation or behavior of the other party. You need the team members to understand the cultural perspective of the other party. 

Encourage Cultural Tolerance 

It can be challenging to resolve conflicts where the source is incompatible. While you can’t understand the value system of team members, you can certainly ask them to be more tolerant of the values of other cultures. We live in an increasingly global business world, and individuals who are more tolerant of different cultures and empathetic to others are more likely to become successful leaders. 

One way to encourage cultural tolerance is to have cultural awareness programs at your organization. A lot of culture-based conflicts arise from the inability of people to understand different cultures. What they assume is perfectly normal might be highly offensive in other cultures. 

If you are in a position to influence organizational practices and procedures, then you have a major impact on the overall conflict-resolution capabilities of the company. For example, you can introduce structural changes to company policies to promote cultural awareness and tolerance. 

You can try encouraging team-building activities to help team members bond with each other despite their cultural differences. These types of causal interactions could help cross-cultural team members understand each other. 

Seek Professional Assistance

With the changing demographics of the global workplace, cross-cultural conflicts are going to be inevitable. The team leaders and managers who can manage conflicts will be increasingly valuable to your organization and have a bigger impact on achieving positive business outcomes. Conflict resolution is challenging by itself, and adding a cultural dimension to it becomes even more complicated. 

The good news is that you can seek professional assistance from conflict experts to develop conflict resolution skills. Along with professional training, you need to develop an open mindset to different cultures. You have to lead by example to create a safer, more productive space for everyone. 

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