As part of the CIPD’s new Managing Multicultural Teams report, online focus groups were held with managers across the UK, Asia-Pacific and the Middle East, and participants recognised the strength of diversity in promoting creativity – diversity not just of races and nationalities, but of values and experiences. 

Participants also acknowledged the advantages of sharing unique perspectives, both professionally to facilitate innovation and problem solving, and personally to become more well-rounded individuals.

As well as the benefits, the report reflects some challenges faced by multicultural teams, with language barriers highlighted as a barrier to effective communication. One focus group participant explains: “Very often different people interpret the same thing differently, and so being sensitive while communicating is very important.” 

The report provides key insights into how managers perceive their teams, particularly considering the COVID-19 pandemic and the rapid shift to remote working. Global virtual teams also recognise the benefits of increased team creativity as a result of unique and varied perspectives, but face the unique challenge of communicating effectively and maintaining a healthy work-life balance while working across different time-zones.

Line managers have a key role to play. By raising awareness of language barriers, showing sensitivity to difference of values and attitudes, and gaining a better understanding of cultural nuances and communication styles, they can create open and supportive environments in which everyone communicates free from fear of judgement. 

To overcome communication barriers while working remotely, line managers are encouraged to allow flexible working hours, understand the individual communication preferences of employees and regularly bring the team together for catch-ups and hangouts.

Jake Young, Research Associate at the CIPD, comments: 

“Multicultural teams are an increasingly common feature of modern working life and require deliberate and sensitive management informed by good evidence. We have summarised some of this evidence and highlighted some key factors that should be considered to positively influence culturally diverse teams. 

“Employers should of course seek to understand their own workforces directly, being attentive to their unique make-up. However, if we can lean on these key influences, there are substantial benefits to be had from well-managed multicultural teams.”

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