Teams with members from different nations and cultures have a unique way of communicating, building consensus, and taking action. If you’re bringing together a multinational team, there are several measures you can take to ensure teamwork as they come to gather:
Do Your Research. Know who will be participating and what they will expect. If possible, ask for their opinions from the beginning. Know their names and proper titles.
Provide “Read-Ahead” Packages. These will include detailed information about the agenda and the team’s goals. Some may not accustomed to the direct “American-style” meeting (or English is not their primary language), so make sure you clue them in on the process the team will use.
Be Balanced. Have different nationalities co-lead the team to ensure equal representation. Handouts should be multi-lingual (or at the very minimum, send in the “read ahead” packages so they can run them through a translator). Explain what the team’s products will be — recommendation, project plan, etc. Use a storyboard to reinforce where the team is and where it needs to go.
Define Key Words. Pay particular attention to phrases that may not translate well. For example, “one conversation at a time” may mean to some members “Don’t talk to more than one person at a time.” Clarify the language if the team members seem confused or do something unexpected. Use simple diagrams to help clarify the message as much as possible.
Learn About Their Cultures. Because a multinational team has many dimensions to consider, learn about the members’ cultures before you jump to conclusions. Take the time to learn a few words in their language, some customs, the country’s geography, and even a typical meal.
Be Culturally Sensitive. Every person on the team brings his or her own set of assumptions, values, and beliefs. What works well in one country may not work well in another. For a general example, the French prefer to take long lunches whereas Americans are used to quick, working lunches. Americans openly question everything, whereas the Japanese will question in private. One way is no better than the other; they are just different. Don’t default ALWAYS to the American way of doing things!
Schedule Free Time. Plan some sightseeing or a trip to an ethnic restaurant to help the team bond. A series of low-key activities often is more useful for getting the group to coalesce than one “grand slam.” Be sensitive to cultural norms regarding diet or inclusion of spouses and children.
Don’t Assume. Finally, don’t assume that people have the same views about ‘teamwork.’ Early on in the team’s formation, discuss the key elements to building an extraordinary team. Explore definitions e.g. What do you mean by the word “team?” How do you expect this team to function? What should be our ground rules for team effectiveness?
When you are open, curious, and respectful of other’s national stories and cultures, you’ll be able to build an extraordinary multinational team!