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A cross-cultural team can be a huge asset in bringing fresh ideas to the workplace thanks to differences in experiences and perspectives. To get the most out of your diverse team, management must first establish an environment that facilitates the free exchange of ideas, while avoiding cultural dissonance. Meetings are a particularly important factor in cultivating team synergy.
Tap into your working group’s full potential with these tips on running a meeting for a cross-cultural team.
Meeting Expectations Vary by Culture
In some countries, humour is used to encourage group camaraderie and participation. In other places, meeting humour is unprofessional. Some cultures value lively debate, while other societies are apt for silence when evaluating a problem. There are also cultural variations regarding socializing before a meeting, the manner in which feedback is provided, where people sit, meeting timeliness, and more.
Besides the differences in communication styles, a cross-cultural team likely has disparities in language comprehension skills. A person otherwise fluent in a language may have trouble keeping up with a back-and-forth exchange between several people.
What Can a Supervisor Do?
Educate yourself on the cultural customs of the people that you are collaborating with so you can set meeting expectations accordingly. Provide your team with this information so they are aware of the differences. Awareness goes far in diffusing tensions as people learn to see one another’s point of view and give each other more latitude in differences of approach.
Outline meeting protocols and expectations at the start of a meeting. Being clear upfront puts everyone on the same page. Explain why you want meetings conducted in a certain way, even if it goes against a cultural norm. For example, if you are working with a group that is reticent in offering options, but you want them to communicate their thoughts, tell them their feedback is important and explain why. The why does the heavy lifting here in connecting your expectations with their individual and team conduct.
Check-in with your team members about their comprehension abilities. Successfully running a meeting for a cross-cultural team naturally requires that all team members understand what is being said. Be on the lookout for individuals having trouble comprehending group chatter. It can be difficult for a person to admit this. Emphasize that their comprehension is paramount to their workplace success and that nobody working in their non-native tongue should be expected to understand everything communicated all of the time - especially in dynamic group conversations.
Develop a solution with individuals challenged by group exchanges. For instance, they may benefit from a follow-up conversation with you, or in being encouraged to interrupt the group when appropriate to ask clarifying questions.
When Conflict Arises
Even with awareness of cultural differences, a workgroup is bound to have disagreements. How conflict is addressed is one of the most significant variances from culture to culture. Some societies avoid direct confrontation and even view someone saying “I don’t agree” as adversarial and possibly aggressive. On the other hand, some cultures thrive on contesting ideas - even when imparted passionately or combatively - embracing this as a way to build relationships.
What Can a Supervisor Do?
Make your workgroup more comfortable with conflict. Guide them towards methods on providing constructive criticism and resolving differences of option, namely through compromise. Have a discussion about the types of language and non-verbal cues that are appropriate in conflict resolution and which are not. Softening your language and tone, and putting yourself in another’s shoes, are key points to cover.
Email the group in advance with topics for discussion, and request their responses via email before the meeting. This approach emphasizes that any opposition is towards a concept, rather than a colleague.
Follow Meeting Best Practices
Finally, effectively running a meeting for a cross-cultural team relies on the same meeting best practice for any workgroup. Conducting quality meetings that advance team goals and curtail time-wasting requires the following to be determined in advance:
Share the agenda with attendees before the meeting and ask for feedback. The clarity in what will be covered is particularly helpful for cross-cultural teams whose differences in approach to meetings are creating some ambiguity or asymmetry with regard to meeting conduct.
Additionally, as noted above, sharing agendas and requesting feedback in advance accommodates differences in communication styles, especially the discrepancies in comfort levels to speak up. Consider rotating the meeting leader for certain meeting types so this responsibility is shared by all.
Learn More: Best Practices for Productive Meetings
Giving Your Cross-Cultural Team a Boost
Many of these tips are straightforward solutions that are relatively easy to implement, such as sending an agenda before a meeting. But some tips on running a meeting for a cross-cultural team are not quick fixes and require behavioural change.
Priority Management is your partner in instilling behavioural improvements in your cross-cultural team. We have provided training programs focused on adding real-world value for teams around the globe for over 40 years. We are a global team ourselves, with offices worldwide. Find out how our extensive training expertise can help you get the most out of your diverse team.