Multi-cultural Team Challenges and Solutions

April 17, 2023

Multi-cultural team can provide tremendous benefits like cost savings, greater insight into markets and new technologies and can assemble an impressive talent pool with unique perspectives from around the world. However, cultural differences within teams can create obstacles to effective teamwork.

Most of the organizations tends to focus on projects technical aspects and challenges in multi-cultural teams, which are distributed across different continents, continues to be underestimated and undervalued by organizations.
Global delivery team in NTTDATA Intellilink not only have technical capabilities for successful project execution but also have experience in managing multi-cultural teams with bilingual capabilities.

Recently Global delivery team supported one of the systems which was managed by team in Japan and was developed by team in Italy, Spain, Colombia, India and Japan. This highly integrated system was created from specialists across different continents who were having required skillsets to develop product by using new technologies for data ingestion, processing, storage and visualization for business decisions and orchestrated integration with other systems where network services being rolled out along with edge computing and network slicing.

All modules integrated into one cohesive infrastructure at Japan site

Delivering projects on time, on budget, and on quality has been and will always be the core challenge. However, working with multi-cultural team while managing geographically dispersed teams is a vital challenge. Start from the language barrier, expectation mismatch, time issues to coordination issues, support issues to meeting conflicts - the problems are infinite.
Let’s analyze ways to tackle challenges of working in a multi-cultural team and see how to manage them for the results to be successful organization.

Challenges in Multi-cultural Team

1. Cultural diversity needs to be recognized –

Cultural diversity needs to be recognized

"Cultural differences should not separate us from each other but rather cultural diversity brings a collective strength that can benefit all of humanity." - Robert Alan

Managing diversity remains a significant organizational challenge hence, managing and valuing diversity is important and strategical way to enhance workplace productivity.
The benefits of cultural diversity will never come without intercultural communication. Bilingual capability helps to understand work ethics, culture, develops global mindsets and helps to set clear expectations up front. A diverse mix of voices leads to better discussions, decisions, and outcomes for everyone. Clearly sharing project expectations makes everyone involved in project on the same page with respect to deliverables in order to guarantee a successful project.

2. Communicating with cultural styles in mind –

Communicating with cultural styles in mind

"A different language is a different vision of life" - Federico Fellini

Cultures have different styles of communication. Some cultures are very direct and explicit in their communication, while others are more implicit and deliver the meaning of a message in an indirect way. This difference can cause conflict but if the team members are trained in various communication styles, they can adapt to each individual and choose the best communication style for the situation using bilingual capabilities.
For example, some region cultures like Japan, China use what is known as "high-context communication", where the underlying context as meaningful as spoken words. In cultures with low-context communication styles like US, UK, Germany where communication is much more direct.

3. Acknowledging team coordination issues –

Acknowledging team coordination issues

"It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed." – Napoleon Hill

Lacked team coordination increases rework and mistakes in work transfer. There can be many reasons like Time zones, Social norms, Language, Holidays, legality, Connectivity etc…
As team is scattered geographically, it makes sense to use software tool that everyone can access on their own timeframe, create groups based on project needs and then track progress and follow comments of team members.
One main constraint in keeping up with implementation plan and meeting schedules.
In some cases, Follow-the-sun approach has undeniable appeal. Using follow-the-sun development, organization may be able to save months from the development cycle and release a product earlier, thus giving it a competitive advantage. However, it is important that coordination in follow-the-sun must be flawless in order to reduce project duration.
A globally distributed teams can follow the agile methodology with face-to-face communication (through Teams, Zoom, Webex, Slack etc...) by checking minimal handshaking time between regional time zone which makes coordination much more effective.

4. Decision-making with strategic alignment –

Decision-making with strategic alignment

"The only way to make the right decision is to find out which is the wrong decision, to examine that other path without fear, and only then decide." - Paulo Coelho

It is necessary that the project stakeholders conform to the mutually agreed requirements, specifications, and expectations to adhere project implementation, quality management, change management, release management process. Stakeholders should align with planned objectives - essentially bridging the vital gap between strategy and execution.
Either team goes with traditional approach which requires more planning, effort, coordination between teams, and time management skills.
On the other hand, Agile approach emphasizes rapid deployment of a functional application with a focus on customer needs.
Project execution should follow one approach instead of hybrid approach.

Final thought

Managing multi-cultural teams requires careful thought, cultural understanding, due diligence, and a highly diplomatic approach. As the old saying goes: "If you want to be understood, seek first to understand."
NTT DATA INTELLILINK's one of the specialties is cross-cultural intelligence and ability to integrate specialized and globally dispersed resources, to understand local needs and demands, and to leverage cultural diversity, with respect to values, beliefs, attitudes, perspectives, and experiences, among team members.
NTT DATA INTELLILINK has wide experience of working with global teams which are distributed across different continents and plays vital role in alleviating multi-cultural team problems while leveraging the benefits.

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Multi-cultural Team Challenges and Solutions