Please respond to the following:

Based on your reading this week, determine two (2) of the challenges facing multicultural teams, and suggest how to overcome each of those challenges using the delineation of process components which begins on page 51 of the textbook.

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Multicultural Teams: Critical Team Processes and Guidelines

C. Shawn Burke, Marissa L. Shuffler, Eduardo Salas, and Michele Gelfand

In the twenty-first century, global organizations are no longer the exception, but the norm. Global organizations andthe resulting multicultural workforce can have tremendous benefits as talent and resources are no longer limited by geography. Having a global workforce has been argued to be a way to drive innovation and competitiveness by facilitating access to a wider pool of approaches, resources, and networks. Therefore, it is often the case that even organizations that are solely located within a single country have a culturally diverse workforce when members are recruited based on talent and not location.

In addition to organizations becoming increasingly global, another trend that has emerged is the move toward team-based organizations where a predominant amount of the work is facilitated through the use of work teams. Such teams have been characterized as being composed of two or more individuals who interact adaptively and interdependently toward a common goal (Salas, Dickinson, Converse, & Tannenbaum, 1992). Recently there has been increasing interest in what happens when these two trends intersect, thus resulting in the use of multicultural work teams. Multicultural teams are defined as a team (see Salas et al., 1992) whose members have diverse values and beliefs based on their cultural orientation. The interaction within these teams primarily reflect intercultural interaction versus intracultural interaction.

In seeking to provide guidance to organizations, there has been a fair amount of work conducted that examines intracultural differences in group- or team-based work. For example, research has shown that cultural differences have implications for cooperation (for example, Kirkman & Shapiro, 2001; Cox et al., 1991), communication (Conyne et al., 1999), feedback (Earley et al., 1999), conflict type (Elron, 1997; Mortensen & Hinds, 2001), cohesion (Man & Lam, 2003; Elron, 1997), team efficacy (Gibson, 1999), adaptation (Harrison, McKinnon, Wu, & Chow, 2000), decision making (Kirchmeyer & Cohen, 1992), and team performance (Elron, 1997; Gibson, 1999; Kirkman & Shapiro, 2001; Man & Lam, 2003; Matveev & Nelson, 2004; Gelfand, Erez, & Aycan, 2007). However, as organizations increasingly rely on multicultural work teams, often overlooked are the challenges inherent in leading and working within teams in which individuals have vastly different backgrounds, traditions, motivations, and concerns (Dinwoodie, 2005).

If there are cultural differences in teamwork when looking intraculturally across cultures, the challenges they pose are compounded when multiple cultures are placed within a single team; however, it has been argued that these teams can be effective to the degree to which they are able to manage the need for consensus versus the need for diversity (Argote & McGrath, 1993). Although diversity in skills and perspectives may benefit multicultural teams, the team also needs a degree of common ground in order to facilitate coordinated action and the understanding that leads to that coordination (Argote & McGrath, 1993). Within organizational teams diversity is often a feature that cannot be escaped, but is a function of the operating environment. The question becomes ‘‘What does within team diversity in multicultural teams mean for team interaction and correspondingly teamwork?’’

The purpose of the current chapter is to first highlight some of the challenges inherent in working within multicultural teams. In doing so, key processes and emergent states will be briefly described, resulting in a framework within which to think about multicultural teams. Next we identify several guidelines that may be used by practitioners. These guidelines are grouped based on their temporal nature (that is, whether they occur before interaction, during interaction, or post interaction).

What Are the Implications of Intracultural Differences for Teamwork?

National culture has been defined in many ways: as (1) ‘‘ …a coalescence of discrete behavioral norms and cognitions shared by individuals within some definable population that are distinct from those shared with other populations’’ (Lehman, Chiu, & Schaller, 2004, p. 690), and (2) ‘‘shared motives, values, beliefs, identities, and interpretations of meanings of significant events that result from common experiences of members of collectives and are transmitted across age generations’’ (House & Javidan, 2004, p. 15). Although there is no universally accepted definition of culture, after reviewing the multitude of definitions within the social sciences, Triandis (1996) argues that there is wide agreement across definitions that culture consists of ‘‘shared elements that provide standards for perceiving, believing, evaluating, communicating, and acting among those who share a language, a historic period, and a geographic location’’ (Shweder & LeVine, 1984, p. 408).

The challenge within multicultural teams lies within the fact that individuals who often have extremely disparate conceptualizations of how teams should function are required to engage in interdependent interaction (Ilgen, LePine, & Hollenbeck, 1997). Moreover, these culturally based differences are often implicitly held and are only recognized once the team is heading down a path to derailment. Gibson and Zellmer-Bruhn (2001) empirically examined the idea that individuals from different cultures may have different teamwork prototypes (i.e., metaphors), which in turn, reflect underlying assumptions about a team’s functionality and structure. Specifically, interviews were conducted in which individuals from a variety of cultures were asked general questions about teamwork. The transcripts from these interviews were then content coded and sorted based on thematic similarities.

Results indicated the emergence of five differential metaphors for teams (for example, sports, military, family, associates, and community). Within individualistic cultures there was a tendency for teams to be described in terms of sports and associate metaphors. Sports metaphors reflected a conceptualization of teams whereby roles are explicitly defined, there is little hierarchy, membership tends to be voluntary, scope of activity is fairly narrow, and objectives tend to be well defined (Gibson & Zellmer-Bruhn, 2002). Associate metaphors were used to conceptualize a view of teams in which there was little role definition, a narrow scope of activity related to professional work, and objectives were explicit, yet evolving and not focused solely on task-related outcomes (Gibson & Zellmer-Bruhn, 2002).

Conversely, metaphors reflecting family and community tended to be used most often with collectivists. Herein, teams were conceptualized using a family metaphor in which there was a paternalistic hierarchy, activity scope was broad, and objectives were more social in nature (Gibson & Zellmer-Bruhn, 2002). In contrast, community metaphors indicated a conceptualization whereby roles were informal and shared, activities and objectives were broad in scope and somewhat ambiguous. Perhaps used less often was the military metaphor, being primarily used by those valuing power distance (Gibson & Zellmer-Bruhn, 2001). This metaphor reflected a strict hierarchical structure, limited scope, and task-focused salient outcomes. These differences in metaphor use point to the potential difficulty in building shared cognitive structures (for example, shared mental models, transactive memory systems) within multicultural teams.

Similar in nature is work that has shown that culture has an impact on what is considered success in work groups. For example, Sanchez-Burks, Nisbett, and Ybarra (2000) reported that cultures that were more collectivistic (for example, Mexico) valued socioemotional outcomes over task-based outcomes. The reverse was true for a sample of Anglos. The work by Sanchez-Burks et al. (2000) as well as that by Gibson and Zellmer-Bruhn (2001; 2002) offer important insights into challenges that may arise for individuals working within multicultural teams, as well as for the leaders responsible for directing and shaping those teams. For example, Gibson’s work suggests that within a multicultural team it is likely that the members may come to the team with disparate ideas pertaining to role structure, activity scope, and team functioning. In turn, these expectations will drive different behavioral responses and attributions. These disparate expectations are often latent and, in turn, foster misattributions. Similarly, the work by Sanchez-Burks et al. (2000) suggests different motivational bases for members from different cultures. In turn, these differences may result in frustration and a lack of psychological safety within multicultural teams. Leaders must take into account and balance these disparate motivations so that the team as a whole remains motivated.

Given this complexity, we next discuss several processes and states which must be enacted and sometimes culturally negotiated in order for multicultural teams to be effective and overcome the inherent challenges often caused by diversity. Multicultural teams who are able to implement these processes in a culturally appropriate manner have the potential for positive team outcomes. The following list provides a summary of these critical components.

Critical Components Driving Effectiveness in Multicultural Teams

  • Process Components
  • Engaging in leadership–creating and maintaining coherence

    Ensuring clear and meaningful communication

    Engaging in supportive behaviors to maximize team synergy

    Engaging in perspective taking to develop a cultural foundation

    Engaging in negotiation to find common ground

  • Emergent States
  • Creating a sense of psychological safety to facilitate interaction

    Forming compatible cognitive structures to aid coordination

    Components Driving Effectiveness in Multicultural Teams

    There has recently been a notable distinction in the teams literature; researchers are beginning to better delineate the nature of team process. Marks, Mathieu, and Zaccaro (2001) argue that researchers have not been conceptually disciplined when it comes to the constructs which are identified as process, often confounding process with emergent states. Accordingly, team process refers to ‘‘members’ interdependent acts that convert inputs to outcomes through cognitive, verbal, and behavioral activities directed toward organizing taskwork to achieve collective goals’’ (Marks, Mathieu, & Zaccaro, 2001, p. 357). Conversely, emergent states are viewed as a bit more static than process and have been defined as ‘‘constructs that characterize the properties of the team that are typically dynamic in nature and vary as a function of team context, inputs, processes, and outcomes’’ (Marks et al., 2001, p. 357). These constructs often represent cognitive, affective, and motivational components and can be viewed as inputs to and outcomes of team process. Due to the diversity present within multicultural teams, it is often difficult to promote these emergent states. In turn, this has important implications for the manner in which processes (such as leadership, communication, supportive behaviors) are enacted within the team.

    In delineating a framework (see Figure 3.1) within which to examine the components which facilitate effectiveness in multicultural teams we rely on the current state-of-the science and employ the distinction between process and emergent states. In addition, while there are a multitude of process and state variables which could be argued to be challenging and essential for multicultural teams space constraints limit discussion to those we believe are most essential.

    Delineation of Process Components

    In the United States teams have been defined as two or more individuals interacting together in an adaptive interdependent manner towards a shared or common goal (Salas et al., 1992). While we expect this definition will hold across cultures the operationalization of the behaviors contained within might be expected to differ. However, at a bare minimum we argue that in any type of multicultural team the following three process variables are going to form the foundation of effective teamwork: negotiation, communication, and supporting behavior. In addition, especially important within multicultural teams are the additional processes of perspective taking and leadership as these two processes assist in providing a way forward amongst the challenges that may be posed in enacting the other process variables. See Figure 3.1 for a visual illustration.

    Figure 3.1. Framework for Thinking About Multicultural Team Performance.

    Critical Process #1: Engaging in Leadership—Creating and Maintaining Coherence

    Leadership has been argued to play a pivotal role in determining team effectiveness (see Burke, Stagl, Klein, Goodwin, Salas, & Halpin, 2006). Specifically, leadership is the mechanism through which the shared cognition, affect, and behavior within teams is promoted so that coordinated action can occur. Leaders ensure that the team has clear, compelling direction, an enabling structure, supportive organizational context, and expert coaching available (Hackman, 2002). It is within this vein that leaders can facilitate a team’s ability to adapt by choosing the timing and mechanisms through which to intervene in team process to allow reflection upon methods and procedures to take place (Gersick & Hackman, 1990; Hackman & Wageman, 2005).

    Within multicultural teams, leadership actions become even more important given the likelihood of the team’s exhibiting degradations in its coherence (shared understandings, behavior, and affect), which in turn, promotes the coordinated action indicative of effective teams. Leadership interventions can help teams adapt to difficulties in execution and process loss. For example, it has been argued that within multicultural teams leaders should promote a hybrid culture (Earley & Mosakowski, 2000) in order to mitigate process challenges. This hybrid culture is not reflective of any one culture that currently exists within the team, but reflects a new superordinate culture. Yet the picture is complicated, as research has indicated that there are differences across cultures concerning what is deemed ‘‘effective’’ leadership (House, Hanges, Javidan, Dorfman, & Gupta, 2004; Bantz, 1993). Moreover, even when leadership prototypes are similar across cultures (for example, charismatic leadership), often the manifestations of these prototypes are culturally contingent (see Mehra & Krishnan, 2005; Pillai & Meindl, 1998; Den Hartog & Verburg, 1997). As such it is not enough to simply train leaders to act in a charismatic fashion, because what is charismatic may differ across cultures.

    Also important to note for leaders of multicultural teams is that theoretical work has suggested that when there are large variations in values pertaining to uncertainty avoidance within multicultural teams it may be more difficult for stable norms to emerge (Bantz, 1993). This is important, for it is often a leadership function to set the norms for the team. It has also been argued that key leadership functions such as boundary spanning are encouraged more within collectivistic as compared with individualistic settings (Golden & Veiga, 2005). This can have a tremendous impact on the team as boundary spanning is the manner by which teams adapt to the environment and the way in which new information comes into the team. Thus, although there are several challenges to providing leadership within multicultural teams, leaders can assist in preventing communication breakdowns (Ayoko et al., 2002) and facilitate the sharing of unique information among the team (Baba, Gluesing, Ratner, & Wagner, 2004). Moreover, within multicultural teams there is likely to be more attention paid to interpersonally related leadership behaviors as compared to task leadership behaviors (Watson et al., 2002). Leaders should be cognizant of this and set cooperative goals and, when conflict occurs, employ cooperative conflict management strategies (Chen et al., 2006).

    Critical Process #2: Ensuring Clear and Meaningful Communication

    Communication is essential to teams in that it helps members develop and update the shared knowledge structures that serve to guide adaptive action, and it provides the foundation for mutual monitoring and backup behavior. The importance of this process is seen in that cross-cultural communication competence has been shown to be related to performance in multicultural teams (Matveev & Nelson, 2004). Despite the importance of clear communication, difficulties in communication lie at the heart of many of the challenges to interacting within a multicultural team.

    Within multicultural teams there are often communication challenges in terms of differences in language and dialect, communication norms, rate, duration, and expressivity of communication (including urgency and affect). In addition, it is often the case that much information—or ‘‘the intended meaning’’ of communication—is lost within multicultural teams. Differences in the rate of communication as well as the structure of communication across cultures can lead to challenges within multicultural teams. For example, cultures differ on the extent to which they expect the meaning to be explicitly stated within the actual communicated message (and thereby communication tends to be more dense) or whether it is implicitly implied based on outside contextual information (see high-low context, Hall & Hall, 1990). Also related to the nature of communication, Earley et al. (1999) found that individual and group-based feedback fostered collective efficacy in members with a collectivist orientation, yet members with an individualistic orientation were more likely to have a sense of collective efficacy when feedback was geared more individually. Finally, within multicultural teams it is not only the structure of communication that may pose challenges. But the actual source of the communication message (that is, the sender) may affect not only the weight or importance assigned to the message, but also the degree to which the information contained within the message is likely to be questioned. For team members with an orientation toward power distance, messages delivered from high-status members will be given more weight and will be less likely to be challenged. In all, communication difficulties present challenges that need to be managed in multicultural teams.

    Critical Process #3: Engaging in Supportive Behaviors to Maximize Team Synergy

    One of the defining features that distinguish teams from individuals is the fact that there are supporting mechanisms built into the team structure which, when used appropriately, can facilitate the team’s capitalizing on its potential synergy, thereby making its performance greater than the sum of the individual parts. Specifically, team members can engage in mutual performance monitoring, whereby team members jointly observe the actions of members to watch for mistakes, lapses, and overload in an effort to catch and correct potential degradations in a timely manner (McIntyre & Salas, 1995). This process enables recognition of when team members need assistance (Marks & Panzer, 2004). When performance monitoring suggests that a team member is in need of assistance, that assistance may be offered through feedback in the form of verbal suggestions or actual physical aid.

    Although mutual performance monitoring and backup behavior have been argued to be essential components of effective teams, they are most often effective when enacted in a team climate of psychological safety (Edmondson, 1999). When a team is multicultural in nature it may become more difficult to create and maintain this climate (we will discuss this in more detail later in the chapter). Psychological safety is but one prerequisite for these supporting functions to be seen as valued. Research has also shown that if backup behavior is provided when it is not needed it can actually lead to decrements in performance due to redundancy of effort (Porter et al., 2003).

    Thus, within multicultural teams, despite the fact that these behaviors are argued to be essential due to the complexity present within these teams and the resulting likelihood of errors (task based or social), it may be more difficult to enact these behaviors successfully. Culture may affect not only perception of when backup behavior is needed and when monitoring is seen as important (Gelfand, Nishii, & Raver, 2006), but also the acceptance of any assistance that is offered as well as the likelihood that members will ask for assistance. In addition, if team members misinterpret the cues offered within heterogeneous teams, they may provide backup when it’s not needed, neglect the cue that signals help is needed, or provide backup in a manner that is culturally inappropriate. Given this example, it becomes easy to see how heterogeneous teams may have more difficulty in backup behavior because of misinterpretations and miscommunications. Variations in power distance among members may also have an impact on the success of any supporting behavior offered. In multicultural teams with large variations in power-distance orientations among team members, it will become more difficult to successfully engage in supporting behaviors, because team members will vary in their acceptance of these behaviors based on the status differentials between recipients and senders. Further, given some cultural orientations, the explicit manner in which backup behavior is conducted may be seen as threatening, rude, or embarrassing.

    Critical Process #4: Engaging in Perspective Taking to Develop a Cultural Foundation

    One of the challenges to interaction within multicultural teams is that cultural differences in values and beliefs lead individual members to expect different things, ranging from how a team should function to the interpretation of members’ actions. Yet oftentimes these cognitive assumptions lie hidden. In the absence of explicit recognition of such underlying assumptions members are often likely to use stereotypes to explain behavior or will engage in faulty attributions as they assume that fellow team members are operating under the same set of rules, expectations, and preferences as their own. Perspective taking may be one of the most important transition processes (see Marks et al., 2001) that occur within multicultural teams. It involves ‘‘understanding how and why another person thinks and feels about the situation and why they are behaving as they are’’ (Sessa, 1996, p. 105). Perspective taking is not empathy, but reflects a more cognitive process.

    Perspective taking has been shown to have a number of benefits such as: (1) reducing stereotypic responses and increasing the overlap ‘‘between representations of the self and representation of the outgroup’’ (Galinsky & Moskowitz, 2000, p. 708), (2) encouraging social coordination and helping behavior (Galinsky, Ku, & Wang, 2005), and (3) facilitating better communication. Specifically, Sessa (1996) found that perspective taking caused people to disclose more information and frame their conversations in such a way that they were easily understood. This, in turn, leads to overall greater success in multicultural communications. In essence, perspective taking is a key aspect of effective intercultural team interaction; it provides the foundational knowledge pertaining to a recognition of the need to adapt behavior in some manner and offers a mechanism through which likely member actions can be projected in the future. However, perspective taking is not a natural tendency. This is especially true when it involves taking the perspective of members of another culture. Though it has been argued that individuals who are high in self-monitoring (Densten & Gray, 2003) are better at perspective taking than those who are low self-monitors, there may also be interventions that can be designed and implemented to facilitate this process (we will discuss this more later in the chapter).

    Critical Process #5: Engaging in Negotiation to Find Common Ground

    Negotiation is a process that is often ignored or minimized when it comes to the delineation of important team processes. However, within a multicultural setting negotiation becomes key to effective interaction. Negotiation has been defined as ‘‘the ways in which individuals manage their interdependence’’ (Walton & McKersie, 1965 as cited in Gelfand, Fulmer, & Severance, in press). In addition, whereas negotiation may differ across cultures, Gelfand et al. (in press) argue that there are several core characteristics that should apply across cultures: there is a perception of conflicting interests, communication is involved, a joint outcome exists, and although there are mixed motives, compromise is possible.

    Within multicultural teams negotiation is critical because members often come to the team with disparate cognitive structures that are based in their cultural orientations. These knowledge structures, in turn, serve to affect the way each individual member views the world, team interaction, and the attributions that are made. Though there are situations in which the knowledge structures are different but still compatible, it is often the case that the differences are not initially compatible. It is the team leader’s job to facilitate a negotiated reality for the team such that coordinated, adaptive action is enabled. Researchers have argued that the emergence of a third culture within multicultural teams is one of the mechanisms that facilitates effective interaction (see Earley & Mosakowski, 2000). However, negotiation is a complex process even when conducted within a single culture; it becomes even more complex when conducted within the context of a multicultural team. For example, culture has been shown to affect the types of negotiation strategies, the nature of the influence used in negotiation, as well as the valued outcomes (Gelfand et al., 2002; Morris et al., 2004; Gelfand & Brett, 2004). Although viewing negotiation as the process by which differences in cultural values within a single team are resolved is not the normal way this behavior is examined in the literature, taking this approach within teams is essential in order to achieve the common ground that allows coordinated action. In engaging in this process Gelfand and Dyer (2000) report that emotional appeals are thought to be more impactful within collectivistic cultures, and rational appeals more effective within individualistic cultures. Leaders need to be cognizant of this difference when seeking to facilitate a negotiated reality. For more detailed treatment of the role of negotiation, the reader is referred to a recent review by Gelfand, Fulmer, and Severance (in press).

    Delineation of Emergent States

    Although processes explain the manner in which interaction occurs within multicultural teams, it is also essential to recognize the effect that emergent states may have on multicultural teams. Specifically, these cognitive and motivational states can arise as the result of multicultural team interaction and, in turn, serve as inputs to future interaction. As with the process variables, there are many emergent states that have been identified within the teams literature that may be argued to be important for the successful interaction of multicultural teams, but due to space constraints we limit our focus here to a few which we feel form the foundation for success: psychological safety, shared mental models, and transactive memory systems. See Figure 3.1 for a visual representation.

    Critical State #6: Creating a Sense of Psychological Safety to Facilitate Interaction

    Psychological safety has been defined as a shared belief regarding the degree to which the team is perceived to be a safe environment to engage in interpersonal risk taking (Edmondson, 1999). As such, psychological safety reflects a team climate characterized by mutual respect and trust. Edmondson (2003) found that psychological safety was important in culturally diverse teams (such as medical teams) because it facilitated team interaction. For example, as the degree of psychological safety within multicultural teams increases, members will be more willing to take interpersonal risks, such as speaking up and offering contributions during plan development or engaging in supporting behaviors. One of the potential benefits of multicultural teams is the diversity of vantage points that exist within these teams; psychological safety helps the team to take advantage of this diversity by promoting a climate in which members feel free to question suggestions and decisions, in essence allowing members to play a type of ‘‘devil’s advocate.’’ Furthermore, though cultures vary in the degree to which they may engage in these actions, based on power differentials and concerns about saving face, psychological safety might play a role in mitigating some of these tendencies by promoting a collective, holistic view of the team setting in which out-groups are diminished.

    Edmondson (2003) found that team leaders could promote psychological safety within culturally diverse teams by engaging in motivational, interpersonal activities and fostering a climate of inclusion so that power differences were minimized and the input of all members was recognized. As psychological safety reflects a climate of trust and mutual respect, activities that promote trust would be expected to facilitate a sense of safety. Within multicultural teams, research has shown that not only does trust have different relational bases, but also that cultures vary in their motivational bases. Specifically, Yuki et al. (2005) found that in more collectivist cultures (such as Japan) an important basis on which team members based their decisions to trust each other was the indirect interpersonal ties that existed between them. Conversely, within more individualistic cultures (such as the United States) decisions to trust were related to how well team members identified with each other, based on a shared category of membership.

    Critical State #7: Forming Compatible Cognitive Structures to Aid Coordination

    The possession of compatible knowledge structures have been shown to facilitate performance and adaptation within teams (Mathieu, Heffner, Goodwin, Salas, & Cannon-Bowers, 2000; Entin & Serfaty, 1999). However, achieving these emergent states is often very challenging within multicultural teams, because most often members come to the team with very different knowledge structures. These knowledge structures, as partially witnessed through the metaphors used (see Gibson & Zellmer-Bruhn, 2002), guide member expectations, attributions, and interactions. Shared mental models and transactive memory systems are two categories of knowledge structures which, though difficult to construct in multicultural teams, are essential for coordinated action.

    Both shared mental models and transactive memory are aspects of shared understanding. Transactive memory system (TMS) is defined as the collective knowledge within a group that is coupled with the coordinated awareness of the knowledge distribution among group members (Wegner, 1987). When TMSs are ef

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