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Intercultural Teamwork: Dealing With Added Complexity

Updated: May 23, 2023

Part 1 of 3

How to deal with extra complexity in the global workspace.

Teaming has changed dramatically in the past few years. Today, many teams are intercultural, virtual, and include people from multiple organizations. Within a large multinational, a team might be pulled together from different countries and a range of disciplines, experiences, and competencies.

As we deal with the intricacies that come with that, we have to keep in mind that this is a very new phenomena. We are probably only the second generation of mankind to be faced with these issues. So we shouldn’t beat ourselves up too much with the fact that it is difficult.

The Two Biggest Issues for Intercultural Teams Are ‘Common Purpose’ and ‘Social Capital’

Clarity on your common purpose is what everybody hopes for, but common purpose is just the starting point. Social capital and belonging is what’s truly important. People leave a monocultural environment to join an intercultural team are faced with a sense of belonging that has been taken away (or one that was willfully left behind), and are looking for belonging even more than they would be if they had stayed in their home town.

How do teams actually become successful?

Going further, Harvard studies on “very successful” intercultural teams found that they have two things in common: They are able to overcome communication barriers, and they are able to build high levels of trust.

Good communication and high levels of trust build greater clarity on the common purposes of the team, and help to build social capital. Put them all together, and you have the Four Elements of Inter-Cultural team building:

  1. Overcome Communication Barriers

  2. Build Trust

  3. Develop a Good Understanding of Common Purpose

  4. Develop Social Capital

A tough look at these elements brings us to the following point:

You Need More Than Technical Skills for a Good Intercultural Team

Technical skills are fantastic, but interpersonal, intercultural, collaboration, and communication skills are important too. A team with great technical skills but none of the others might have a flying start because they all know their job, but eventually break down because of intercultural communication and collaboration issues.

In order to build strong teams you need to ensure that your recruiting methods incorporate behavioral skill requirements. Know how to do behavioral interviewing in order to pull together people that can be part of a successful intercultural team.


This series: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3


To begin your culture learning journey, Contact us or get our mini-ebook: Inter-Cultural Intelligence: from surviving to thriving in the global space.



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