Working in a cross-cultural environment? Then, you have probably experienced some ups and downs of corporate multiculturalism firsthand. But did you realize those situations were caused by cultural differences?
You'll find this post helpful if:
- your team comes from several cultural, ethnic, or social backgrounds;
- you've noticed some tension in your cross-cultural organization;
- your company celebrates diversity and values employees' cultural origins;
- you searched for actual cultural team building activities, not "organizational culture games"
Dive deeper: 20+ activities that strengthen diverse remote teams.
How cross-cultural teams affect an organization
Harvard Business Review has recently published research on how cultural differences affect global virtual teams. The study found that cultural diversity can benefit and threaten the team's performance. It allows wider perspectives, yet provides more ground for conflict. And team leads must know how to cultivate the best and limit the worst.
Personal diversity can be challenging
Most negative outcomes intercultural teams face come from 'personal diversity'. It includes features like age, gender, race & ethnicity, language, as well as our skills and values. While it can be great to have various perspectives, teams with extreme differences often struggle with effective communication. It can also be challenging for them to:
- build and maintain a friendly atmosphere in the group;
- nurture positive interpersonal relationships with their teammates;
- avoid and/or resolve conflict at the workplace.
At the same time, personal diversity is important for creating cross-functional teams that can effectively address various challenges. That’s one reason why it is often promoted in organizational cultures of the leading companies.
Contextual diversity cultivates new perspectives
At the same time, so-called 'contextual diversity' positively affects a team's performance. Here, you should take into account broader differences. For example, differences in the economic situation, political systems, or social dynamics lead to boosted effectiveness of team members from different cultural backgrounds. Some of the undeniable benefits include:
- more creative idea generation;
- enhanced problem-solving;
- faster decision-making.
Of course, you cannot - and shouldn’t - completely erradicate personal diversity in favor of the contextual one. Instead, you need to learn how to embrace diversity in its entirety.
Cultural team building exercises to reduce the challenges
You'd want to spend time on a couple more serious culture-driven team building exercises. This way, you'll ensure your team's performance is high, and the work environment is welcoming. Besides, your teammates will feel secure and eager to work together regardless of their personal diversity.
1. Develop a team identity
Work together to clearly represent what your team stands for, your values, and your goals. Allow this process to be creative and inclusive. Make sure that every team member contributes in some way. As a result, everyone will see how important their colleagues' work is, and personal differences won't be as significant.
2. Address the stereotypes
The seed of conflict often lies in stereotypes about our personal diversity. Prepare several stereotype-debunking statements about each other, like "I am 20 y.o. but I have 7 years of hands-on experience". Let the team discuss which statements caught them off guard and why.
3. Communicate the organizational cultural norms through a workshop
This team building event works best for organizations with well-established cultures and processes. Make the workshop interactive and engaging, so the participants don't just hear about your expectations but actively exercise them.
Cultural team building activities to celebrate the differences
This part is where you get to have fun with your colleagues. We really want to emphasize the word "celebrate" here. After all, allowing healthy cultural self-expression in your team is crucial.
Here are some ideas to ensure everyone feels safe, comfortable, and heard while learning from each other!
4. Get to know each other's cultures through food
This activity is perfect for virtual teams. Choose one traditional dish from one of the cultures represented in your group. You can find the recipe online or use a family one! From here, you all must try your best to prepare the dish in your own kitchens and share your impressions. You're guaranteed to have fun, learn a new skill, and gain a new perspective on your cooking routine.
5. Celebrate your traditional holidays as a group
November 1st marks Dia De Los Muertos in Mexico. One Saturday before Christmas, the Philippines celebrates the Giant Lantern Festival. The first Monday of August is Picnic Day in Australia. And what unusual holiday traditions do your teammates celebrate every year? What do different symbols behind the tradition stand for? Learn from each other and see how it affects your group dynamics.
6. Organize a mini UN model
This is a perfect exercise for the teams that take their contextual diversity seriously and would like to exercise their problem-solving. It's just like the model UN you did in High School, but you represent your own cultures! You'll be amazed by how many different perspectives you can generate in one hour.