What it takes to lead multicultural teams


Today I want to write a short note about leadership in international teams as I get a lot of questions about what is important, what works and what not.

Well, one thing is for sure: leading teams composed of members from the whole world is certainly a lot of fun but also takes a lot of effort so that it can function in the right way, meaning that team members can realise their full potential and don’t feel threatened, not understood or unwell.

In a multicultural team it is very important that different opinions, views, understandings are always:

  • addressed,
  • explained and
  • understood.

By operating that way, you ensure that problems are discussed directly when they arise, so that no frictions – in the worst case leading to dysfunctional teams – can arise. What you are trying to do is to achieve the best possible synergies, not the adaptation of some individuals to the ideas and concepts of the others (this would create an asymmetric team dynamic) or even the resistance of some team members to the perceptions of the others which can lead to team members wanting to leave the team).

As all the team members are from different cultural backgrounds, they will all have different values and norms. By discussing these and finding synergies, you will create an atmosphere of convergence and trust, where all team members will make an effort to find a common ground of understanding. This in turn forms the basis on which you and your team can work together… and achieve your objectives, of course.

Don’t expect the basis you created to be there forever though! It has to be re-negotiated every time when a new issue arises as what is acceptable to one person doesn’t have to be acceptable for the other. A good and functioning international team relies on constant discussions, give and takes as well as on working out the synergies to balance the different opinions, ideas and strengths in your team. All the time!

Mindful listening, empathy and of course patience are the main ingredients that support the above mentioned processes. Being interculturally competent is a main skill nowadays which is required in nearly all workplaces (and even at home when two different nationalities decide to live together under one roof); without it, living and working in our present world becomes difficult.

What do you think?

Resources: Check out:

  • This blog for example, very interesting articles on Germans/Americans
  • This blog for great tools and articles about culture and intercultural competence




9 thoughts on “What it takes to lead multicultural teams

  1. Business Life Asia

    Thanks for the post! I manage a team that spans African to Australia and I agree with you on the components you deem necessary for effective team dynamics. On top of it, I’d like to add Trust – mutual trust that make it easier for individuals to work things out when differences occur.

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