Having lived in the multi-cultural city of Toronto, Canada the past 13 years, I have witnessed how cultural diversity can work in enhancing everyday life. Also, through my experience in building software development and consulting teams, I have learned there are many benefits to team dynamics of embracing cultural diversity. Here is a list of 5 common benefits:
1. Saving Face
In many countries, the concept of “Saving Face” is important. Especially true within Asian cultures, this trait often motivates team members work harder in solving difficult challenges and overcoming technical obstacles. It is however important to ensure team members are not afraid to speak-up when they are unclear on a particular issue. Asking questions is not a sign of failure; it will enhance their knowledge, allow them to produce better results, therefore saving face in the long run.
2. Fresh Thinking
Having recently returned from a trip to South-East Asia, it was interesting to note how common engineering, technical and transport challenges were solved differently than that of western countries. Team members from other parts of the world have lived with and experienced all sorts of different solutions to everyday problems. By pulling from their previous knowledge they can bring fresh new thinking to challenges your business may be facing, however big or small.
3. Motivation to Succeed
I consider this point to be a by-product of cultural diversity. In many cases immigrants have moved from their native country due to unrest, or to pursue opportunities to provide a better life to themselves and their family. In many cases they have sold everything to afford this new lease on life, and these individuals are therefore motivated to “Make it Work.” Since so much is riding on the success and experience gained, these team member often bring an enthusiasm and motivation to succeed which can propel themselves and the entire team through tough, challenging projects.
4. Enhance your Team or Corporate Culture
An important part of any successful company is a healthy corporate culture. What better way to build or enhance your team or corporate culture by introducing some “real” culture. Do this by embracing cultural holidays, sponsor cultural festivals, or have pot-luck lunches where each team member must bring one food item from their native country. These sorts of activities bring teams together, and help team members feel part of the overall corporate entity. Highlighting the cultural differences within a team enhances awareness within employees that each person is contributing, each person is unique, and each person is valued.
5. Think Globally, Act Locally
As a recent financial crisis has demonstrated, companies are increasingly operating within the greater world economy. Therefore, the impact of truly understanding and effectively marketing to each unique culture is pronounced. Cultural diversity doesn’t just happen with outsourcing to a far away land – far from it. The best type of cross-culture teams are those where the members are co-located and can lend their unique view points in a timely manner. Hiring local talent that have diverse cultural backgrounds allow you to compete efficiently in today’s global marketplace. Think about this: Maybe the next time you are pondering expanding into a new country, your engineer from Malaysia may be your best asset, and not necessarily for his engineering skills.
An interesting note in closing – I once managed a software development project with a team of 8 developers. Within the team we had a representative from 5 different continents. That is at least one person from every continent in the world except Australia and Antarctica. We also proudly represented 5 different religions. And remember this is from a team of only 8 people! I hope you embrace your own culture and those around you so you may learn, grow and enhance the team dynamics for which you play an important role.