In a rapidly expanding business world, driven by the outcomes of ongoing globalization, the number of international operating firms increases and enterprises are each day confronted with business partners as well as employees stemming from different countries and cultural backgrounds.
To be able to compete within this globalized business environment, companies continue to establish international teams. (Davison, 1994)
The paper at hand is an attempt to clarify different factors that affect international teams and their overall performance when working on a common goal. Besides the obvious problems that come with an international work force it is apparent that the inherent diversity likely comprises the possibility to achieve high performance which finally determines the success of an international team.
Working with multi-cultural colleagues makes it possible to achieve better and more efficient results in work itself as well as for the respective executive regarding his interpersonal and intercultural skills and for the whole company through the establishment of international proficiency in the work environment. (Davison, 1994)
Several authors describe the positive effects of interculturality within teams regarding the ability to achieve solutions and find new approaches to problem solving. (e.g.,Doz, Santos, and Williamson, 2004; Stahi et al., 2010). The higher performance finally provides companies with competitive advantages which then possibly lead to overall better company performance. (Mahasarakham, 2012) Yet, there is no rule how to create successful, high performing international teams. (Davison, 1994)
Managing and organizing international teams inevitably makes it necessary to take into account the influences of different backgrounds, cultural influences and personalities of the team members. (Higgs, 1996)
Yet, there still is a tendency of executives on multinational companies to perceive interculturality in their teams as potential source of problems rather than the opportunity to use it to their advantage and to overthrow competitors. (Higgs, 1996)
The following paragraphs are an attempt to analyse different factors that make up a good team and what constitutes their success.
Creating the team
To create an intercultural team in the first place it is important to gather workforce with the necessary skills to complete the expected work or project. To achieve that it is paramount that the team agrees on a common working language. This is the first step to set up the shared goals of the team and do induce the process of team cohesion. The team has to agree on a working method, such as teleworking or meetings in person and the frequency of those meetings in order to do the work effectively. Setting up effective networks and schedules for communication enhances the whole process of the team work and with that fosters the performance.
Also, every team needs a responsible person that supervises the team performance, identifies problems and advises the members to get the most out of the possibilities that a workgroup made out of different nationalities offers. (Davison, 1994)
Establishing basics rules of team work
Leadership as well as the task itself, the method of work and the team member’s personalities are all things that affect the effectiveness of the team.
But because of all the differences and problems that may arise from them, it is even more important, that basics rules of team work are established before starting to work on the assignment itself. This can be aligning everyone to the common goal or implementing a working method regarding participation and monitoring. (Davison, 1994) Since the approaches and expectations concerning work differ from culture to culture it is essential to agree on some rules before rushing into a team project, to make the effort a success
Cultural diversity and problems affecting performance
Working in an international team often constitutes a problem for people, since they usually prefer to work and be with people of their own kind (similar-attraction theory). This is because culture builds a significant way to identify with other people and creates team-cohesion. The problems, colleagues from different cultural backgrounds might have with each other causes performance to suffer and negatively affects group dynamics. This means that cultural diverse teams might have lower performance and return less satisfaction to the team members. Diversity in general impacts negatively on performance in the first place, compared to teams whose stem from the same culture. (Mahasarakham, 2012; Watson et al., 1993)
Performance and problem solving
The above mentioned dynamics and possible problems in international teams correlate with the team’s general ability to perform and solve problems. Different qualities, influenced by the respective culture, such as uncertainty avoidance or individualistic/collectivistic behaviour lead to distinct ways of dealing with situations, opportunities and difficulties in the work place. This also likely determines how valuable a person is for a team in terms of the ability to be a team player and its contribution to the team´s efforts.
Yet, the different concepts and models of perception and approaches within cultures might as well foster creativity and provide valuable inputs for the team´s work. (Stahl et al., 2010; Mahasarakham, 2012)
That is, over time, intercultural teams perform as successful as their mono-cultural colleagues and no longer show constraints caused by interculturality as time goes by. Additionally, those teams as well provide a wider range of perspectives and therefore alternatives for action the longer they cooperate, which in fact might give a significant advantage in performance. (Watson et al., 1993)
Impact of the team leader and style of management
The performance of the team is also connected to its leader’s personality and the way of guiding the team.
The leader can either use a task-oriented, relationship-oriented approach or a mixture of the two, but the style of management will affect the team´s performance. (Mahasarakham, 2012) Recent studies therefore focus on the leadership style since it moderates the effect of cultures within international teams. (Stahl et al. 2010; Mahasarakham, 2012)
But it not only about the style of leadership itself but its perception by the team members, coined by the respective cultural background.
Cultures differ in the perception and implementation of power distance between the leader and his followers. It relates to the feeling of agreement or disagreement of subordinates and with that how deep the commitment to the leaders and the team’s goals goes.
Also, culture might affect the self-perceived role of the individual in the team, which might lead to more wanna-be leaders and hinder contribution. Problems are especially true for newly formed groups hence leadership and guidance is important. (Watson et al., 1993) If set-up in the right way and led by a cultural-aware and flexible leader, cultural diverse groups outperform homo-geneous groups regarding the overall results, despite problems and difficulties in the process to achieve them. (Watson et al., 1993)
A high performing international team is created by channelling the capabilities of each team member in the right way, which essentially is the task of the team leader. (Davison, 1994)
The results indicate that cultural diversity has a significant effect on team performance.
Working together in a team with people from different countries and cultures can make the cooperation more complicated than working with people from a shared cultural background.
Each team is unique in its setup and so can be the ways of working together.
It became clear, that cultural diversity in a team has a significant effect on the overall team performance. While it may at first be difficult to deal with the differences that arise from such diversity in cultures and success might not achieved as easy as expected, international teams eventually become a successful and high valued asset for every company.
Firstly, when set up in the right way, some problems can be eliminated right at the start and the team is able to take the right direction together. By establishing rules for cooperation that anyone can follow effortless team cohesion can be enhanced easily and with that the success and performance. Also, if the team is led, advised and monitored by someone who is aware of crucial and critical issues when working with an international team, it is likely to attain their common goals quickly and efficient.
Yet, besides all the potential advantages of international teams it is still appropriate to mention, that difficulties in communication, personal differences and different approaches towards work likely cause higher costs and effort before leading to higher performance.
But if a team is able to take the right approach on their work, the members can overcome their personal priorities and differences and use cultural overlaps to their advantage while discarding prior stereotypes. What most likely plays a major role in international team work is proper cultural training to foster each member’s cross-cultural awareness, prior to the assignment. Especially the leading person of the team will profit from such education and contribute to the team’s success.