Cross-Cultural Team Building

Fundamentals, practices, and reliability

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2012

29 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of contents


1 The multicultural team
1.1 Types of teams
1.2 Building a team: additional criteria to team distinctions
1.3 Teamwork models
1.4 The effective team and its team skills
1.5 The ineffective team and its symptoms
1.6 Multicultural team dynamics
1.7 Issues and problems in multicultural teams

2 Cross-cultural team building
2.1 Its stages
2.2 Its objectives
2.3 Its practices

3 Review on cross-cultural team building
3.1 A teams´ effectiveness
3.2 The effectiveness of cross-cultural team building
3.3 Summary



As team building is in fashion and the market of team building interventions is huge, the demand of international growing organisations and the evolving cross-cultural element is rising. Thus, we have to pay extraordinary attention to intercultural teams with the help of team building. Do we? The following article will examine the definition of teams – what they are and what they are not, how they could differ and which differences need to be taken into account on multi-cultural team building processes. This paper is an approach to explore its fundamentals, practices and its reliability.

In chapter one the fundamentals of teams, team dynamics and multicultural teams will be discussed in detail. The second chapter highlights the cross-cultural team stages, the team building process and its interventions to understand how to move from a multicultural to a cross-cultural team. Therefore, it will examine an overview of cross-cultural team building measures in its vast scope of team building providers in chapter two. Moreover, chapter three should discuss research and results on the effectiveness of team building measures and possibly necessary methods to maintain the effects of team building events. It will be discussed what has to be taken into account to create team building programs as well as advantages and disadvantages and results on the effectiveness of team building programs.

As the terms cross-cultural, intercultural and multicultural are relevant to the understanding and not randomly utilised, this distinction has to be defined more precisely: multicultural can be understood as a team including several cultures. The term cross-cultural refers to an involving or bridging of differences between cultures that focuses on the process, like teambuilding does. In addition, intercultural means the consistence of or the involving or representing of different cultures in a team. Where the term cross-cultural refers to the interaction between individuals from different cultures the term multi-cultural refers more or less only to the cultural diversity. Based on this definition cross-cultural team building is used in multi-cultural teams to build intercultural teams.

1 The multicultural team

A team is more than a group. It can be defined as “an interdependent collection of individuals who work together towards a common goal and who share responsibility for specific outcomes of their organisations.” (Sundström et al. 1990, p. 120). It should be highlighted that a group has two or more members with a common leader who performs independent jobs with individual accountability, evaluation and rewards. In contrast, a team is a set of individuals, who are governed by common leadership; who perform independent jobs with individual and group accountability, evaluation and rewards. (Natarajan 2012, par. 1-2)

Based on researches by Mabey and Caird (1994, p. 7-9) the main characteristics of a team are:

- Two or more members
- Members contribute their respective competences, within interdependent roles, towards shared goals
- Team identity, which is distinct from its members' individual identities
- Established ways of communicating both within the team and with external teams
- Explicit, tank and goal oriented, with an organized and purposeful structure
- Periodical reviews of its effectiveness

Mabey and Caird (1994, p. 8) mention that tasks and goals, set by a team, could mostly not be achieved by its individuals due to constraints on time and resources. It implies that none of its individuals possesses all the relevant competences and know-how. However, which are the internal and external factors that help decide about working in a group or a team? The authors (Mabey and Caird 1994, 9) summarise:

When to work alone or in groups When to build team

For simple tasks or 'puzzles'. For highly complex tasks or 'problems'.

When cooperation is sufficient. When consensus decisions are essential.

When minimum discretion required. When a high level of choice and uncertainty is involved.

When fast decisions are needed. When high commitment is needed.

When few competences are required. When a broad range of competences is required.

When member interests are inherently conflicting. Where member objectives can be galvanized.

Where the organization credits its Where the organization rewards team

individuals for operational outputs. results for strategy and vision building.

When innovative responses are sought. When balanced views are sought.

Based on these findings and definitions it could be distinguished between different types of teams under consideration of distinct criteria.

1.1 Types of teams

The most relevant factor within cross-cultural team building is the distinction in relation to the criteria diversity. Adler and Gundersen (2008, p. 132-135) distinguish:

- Homogeneous teams: all team member having the same cultural background
- Multicultural teams: team members coming from more than one culture

Moreover, multicultural teams could be divided into three types (Adler and Gundersen 2008, p. 132-135):

- Token teams: only a single member, the so-called token, has a culturally differing background
- Bicultural teams: team members represent two distinct cultures
- Multicultural teams: many diverse groups represented with members with a minimum of three cultures

1.2 Building a team: additional criteria to team distinctions

Teams can be distinguished by task and interaction, time, size, selection of members and leadership, which have a crucial impact on team dynamics and the issues that should be considered in building a team. Following, the most important factors are presented:

Task and interaction (Thomas/ Inksen 2004, p. 135)

- Crews: members share the same positions or/ and supervisors but they have more or less independent tasks
- Teams: team members work together and depend on the knowledge of all members
- Task forces: members create a group based on a specific issue that needs to be solved; task forces are terminated with the completion of a task

Presence ( Thomas/ Inksen 2004, p. 134)

- Present team: physical meetings and direct communication of all team members in one place
- Virtual team: virtual meetings, communication via telephone and electronic media

The Team Building Portal (2009 b) offers a more detailed division of virtual teams: 1) the international virtual team that typically interacts across continents and countries, which are almost always cross-cultural teams that collaborate on a common task. 2) virtual teams within the same country or city that use telecommuting to coordinate their work.

In regard of time, teams could be distinguished in short- or long-term.

Concerning the size of a team it is useful to state it more precisely

- 3 person: one person can feel excluded; ≠ ties
- 4 person: possible to split into 2 equal coalitions
- 5 person: able to use the majority rule; individuals are less likely to be isolated
- 6 or more: communication becomes increasingly difficult – team needs a dedicated person

An additional team-building factor is the selection of members; whether they were chosen freely or it has been imposed on them. Imposed selection can base on ascription or organizational hierarchy, as well as task requirements.

Regarding leadership, teams might differ as follows: they have either one leader, a rotating leader, no leader, a self-selected or imposed leader, or a leader deployed by group decision. This person may be chosen due to attribution or achievement.

All these facts have to be considered designing team-building measures, because they impact on team dynamics and arising issues in teams.

1.3 Teamwork models

In general, there are three teamwork models, which differ in management style, mode of operation and team member composition:

- Efficiency model: Breaking down everything; bringing it back together; single leader in control (often a “hierarchy model”)
- Mentoring model: Everyone does everything together; stronger members help the weaker members
- Matrix Model: Interdependent teams; groups form as needed and change their membership/ roles as required by the task

The teamwork model basically represents the philosophy of the organisation and has to be considered carefully in the planning process of team-building measures. Hence, before designing teams the facilitator needs to analyse the existing team structure and model in regards to its status quo and its efficiency. Then it needs to be decided whether to redesign or rebuild it in consultation with the CEO, sponsors and/ or team and project leaders.

1.4 The effective team and its team skills

In his book, Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman (1997, quoted in Adler 2008, par. 4) offers a good definition of team skills. He understands it as the ability to inspire, influence and develop others while managing a conflict. But there can be much more added. Duncan Brodie (2009) identified eight key characteristics of an effective team:

1- Care for each other: genuine interest in each other and their success and fulfilment
2- Openness and truthfulness: saying all that needs to be said in order to help the team achieving results
3- High levels of trust: trust amongst the team members and their work have a positive influence on results
4- Consensus decisions: decisions are made for the best win-win outcome for the team
5- Commitment: Doing what it takes to get the results you want
6- Address the conflict: it is seen by team members as healthy to address and work through conflicts
7- Real listening: focussing the attention to the communicator instead of being led by your own agenda
8- Express feelings: provide a safe and courageous space to express feelings without fear and ridicule

1.5 The ineffective team and its symptoms

The Team Building Portal (2009 a) suggests an assessment of ineffective teams takes place on two levels:

a) The process itself and the behavioural aspects of teamwork
b) The output from the teamwork and performance of the team

This leads to following symptoms of ineffective teams, which are inevitable to act on:

- Friction and disagreements
- Hearing complaints or gossip from various sources
- Lack of loyalty towards one another
- Attention and energy focused outside of the teams objectives
- Team members being absent from work/scheduled team meetings
- Poor co-ordination of team activities, disorganized and chaotic handling of tasks
- Falling behind on deadlines or inability to meet targets
- Drop in the efficiency or productivity level of the team

Lacking role clarity, the absence of clear-cut goals, poor leadership, inadequate training, varying work styles or poor planning can be reasons for the ineffectiveness of a team.


Excerpt out of 29 pages


Cross-Cultural Team Building
Fundamentals, practices, and reliability
European University Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder)  (Intercultural Communication Studies)
Intercultural Management
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
531 KB
cross-cultural team building, intercultural team building, team building, team dynamics, team types
Quote paper
Diplom-Kommunikationspsychologin Alexandra Mietusch (Author), 2012, Cross-Cultural Team Building, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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