Handling change is challenging on its own, and managing a multicultural team through change makes it even more difficult. This can be especially challenging for the team leader. So, how can you ensure success in such a situation?
If you're a leader who wants to effectively implement change in an international team, it's worth paying attention to the following before you start:
Understanding the "reflexive" reactions of people in response to changes, which are influenced by the national culture in which they were raised.
Understanding the culture of the organization you work for, as well as the unwritten rules of behavior in specific situations, particularly during change.
Recognizing the conflicts and synergies that arise from national and cultural diversity in your organization.
It is essential to keep in mind that combining various cultures, nationalities, and social groups can be a complex matter that is heavily influenced by national characteristics. We often neglect this on a day-to-day basis.
The most significant differences lie in the way of expressing emotions, both verbally and non-verbally, establishing relationships, approaching hierarchies and authorities, and ultimately, dealing with goals and people. This is all rooted in culture, including both formal and informal norms.
Cultural Types - The Lewis Model
There are many models and theories about the dynamics of multiculturalism and cross-cultural communication. One of the leading ones is the model developed by the British expert on cultures and languages, Richard D. Lewis, which has gained recognition all over the world. This model is considered the most practical and the easiest to use in everyday communication today.
When this model was created
The Lewis Model of Culture (de. Lewis modell der Kulturen, fr. modèle de Lewis culture) was developed in the 1990s and was published in Richard D. Lewis' bestseller. "When Cultures Collide: Leading Across Cultures" (1996).
This cross-cultural model is based on data from 50,000 directors participating in the in-house research sessions and more than 150,000 online questionnaires prepared for 68 different nationalities. In the Lewis Model culture is based NOT on nationality, economic development, or religion - it is based on BEHAVIOR.
Lewis himself has visited 135 countries and has worked in over 20 of them. He also speaks 10 European and 2 Asian languages.
What are cultural type categories defined in this model
The Lewis Model defines three main categories and they are described as follows:
Multi-active: extrovert, speaks more than hears, people-oriented, social, has divisive attention, can interrupt and disturb, shows affection and willingly talks about them, displays expressive body language and gestures, makes general plans, has a flexible approach to the concept of truth, easily combines personal and professional life.
Reactive: introvert, listens more often than talks, does not interrupt, does not disturb, composed, silent, patient, good listener, limited body language, indirect, hides feelings, does not like to oppose, a good name is a matter of honor, introduces small changes, calm, punctual, people-oriented, values diplomacy more than truthfulness, takes own goals very seriously.
Linear–active: introvert, both listens and speaks, has undivided attention, is structured but firm and specific, displays limited body language and gestures, plans actions step by step, sometimes impatient, sticks to facts, refers to logic, cares about own good name, respects the law, values truth more than diplomacy, likes privacy, separates personal life from professional life.
On this basis, Lewis created a comprehensive model in which he placed all the major nationalities of the world on a single scale. Linear active, multi-active, and reactive types have been placed on a single graph that constitutes the so-called Culture Triangle.
Knowing this "key" you can analyze situations that seem surprising and incomprehensible to you. And if you find no other reasons, there is a high probability that the misunderstandings are due to cultural differences.
Interactions between the main culture types
Lewis has developed a model that identifies the dominant features of each cultural type and shows how members of each type interact with one another. The Lewis Model diagram is a simple yet effective tool that provides valuable insight into these interactions. Moreover, the statistical confirmation of the information presented on the diagram adds to its credibility.
Building international teams
Richard Lewis and his team conducted research on a group of managers working in a multicultural environment. They also created a catalog of the most distinctive features of major nationalities, which included a list of their strengths and weaknesses. This information is incredibly precise and valuable, as it provides insight into the interactions and conflicts we can expect in an international team. The unique behaviors, convictions, and focus points of each nationality can be immediately understood through this catalog.
Despite team members being united by a common corporate vision and company values, national culture and upbringing have a stronger and more deeply rooted influence. The emotional influence of culture is much stronger than the rational influence of company values. While all team members may accept the company values on a rational level, their cultural backgrounds still have a significant impact on their behaviors and actions.
Main nationalities of the Western world - examples of the characteristics
Americans - action-oriented, able to put plans into practice, simplify matters, focus on quick profits, think in large-scale categories, are not afraid to take risks, are willing to invest, enterprising, concrete, good at planning sales and marketing, monitor budgets well, energetic and enthusiastic.
The British - calm and phlegmatic, diplomatic, like to play the role of referees, can solve problems creatively, are "conciliatory", that is, avoid conflicts and irritations, think long-term, good administrators, like to manage a meeting or a team, believe that you have to be "fair".
French - logical visionaries, full of ideas, intelligently lead the team, used to develop a conceptual and comprehensive approach to the project.
The Dutch - are always busy, they work fast, are aware that business opportunities should not be missed, easily identify weaknesses, good organizers, and do not like to waste time. Be able to assess problems from an international perspective; democratic, stubborn in searching
Spaniards - full of warmth and vitality, visionaries, focus on ideas and ideals, effective in persuasion, often resolve conflicts through mediation, loyal team members when appreciated. When needed - they work many hours without a break.
Germans - pay attention to technical details, plan distant matters, have general competencies, stick to plans and deadlines, easily identify difficulties, and try to anticipate problems that may arise in the future.
Swedes - Logical and practical, they have a good understanding and analysis of processes, laws, and rules; they use compromise solutions in "no way out" situations. They remain calm and polite in conflict situations, are strong in planning technical details, and always consult others.
Italians - Visionary, good in interpersonal relations, they can often "glue" even difficult teams, conduct disputes and discussions perfectly, especially among Latinos, flexible, reasonable, never disregard seemingly less important matters, they can work at different times depending on the needs.
Strengths and weaknesses of different nationalities from all over the world
Here is a breakdown of national strengths and weaknesses compiled by Richard Lewis' Team. It is worth paying special attention to the position of "Chinese in exile".
The concept of horizons by Richard D. Lewis
Lewis and his team undertake highly intricate work. His writing on multiculturalism clearly showcases his strong commitment to this topic. It's noteworthy that his book is a comprehensive 600-page tome, featuring over 100 distinct diagrams and charts.
One of his quotes that stands out is:
Our genes, our parental and educational training, our societal rules, our very language, enable us to see only so far—as far as our horizon. We can broaden our horizon to some degree by living in other countries; learning foreign languages; and reading books on philosophy, psychology, other cultures and a variety of other subjects. Unless we make such efforts, our horizon remains a South African horizon, a Colombian horizon, an Egyptian horizon or one of many other worldviews. In other words, each cultural group enjoys a certain segment of experience, which is no more than a fraction of the total possible available experience. Benjamin Whorf believed that such segments of experience were limited by the vocabulary and concepts inherent in one’s language. By learning more languages, especially those with excitingly different concepts, we can widen our vision and gain deeper insight into the nature of reality. Many graduates in Romance studies feel enriched by being able to see the world through Spanish eyes or using French rationality. Scholars of Chinese or Japanese often develop two personalities when immersing themselves in one of these two languages.
Lewis aimed to create a simple method of organizing and categorizing the differences among cultures and nationalities. He also sought a way to overcome these differences. To achieve this, he introduced the concept of horizons, which are applicable both at the level of the three primary type categories and among individual nationalities. Each cultural type and nationality has specific characteristics that fall within its horizon and those that do not.
The key to resolving differences and finding common ground is to begin by fostering cooperation on the features that are common to both horizons. In the following section, we will explore three horizons that demonstrate the interactions between selected linear-active, multi-active, and reactive types.
Examples and practical implications of cross-cultural differences
When it comes to collaborating with people from different cultures, it's important to understand their communication styles and cultural norms. For example, if you're a Pole working with an Englishman or a Japanese person, there are some important things to keep in mind.
Poles may find it difficult to work with Japanese people who value indirectness and avoiding confrontation. Japanese culture also places a strong emphasis on respecting authority figures, so it's important to be mindful of this when giving feedback to a supervisor.
When working with British people, it's important to remember that they often use sarcasm and humor in their communication. If you take their statements literally, you may misunderstand their true intentions. To illustrate this point, refer to the table below.
Practical lessons from working in a multicultural environment
While I am not an expert on multiculturalism, my over 20 years of experience in a multinational corporation and interaction with diverse social groups have taught me a few important lessons. Successful cooperation and social interaction require qualities such as patience, tolerance, a willingness to learn and understand, and the readiness to ask for help/advice from others. It also means allowing yourself to make mistakes and quickly learning from them. Paradoxically, in a goal-oriented business world, achieving the goal takes a backseat. This is because the more we focus on achieving it, the more resistance we will encounter.
So, in multicultural and cross-cultural business HOW matters more than WHAT, WHO, and WHEN.
Richard D. Lewis "When Cultures Collide. Leading Across Cultures", Nicholas Brealey Int., London, 2006
Misunderstandings in the workplace stem from cognitive biases, not just multiculturalism and lack of international experience.
On the Empowerment Coaching portal, we have dedicated
a special section to cognitive biases. There you will find, among others, the Library of the 50 Most Common Cognitive Biases
developed in the form of infographics.
These memes are free to download and distribute.
In addition to the cognitive biases library, in our dedicated section, you will also find comprehensive information explaining what cognitive bias is and how to identify and eliminate your cognitive heuristics.
Perhaps we owe a general definition of what the culture is. A culture is a way of life of a group of people. The five aspects of culture are:
values and beliefs,
informal and formal norms.
These aspects shape all other customs. In human society, you may find various culture categories, e.g.: high, low, folk, popular, mass, and material culture. Culture can be thoughts of social influence and it must be social. Without it, there is no concept of culture.
High Culture refers to cultural products which are perceived by some to be the pinnacle of creative achievement and thus to have a higher status in society. The concept of high culture was introduced by Matthew Arnold who defined culture as “the disinterested endeavor after man’s perfection”, which is obtained by the effort to “know the best that has been said and thought in the world” (1869).
Low culture is a derogatory term used to refer to cultures that are seen as inferior or of low or no value.
Folk Culture refers to the everyday practices of ordinary local people, often rooted in long-standing traditions.
Popular Culture or Mass Culture refers to cultural products manufactured by entrepreneurs and media companies in modern capitalist societies that are produced for mass consumption.
A preoccupation with materialism is typical of the Western world, especially the United States. Material objects play an important role and determine a person's social status.