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The Impact of Cultural Diversity on Virtual Teams

I have written a number of articles on cultural diversity and virtual teams.  Some of those articles have focused on best practices and others on challenges. In this article, I’d like to present a few common challenges I have observed at client sites and provide a few tips and best practices on addressing those challenges.

Consider this risk planning! If you are aware of these challenges before they occur on your virtual team, you’ll be better prepared to put in place processes, procedures, and best practices and train your virtual team to prevent them from occurring.

Challenge of Cultural Diversity on Virtural Teams
  • Miscommunications betweeen team members
  • Lack of understanding of others’ cultures
  • Making assumptions based on cultural identity
  • Expecting others to adapt to the team leader
  • Not understanding what encompasses diversity in others
  • Not fully engaging all members of the team

Key tips for addresssing the avoiding or addressing the challenges listed above include the team leader doing the following:

Schedule an introductory team meeting. The meeting should be scheduled ideally before the project kicks off officially. This enables for time for the team members to get to know each other and become comfortable and confident in working together. During this session, which ideally will be a face-to-face or virtual meeting, the team leader, or an external facilitator should spend much of the time on team building activities and activities that give team members an understanding of the cultural backgrounds of their team mates.

Provide cultural diveristy training. As part of kicking off the virtual team, provide training in working across cultural boundaries. This enables the team members to get a better understanding of the individuals with whom they will be working and enables for building strong relationships and increased understanding of how to work across cultural boundaries early on in the project. This reduces conflicts, improves communications and enables for increased collaboration. The more strategic and complex the initiative, the more essential it is to provide this training to team members.

Collaboratively developing processes, procedures and best practices for working together. In order to engage all team members, the team leader should work with the team, or through a facilitator, to collaboratively develop processes for working together. This includes how team members will communicate, how meetings will be scheduled, roles and responsibilities, how problems will be solved and conflicts resolved, and how decisions will be made.

We can more easily overcome any of these challenges – and prevent them in the first place – when we appreciate, value and embrace diversity on our virtual teams and enable our team members to do the same by spending time in activities that enable team members to get to know one another.

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