Intercultural Communication in Teams

Teams are becoming ever more heterogeneous, as the team members often hail from different countries and cultures. Consequently, intercultural communication is becoming more and more important, especially in the context of work. In this article, the participants will learn what “culture” means exactly. The article deals with the most important cultural dimensions from the works of Geert Hofstede and E. T. Hall. The participants will also learn how to become more aware of cultural differences and will receive valuable leadership tools with which to manage intercultural teams. The aim of the article is to enhance the intercultural skills of the participants.

Intercultural Communication in Teams
Intercultural Communication in Teams

Content Summary

Objectives
What is culture?
Sensitization to cultural differences
Misunderstandings in intercultural communication
Avoid intercultural misunderstandings
Key message

Objectives

  • Learn cultural definitions from the works of Geert Hofstede and Edward T. Hall
  • Develop sensitivity to cultural differences
  • Understand the causes of misunderstandings in intercultural teams
  • Apply management tools to manage intercultural teams
  • Develop and extend intercultural skills

What is culture?

The iceberg model by Edward T. Hall

Gain an overview of important cultural expressions using the iceberg model.

Dimensions of culture
Dimensions of culture

Visible part:

  • Clothing
  • Architecture
  • Food
  • Language
  • Music

Invisible part:

  • Standards
  • Values
  • Opinions
  • Attitudes

Question 1

What is Edward T. Hall’s cultural model?
(One answer is correct)

A. Role model.
B. Iceberg model.
C. Tree model.

Correct Answer:
B. Iceberg model.

Question 2

What does the iceberg model express?
(One answer is correct)

A. A large part of cultural expressions is visible.
B. One cannot see culture.
C. A large part of cultural expressions is not visible.

Correct Answer:
C. A large part of cultural expressions is not visible.

Question 3

Invisible cultural expressions are…
(One answer is correct)

A. … standards, values, opinions, and attitudes.
B. … language, clothing, and music.
C. … architecture, and food.

Correct Answer:
A. … standards, values, opinions, and attitudes.

Sensitization to cultural differences

Do you know these cultural dimensions?

Question 1

How can cultures differ significantly as per Geert Hofstede?
(Two answers is correct)

A. How to handle distribution of power.
B. How to work with scare resources.
C. How to work with unknown situations and unexpected events.

Correct Answer:
A. How to handle distribution of power.
C. How to work with unknown situations and unexpected events.

Question 2

The cultural dimension of “Understanding of time” by Edward T. Hall differentiates between…
(One answer is correct)

A. … polychronic and monochronic cultures.
B. … cultures with a low or high context.
C. … cultures with a high or low information speed.

Correct Answer:
A. … polychronic and monochronic cultures.

Question 3

What are the risks in using the cultural dimensions by Geert Hofstede and Edward T. Hall?
(One answer is correct)

A. Cultural assessments are sometimes too differentiated.
B. Cultural differences are rarely addressed.
C. Cultures are stereotyped.

Correct Answer:
C. Cultures are stereotyped.

Misunderstandings in intercultural communication

Do you recognize the sources of cultural misunderstanding?

Direct communication style:

  • Yes/No answers
  • Precise formulations
  • High factual orientation

Indirect communication style:

  • General formulations
  • Small talk
  • Personal relations

Authoritarian management style: Decision processes outside the team

Anti-authoritarian management style: Decision processes with the team

Exact time information: Monochoric time understanding

Approximate guidelines: Polychronic time understanding

Absolute honesty value: Unmerciful honesty

Relative honesty value: Polite dishonesty

Native speaker: Intuitive use of language

Non-native speaker: Non-intuitive use of language

Do you know the misunderstandings that lurk in intercultural communication?

Question 1

What causes of cultural misunderstandings have you learned?
(Three answers are correct)

A. Language related misunderstanding.
B. Dissimilar roles.
C. Dissimilar time behavior.
D. Dissimilar communication styles.

Correct Answer:
A. Language related misunderstanding.
C. Dissimilar time behavior.
D. Dissimilar communication styles.

Question 2

Which different management styles frequently cause cultural misunderstandings?
(One answer is correct)

A. Implicit vs. explicit management style.
B. Loud vs. low key management style.
C. Authoritarian versus anti-authoritarian management style.

Correct Answer:
C. Authoritarian versus anti-authoritarian management style.

Avoid intercultural misunderstandings

Five recommendations for good communication in intercultural teams

  • Develop an understanding of your own cultural characteristics.
  • Gain knowledge about the cultures of your employees and colleagues.
  • Mirror your counterpart.
  • Repeat what you’ve said, or have them repeat it.
  • Use simple language.

Create cultural profiles

The following template gives you an example of a cultural profile that you can expand as much as you’d like. If you don’t know the cultural background of your team members very well yet, then distribute this profile. Ask your team to fill out this profile and to present it at the next team meeting.

  1. What are people in my country like?
  2. What is typical of my country?
  3. What do others think is typical of my country?
  4. What were the most important events in my country in the past twelve months?
  5. What does my current job mean to me?
  6. What hobbies do I have, and what hobbies are pursued in my region?
  7. What was the most important personal event for me in recent months?

Transfer Task

Reflect on the effect various cultures have on your everyday work. Take your time and reflect on your experiences with other cultures in the work context.

  • Think about what culture-related misunderstandings and challenges you’ve already dealt with.
  • You’ve learned about five suggestions in this chapter to help manage intercultural teams. Now try to apply your newly-gained knowledge. Develop solutions for daily challenges and develop strategies with which you can help prevent cultural misunderstandings in the future.

Learn how to avoid intercultural misunderstandings

Question 1

What tips have you learned in order to avoid cultural misunderstandings?
(Five answers are correct)

A. Know your own cultural characteristics.
B. Build knowledge about the team member’s culture.
C. Have statements repeated or summarized.
D. Suspend your own culture.
E. Use simple language.
F. Mirros your counterpart.

Correct Answer:
A. Know your own cultural characteristics.
B. Build knowledge about the team member’s culture.
C. Have statements repeated or summarized.
E. Use simple language.
F. Mirros your counterpart.

Question 2

Why is it important to understand one’s own cultural characteristics?
(One answer is correct)

A. So that the team can adjust better to the culture of the team leader.
B. So that we can recognize the cause of cultural misunderstandings more easily.
C. So that you can reduce the differences between team members faster.

Correct Answer:
B. So that we can recognize the cause of cultural misunderstandings more easily.

Key message

  • There are visible and invisible cultural characteristics.
  • Cultural dimensions sensitize for different cultural characteristics.
  • There are methods and tools to avoid cultural misunderstandings, or at least to reduce them.

Published by Silvia Emma

, helps boost confidence, impact, communication and presentation skills and image to create positive change in your business and life.