Team Building: How to Overcome Cultural Barriers

Building a team that understands and respects each other and works well together is essential for the success of a business. As workplaces become more diverse and technology allows us to more easily communicate with people around the world, cultural differences may become more apparent.

Cultural and language barriers can lead to miscommunication and, sometimes, disagreements and hurt feelings. At times, one party might not even know what they did to offend the other. That’s why making an effort to understand other cultures can create a more productive and positive work environment. Here’s how team building can be used to overcome cultural barriers.

Address Language Barriers

Not speaking the same language as someone you’re working with can cause obvious issues. Other times, miscommunications can be less obvious. People from different countries or regions or with different cultural background may speak differently even if you both use the same language.

If you’re working with someone with whom you have no language in common, it might be necessary to hire an interpreter. If you or the other person understands a language but is not fluent, you may want to brush up on some of the phrases you might need.

Make an extra effort to ensure that what you say is understood. Don’t speak loudly or forcefully. Just speak slowly, enunciate carefully and avoid using jargon. Check to make sure you understand something if you’re unsure.

If you’re talking with someone who speaks the same language as you but is from somewhere different, you may want to be on the lookout for language differences. English speakers from the UK tend to use understatements while Americans often exaggerate. If you’re unsure of the meaning of something, ask for clarification.

Prepare for Cultural Differences

We naturally view others’ actions through the lens of our own culture, which can lead to misunderstandings. If you’re going to be working with someone of a different culture, do your best to learn about the differences beforehand.

In Italy, it can be perfectly acceptable to show up to a meeting after its start time. In the U.S., you must be in the room and ready for the meeting to start before it’s set to begin or you’re considered late. On the other hand, Americans tend to be less formal with titles and usually use first names. In many Asian countries, using Mr. or Ms. and a last name is preferred.

Before getting upset when someone from a different culture does something you don’t expect or don’t like, consider whether a cultural difference could be the cause by doing some research. If it is, see if you can reach a compromise that allows you to work together while respecting each other’s cultures.

Promote Appreciation of Diversity

To build a cohesive team, strive to create a company culture that fosters an appreciation of diversity and understanding of other cultures.

Creating a company culture can be difficult. It requires more than just typing up a mission statement and handing it out to your employees. While it can’t be mandated, company culture can be influenced when you take an active role in developing it. Team building exercises that promote an appreciation of diversity can help.

To help create this culture, you could work to make different cultures a more apparent part of your workplace in a fun way. At a company party, you could have employees bring dishes that are important to their cultural background. You could have someone write an article in the company newsletter about a certain culture. You might consider holding cultural training and language instruction to employees who frequently interact with people in other countries.

Be Open-Minded

When working with people of different backgrounds, be open-minded. Cultural differences can be both subtle and obvious. Keeping these differences in mind can make communication go more smoothly, even when there are language and cultural barriers in place.

You might find that what you thought were barriers are useful due to the unique insights and diverse points of views they bring to your company.'

Author: Anum Yoon

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