The multicultural team as a working model

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More and more professionals are becoming part of a multicultural team, overcoming the most diverse linguistic and cultural barriers

It is Monday. A Monday that is perhaps a little leaden, because winter in these latitudes ends up being grey and monotonous for someone who has been witnessing the same seasonal episode for several decades. Let’s be honest, nobody is surprised by the tenth day in a row of rain and bone-wrenching cold, no matter how beautiful this little spectacle is. We all agree on that. But then, of course, there comes a certain day; yes, that day when someone more clever – or at least quicker than you to find out about things – brings up the subject: a new colleague at work who is starting tomorrow and who doesn’t even speak your language. God help us all, you say to yourself. Drama aside, there’s a rather peculiar guy in the room. An exotic halo combined with a style straight out of an Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue and, above all, a gaze that explores your monotonous surroundings as if it were a unique spectacle. Oh, my friend, the day has come when your team changes morphology and evolves like a chrysalis – we hope Darwin will forgive the reference – towards a working model where your way of understanding yourself will never be the same again; you are now part of a multicultural team. Dust off your English, it’s your turn to run on the sidelines.

That’s right, in the midst of the year 2022, sharing a job – not always a workplace – with a colleague born 7,000 kilometres away is becoming more common than strange. Hands up who doesn’t know someone who speaks highly of their Mexican colleagues and their characteristic positivity, as well as their ability to spice up their breakfast. What relative of yours hasn’t told you how enriching their experience was with those colleagues who landed from China for a meeting and had to explain to them why on earth they were taken to eat in a place where a gentleman dressed up to the nines was cutting dried meat from a hanging pig’s foot – how demonic this ham thing sounds when it lacks context…. So that’s it, differences that add up.

Anecdotes aside, the 20th century was a golden age for globalisation, which the 21st century has been able to exploit thanks to the full irruption of technology in all its splendour. This has had a major impact on the way we work and on companies’ recruitment and expansion models. More and more professionals are working with people who have little or nothing in common with them, with the resulting personal enrichment. Whether in an email thread – the kind that is hard to follow even if you have a master’s degree in criminology – , in a video call that connects Kuala Lumpur with Utah and Ólvega, or in a factory where the hamaiketako – a typical Basque lunch – exhibits a variety that makes the canonical cold meat sandwich languish; more and more professionals carry out their functions in a multicultural team.

But what are the real advantages of this working model, if any at all? Well, that’s easy. Imagine an environment that takes you out of your comfort zone and incorporates a new look -still shocked by the frugal pintxo bar on the corner- into your daily challenges as an employee of an organisation. Culinary issues aside, teams made up of people of different nationalities are a boon for developing different solutions to everyday problems. That this is a success story in itself would be a fallacy of biblical proportions – let’s not exaggerate either – but it translates into a contribution in many areas, starting with team cohesion.

Every self-respecting modern organisation knows the virtues of working in teams – rather the sheer necessity of doing so – leaving individual goals behind to focus on what might be called organisational goals. But of course, it is not always the case that such multicultural practices and teams can result in success stories on their own. The pieces of this complex sociological puzzle must fit together as perfectly as possible in order to be able to exploit their full potential; that is the real challenge.

 

 

Well, now it’s time to talk about the downsides. Did you think there were no downsides? The first barrier in a multicultural team is communication. What about those funny accents or that not-so-funny lack of ability to make ourselves understood in another language without sounding like our tongues have gone numb. Think of our understanding of authority and hierarchy and how other cultures take this idea to extremes we did not know about. Or, without going any further, the time barriers to share decisions with someone who, if you are teleworking, is more than 10 hours away from your office by plane. But what would human beings become without challenges? Well, this is where the real contributions of such a diverse team come to light. The way to solve these problems results in a magic word in the workplace: innovation. Innovation as a result of the company’s ability to integrate.

Sometimes, the multicultural team ends up being a catalyst that leads to an innovative methodology: isn’t it innovative to mix words in different languages to make ourselves understood? The small details of a different culture activate a series of stimuli in our brains that take us out of the everyday routine to explore solutions that until recently we had not even considered. Your way of working and understanding your environment has probably changed slightly. There you have the result. You are now part of a multicultural team.

And you, what do you think of all this?

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