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Intercultural Team Building

Internal business structures have been radically transformed over the past few decades. Changes in areas such as communication and transportation technology and shifts towards global interdependency have resulted in companies becoming increasingly international and therefore intercultural.

In addition, the need to 'go global' and to cut outgoings is demanding that companies combine protecting international interests whilst keeping down staff numbers. The solution in most cases has been the forming of intercultural teams.

As with all businesses, success depends upon effective cooperation and communication within teams. The intercultural dimension of today's teams however brings with it new challenges. Successful team building not only involves the traditional needs to harmonise personalities but also languages, cultures, ways of thinking, behaviours and motivations.

Intercultural teams have an inherent disadvantage. Cultural differences can lead to communication problems, unpredictability, low team cohesion, mistrust, stress and eventually poor results. However, intercultural teams can in fact be very positive entities. The combination of different perspectives, views and opinions can lead to an enhanced quality of analysis and decision making while team members develop new skills in global awareness and intercultural communication.

In reality this best case scenario is seldom witnessed. More often than not, intercultural teams do not fulfil their potential. The root cause for this is that when intercultural teams are formed, people with different frameworks of understanding are brought together and expected to naturally gel. Without a common framework of understanding, for example in matters such as status, decision making, communication etiquette, this is very difficult and thus necessitates outside help to commix the team.

Intercultural or cross cultural training is one method of helping to blend a team together. Through analysis of the cultures involved in a team, their particular approaches to communication and business and how the team interacts, intercultural team builders are able to find, suggest and use common ground to assist team members in building harmonious relationships.

Intercultural training sessions look at helping a team to realise their differences and similarities in areas such as status, hierarchy, decision making, conflict resolution, showing emotion and relationship building. These are then used to create mutually agreed upon structures of communication and interaction. From this basis, teams are then tutored how to recognise future communication difficulties and their cultural roots, empowering the team to become more self reliant. The end result is a more cohesive and productive team.

In conclusion, for intercultural teams to succeed, managers and HR personnel need to be attuned to the need for intercultural training to help cultivate harmonious relationships. Companies must be supportive, proactive and innovative if they wish to reap the potential benefits intercultural teams can offer. This goes beyond financing and creating technological links to bring together intercultural teams at surface level and going back to basics by fostering better interpersonal communication. If international businesses are to grow and prosper in this ever contracting world, intercultural synergy must be a priority.

Neil Payne is Managing Director of Kwintessential Ltd. For more information please visit http://www.kwintessential.co.uk/ cross-cultural/training.html

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