How to Encourage Employee Engagement in Multicultural Meetings

With the growing trend towards globalization, increasing jobs and career opportunities in companies with global operations, plus socio-economic developments like the ASEAN integration, we are finding multicultural workplaces more of a norm rather than an exception.

How do you ensure synergy among team members coming from different backgrounds or contexts?

Here are some tips to help everyone get on board:

  1. Establish culture sensitivity.

    To elicit active engagement of team members, be mindful of varying cultural backgrounds.

    For example, Asian colleagues may have different ways of working with and dealing with managers and clients who are biologically older, compared to their counterparts from Western countries. There may also be cultural and religious restrictions among colleagues coming from Middle Eastern countries in terms of dealing with clients or managers of the opposite sex.

    Learn about a country's professional practices, adjust your management style to suit each context, and also encourage each employee to learn more about the unique backgrounds their colleagues are coming from, to adjust accordingly. Most importantly, emphasize that having a multicultural team is an asset, given the diversity of perspectives and expertise each one brings to the table.

  2. Build a culture of respect and trust.

    Invest in strengthening team cohesion through teambuilding activities, and other opportunities to know one another.

    For instance, scheduling weekly activities where the whole team can learn from each colleague how to prepare their country's traditional dishes, or learning the basics of their language and practices. Knowing your team individually is crucial in any culture, and all the more crucial when your team is multicultural.

    When there is group cohesion, cultural barriers tend to be broken down to the point that these won't be an issue anymore. You need to be able to discern up to what degree one's culture is an issue for each team member. For instance, if a colleague comes from a patriarchal culture and she still cannot assert her opinions and ideas in the presence of her male counterparts, you need to find a way to support her that would help her be comfortable in sharing her thoughts. One strategy that works is breaking a large group meeting into smaller groups, wherein individuals are more at ease in sharing their thoughts.

  3. Set cultural norms as a team.

    Establish clear expectations among your team members that although different cultural norms are respected, you still need to operate optimally to reach your team vision and goals.

    For example, some of your colleagues may come from cultures where punctuality is not a common practice and you think it is important to start and end meetings on time. Give concrete examples where punctuality worked to the team's advantage in terms of productivity, as well as consequences of tardiness.

    Be firm that there are clear deal breakers when violating such protocols. Establishing a certain structure and protocol as your team's cultural norm can help overcome issues that are brought about by varying cultural contexts.

    In situations where most team members would choose to remain passive because cultural norms serve as a hindrance, having the protocol of soliciting each one's idea for important discussions and decisions would help draw out everyone's insight.

Managing multicultural teams may at times be a daunting challenge, especially when conflicts arise from differences in perspective and ways of working. The key is in being mindful of cultural backgrounds, encouraging respect and trust in one another, and being firm in setting your own cultural norm that aim to harmonize seemingly conflicting factors. Creating a team culture that works for everyone helps encourage employee engagement, especially during your day-to-day team meetings.

At the end of each work day, integrating diversity and inclusion in the workplace moves the team closer to achieving the results they want, powered by a strong multicultural teamwork.

When you have been working with your team for a substantial amount of time and are familiar with each other, it is sometimes easy to get trapped in our comfort zones. What if new team members get on board? Follow our blog to read our next post on 3 Ways to Help People Step Out of Their Cultural Comfort Zones During Meetings.

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