Multicultural workplaces: 7 ways to make them work

Today, people work in global offices with colleagues of different worldviews, religions, and attitudes. It is important to know the cultural differences and how they affect team dynamics, communication and management style. Multicultural workplaces also offer a wealth of new experiences and opportunities for personal growth. Here are 7 ways to improve multicultural relationships in your workplace.

1. Make it okay to ask questions. Some people may feel that they cannot ask a person where they are from for fear of being offensive or being seen as racist in some way. This can prevent communication, team effort, and even friendship from happening. Encourage people to talk about their background and culture. Most misunderstandings stem from a lack of communication. If you can ask each other questions, then growing in the relationship will allow you to work together more effectively.

2. Learn about the countries and cultures of others. Many people want to travel to exotic places and experience a different culture. But today, there might be someone from one of those countries in the office. Put a map on the wall and pin it linked to photos of your team members so you can see where people are from. Encourage people to add information and other images to the screen and use it as a topic for group conversation.

3. Be respectful and open-minded. Cultural differences can sometimes be confusing or misinterpreted. Be respectful of the way other people work and interact. Try to learn from them instead of considering their best and criticizing them. Apologize if you feel like you might have offended someone, and ask how you can behave more appropriately in the future. Re-discuss workplace discrimination and build understanding.

4. Celebrate the holidays of other cultures. Festivals and celebrations are a great way to learn about other cultures. Have a lunchtime gathering where you share some traditional food and discuss what the festival means. People are the same deep down and festivals often reflect what is important to all cultures: family, faith, children, honoring the past, and looking to the future.

5. Create cultural awareness fact sheets. If your company employs people from other countries, please provide them with some material on what it is like to work in your company and in your country. If you send employees abroad to meetings or conferences, they should also know how to work in those cultures. For example, what is the usual greeting within each culture? These worksheets will help provide context for interactions and allow for easier working relationships.

6. Treat people as individuals. Culture does not define a person and cultural stereotypes can also be responsible for more misunderstandings. Don’t jump to conclusions just because someone is from a certain place. Get to know people as individuals regardless of their culture.

7. Identify gaps in your own knowledge. We are all a work in progress and we can always learn more. Identify what you don’t know about your coworkers and their culture. What can you learn about your own culture that affects the way you work? How can you improve the situation so that your team can work together more effectively?

“Understand the differences; act on the common ground” – Andrew Masondo, African National Congress

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