The Impact of Cultural Differences on the Results of a Group Project

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Cultural differences are the most undermined aspect of working in a culturally rich environment. It is experienced initially as a Culture shock caused by the varying beliefs, values, demographics, and other such characteristics within a group. It is highly essential to address culture shocks caused in a group that works or functions together as otherwise, it may lead to causing Cultural Differences leading to low efficiency and productivity of people.

Experiencing Cultural Differences is a very natural phenomenon that is often complicated due to the non-understanding of different cultures. Thus, the key to working in a healthy culturally diverse environment is to understand the different cultures and backgrounds of people.

I have experienced Cultural Differences many times while traveling to USA, UK, and now while living in France. However, one incident where I experienced Cultural differences when I hardly even understood the intensity and depth of the important role it plays when working in a culturally rich group was back in high school. It was this incident that taught me how essential it is to know about various cultures you encounter while working within a group.

I was working on a group project which had people mostly from India but a few from the USA. As we were in the same class, we were all good friends and were excited to work on a project together. Little did we know, how important it was to know and understand the cultural background of each other before we start to work together as a team. Nobody realized that the culture we come from is going to direct each one of us into participating as individuals in a culturally diverse team. The project started with a small argument over the scheduling and planning of tasks. The students from the USA had a linear time approach where they believed in moving step by step and finishing one task at a time. Thus, their schedule for the project was quite different from the other students as the Indians believed in a flexible time approach where they take up a task when the opportunity arises and when the time comes to work on it. Their approach was more fluid in deciding the schedule of work. There were times when the USA students interrupted when someone else was presenting their idea because of which the other students did not feel comfortable at all. I remember when we discussed our outline of the project with the professor who was an Indian, she said “The idea and planning seem perfect, “however”, the incorporation of so many strategic models could lead to exceeding the word limit of the report.” The comment from the professor made all students really tense, but the American students were quite happy with their work as they couldn’t really understand what the professor was trying to point out in her recommendation as the culture that they come from is extremely direct in giving feedbacks and avoiding the “ifs” and “buts” while criticizing any work. I, then, decided to eliminate certain models from the project report which made the American students feel that I am removing elements on which they had worked hard. Those students got really furious and decided to confront everyone else about how they felt while working on this project. The confrontation did not go quite well and ended up in a huge argument between all students resulting in not being able to submit our report on time. Although my team was quite diverse which meant we could have made a report which had a very global approach and opinions, we were still graded really low. The professor had called all of us and asked us where we went wrong, and we explained to her the situation in which the report was made. That was when she made us understand that it was nothing but the cultural differences we experienced and ignored.

Many times, we do not understand the ways in which we can deal with such issues, and back then, clearly, none of us did. However, it taught me the importance of communicating with people from different cultures when working together as a team. Understanding the cultural backgrounds of each member of the team and showing Cultural Empathy by recognizing their cultures and respecting the differences. If back then, one of us would have taken the initiative of knowing everyone’s mindset of working on a project, we would have been more efficient as we could have developed a more Psychological Safe environment for each member of the group where they felt comfortable in sharing their ideas and were given a more constructive platform to perform as individuals.

Now, as I am studying in a more global environment, it is due to this incident that I am able to function more efficiently with people from diverse backgrounds. Before starting any group project which has members from so many different parts of the world, I try to learn about their cultures and the possible clashes we might experience while working together. In order to never repeat the mistake, I made in high school, I not just learned about the culture but also try to find the best ways to deal with those differences that are very natural to occur in the group. Thus, every time I work in a culturally rich group, I enhance my Cultural Intelligence as every group I work with has different people with different cultures and as there cannot be a universal rule for working in a diverse group, you have to deal with different kinds of problems in each one of them and come up with different kinds of solutions to deal with them. So even though I can always reach the first two steps of Cultural Intelligence which are CQ Drive and CQ Knowledge, it always makes it difficult for me to plan the most appropriate CQ Strategy and CQ Action that works the best in that particular group. Thus, working in a diverse group constantly helps me to improve and learn about incorporating the strategy and action part of the Cultural Intelligence in groups and learn new approaches to dealing with Cultural Differences.

As I have worked with people from so many different cultures in recent years, my understanding of cultural diversity and having an inclusive approach while working with them has increased. This will definitely help me at my workplace as I will have a more mature understanding of Cultural Differences.

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While working in a global setup, it is essential to understand that cultural clashes are prone to occur, and instead of giving more attention to “how could this even happen”, people who are involved should simply focus on “how can I make it better”. There are various kinds of Cultural Barriers in a workplace such as:

  • Language barriers
  • Attitudes towards the superiors
  • Biases based on demographics
  • Ethnocentrism, prejudice, and stereotypes

 

Such factors might hamper the overall functionality of a company and make it less effective. Thus, it is the responsibility of the founder of any company to outline a clear and structured Organizational Culture which defines the values and beliefs of the company and gives an idea to its employees on how to behave in that organization. Secondly, it is the responsibility of the managers to follow the organizational culture and to ensure that Cultural Empathy exists without jeopardizing the main culture of the organization. Finally, it is the responsibility of the employees to adapt to the organizational culture by observing their seniors practicing it.

As a manager in a company, I would have made it a priority to create an environment that is psychologically safe for my team members which gives them a platform to express themselves without feeling judged or being misunderstood. Expecting colleagues or team members to perfectly adapt to the organizational culture while practicing their own cultures and also understanding that of each other, is unfair to them and often pressurizing. As a manager, I would act as a bridge between my team members who come from different cultures. Thus, in order for them to have a better understanding of each other’s backgrounds, these are the major areas to be focused on, according to me, which will definitely work:

  • Organizing and encouraging everyone to attend Cultural Intelligence training. It could be a great way to manage performances in a culturally diverse organization.
  • I would encourage them to plan and showcase their cultures, rituals etc. where each member feels confident about sharing their cultural background and to understand that as much as they have things to learn from other cultures, they have equally important things to share about their own culture.
  • If the organization operates as multi-national, one of the ways of making team members learn about different cultures would be Job Rotation in different regions of the company.

 

This will allow them to learn and practice other cultures and have a broader mindset when working in a diverse organization.

Thus, working and living in a global village can be challenging at times but definitely not impossible. Better communication, more tolerance towards each other, and the effort to understand the cultures one encounters can make this issue as simple as it actually is. The entire workplace has to come together as a team to face this challenge of a diverse environment and take mature actions to overcome them.    

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