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7.3 Case Study 3: Building a Multicultural Team—Is it Worth it?

Kalia works in a large business, managing a diverse team of eight individuals. Two of her employees are in their early 20s, two in their 30s, three in their late 40s, and one in her late 50s. Four members of her team are Caucasian and the other four are Hispanic, African American, Asian, and African. Her younger employees are fairly new, having been there for less than two years. Most of her team members have worked with the organization for 5 to 10 years, and her most senior staff has been there for 25 years, 10 years longer than Kalia has been in her leadership position.

Generally, team members are cordial to one another on the surface, but Kalia knows that there are tensions among some of the staff that have an impact on the success and productiveness of the team. She is aware that one of the younger employees, Robert, is frequently frustrated that his Hispanic co-worker, Ana, defers authority and decision making to others in the team. In conversations with him, she discovers that the younger employee feels Ana should express her opinions more often. Robert’s frustration results from his beliefs that everyone on the team should be able to contribute in a shared, democratic process. He feels that when Ana defers her decision making to others, she is not being accountable as a team member.

Margaret, a senior member of the team has picked up on Robert’s comments and feels that he is disrespectful of Ana’s working style. She has mentioned to him that it could be a “cultural thing” and that he should learn to adapt his behavior and working style to better meet her needs. In response, Robert mutters, “Whatever. You don’t know anything about us.” Responses like this have led Margaret to believe that he is disrespectful of her knowledge and tenure in the organization.

Frankly, Kalia is tired of managing people’s personalities. She feels that people should just learn to adapt to each other’s working styles. Even though she believes this, she also believes that a good leader has to unite the team, no matter their differences and working styles. This year, she has made it a goal of hers, and of the team, to resolve these intercultural issues. But given her previous attempts, she does not have high hopes for a successful outcome. The last time she tried to resolve intercultural team issues, she felt like a complete failure. She is concerned about the employees’ responses to this next attempt. In fact, every time she thinks about that meeting, she flinches. She just did not have the skill sets to facilitate the conversation in their last meeting. She wonders if this next try will progress her team in any way or whether it will just be another failure.

  1. How do you describe Kalia’s self-efficacy?
  2. How does Kalia’s self-efficacy impact her leadership?
  3. What strategies do you recommend to Kalia to help her improve her cultural intelligence?
  4. What suggestions do you have for Kalia in leading her staff to be a culturally intelligent team?

Reflection

Kalia works with a multicultural team, and each member has his or her own individual differences. In a situation like this, it would be helpful for Kalia to explore her motivation and self-efficacy for managing multicultural teams and resolving intercultural conflicts. Her self-efficacy can, and does, have an impact on her leadership. If her employees sees that she is not confident or able to resolve conflicts, they may disregard the positional power she has as a leader. Because it seems as if she is overwhelmed, it would be helpful to her to break down her goal of creating a culturally intelligent team into manageable, small goals. She can also help others to recognize the basics of cultural differences in the workplace and the positive ways in which differences can be used to ignite their work.

CI Model in Action

  • Acquire: As a leader, it is important for Kalia to understand the types of individual and team culture that are present in her work place. Her frustration about her team is a result of not knowing what to do based on her limited perspective of culture. Broadening her viewpoint to understand the value dimensions of culture such as language, power, authority, and gender can help her to make more sense of the situation. As Kalia learns this new information, she can evaluate her progress by identifying points in her interactions where the value dimensions appear and whether she has accurately assessed the situation. Understanding the particulars about culture will help her to grasp the cultural dynamics at play.
  • Build: Resolving cultural conflicts can be overwhelming, especially to someone, like Kalia, who wants to avoid it. In this situation, Kalia will need to help resolve the conflict among team members. She can do this in two ways: first, by helping team members to understand their individual working styles, and in this case, taking the members that have the most conflict aside for discussions. Second, she can help them understand how individual cultures contribute to a team culture by describing the type of team she wants to build. She can mediate the conflict by herself or bring in an outside mediator.
  • Contemplate: Kalia’s anxiety and self-induced stress is a barrier to her success as a leader. She believes she does not have the skill sets to facilitate future meetings, and her thoughts are focused on this point. She cannot shy away from the situation, thus it would be helpful to Kalia to create smaller action steps for her team and herself to meet the larger goal. She would need to stay calm and focused on the task.
  • Do: Kalia’s internal motivation will be a huge assistance to her managing the situation. She knows she does not have the skill sets to facilitate the next meeting, but she can find ways to build her skills, or she can bring in an outside person to help her mediate. If she chooses to facilitate the meeting on her own, she will need to reflect and identify the skill sets she would need. She can do this by first identifying the thoughts she has related to the situation and the behaviors that accompany the thoughts. In doing this, she may find out that she has the skills to facilitate but needs more confidence.