How to Successfully Manage a Multicultural Workforce


Due to factors such as increasing immigration/emigration, globalisation and foreign study, it’s highly likely that the workforce you are managing today is a multicultural one. And whilst cultural, racial and linguistic diversity in the workplace are undoubted positives for your business and your teams, it brings its own set of challenges when it comes to human resource management and requires a different set of communication skills and a different approach to training. Here are our four tips on how you can manage multicultural teams more effectively. 

Avoid Single Culture Bias

One of the hardest things to avoid when managing a diverse team is single culture bias, whereby you interpret or judge employee standards and behaviour either by your own personal culture, or the dominant culture of the workplace. You cannot create a harmonious team based solely on team members adapting to the local culture, and just because some members of your team exhibit behaviour or strategies that do not conform to the way the locals do it, does not mean you cannot embrace these different approaches for the benefit of all. 

To avoid single culture bias, look at your business’s goals and requirements, look at how the different cultures in your team contribute to these, and create a coherent company-wide culture that embraces diversity and does not require multicultural staff to adhere to one single cultural norm. 

Training for Communication Skills As Well As Work Skills

Managing a multicultural team means the traditional approach to training - ie. focusing mainly on on-the-job skills and career development - needs a rethink. Managing and working in a multicultural environment needs a different set of communication skills, not just in terms of language, but more in terms of cultural sensitivity, communication clarity, and an awareness of how different cultures learn and communicate. It is as important for you to develop these skills as it is for your employees.

Running culture workshops is another effective way of developing a truly effective multicultural workforce, and it works both ways - newly arrived expat staff need to get up to speed on the local culture, both in terms of work and life outside the office, pretty quickly; and your local staff need to understand why the company employs foreign workers, and what to expect from working for and with them. Using an outside training specialist with experience in training for cross-cultural communication and awareness, such as Pasona, will give you and your business new insights into how to develop a positive and productive workplace culture.

Think About Team Structure

This is one of the hardest areas to get right when it comes to human resource management in a culturally diverse workplace. People of the same culture will naturally gravitate towards each other, and whilst that isn’t something you should try to prevent - it will happen with or without your approval, and it may be that some employees are most productive when working with their compatriots - it is certainly something you need to keep a watchful eye on to prevent the formation of cultural silos which may foster an us-and-them mentality. 

It is important that your company structure - and the physical geography of the workplace - foster cross-cultural communication between different staff members and teams, so make sure that teams and environments have a mix of cultures, rather than grouping people solely by language or nationality. If you find certain employees work better that way, there is no reason why you shouldn’t create monocultural sub-groups or working groups for particular projects or tasks; but applying this approach on a permanent basis will likely see a decrease in interaction between your different workplace cultures. 

Hire Experienced Multicultural Leaders

Ultimately, successfully managing multicultural teams comes down to effective leadership, so when hiring new senior staff, look for those who have successfully worked overseas in cultures very different to their own, and have experience of managing in companies with diverse workforces. They will have the HRM and communication skills you require, and they will have the knowledge, experience and motivation to effect the change that your business requires to develop a truly effective multicultural workforce.

Using a specialist recruitment company enables you to set out a very specific brief or persona on the type of leader you wish to hire and what skills, experience and characteristics you require for the role, and ensures you get the right leader for your multicultural team.

Managing multicultural teams is rapidly becoming the workplace norm, and being able to harness that diversity by effective HRM, communication skills and training programmes will make you a better manager, and make your business ultimately more successful. Pasona Thailand is here to help your team to hire the most experienced leader – contact us today to see how we can help.