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Managing Multicultural Teams

​​​ Managing Multicultural Teams

Companies that have greater gender and cultural diversity, particularly at senior management level, have consistently reported higher than industry profitability – as shown in McKinsey's latest 'Delivering through Diversity' report. The statistics gleaned from the report show that companies in the top 25th percentile for gender diversity on their executive teams are 21% more likely to yield above-average profits.  Furthermore, executive teams that are more culturally and ethnically diverse are 43% more likely to report more favourable bottom line figures.  

Whilst these findings do not directly confirm the correlation, that increased diversity results in increased profitability, they are hard to ignore when comparing outperforming industry rivals. The benefits of diversity are strongly suggestive, however, managing the diversity in the workplace can be challenging. It requires leaders with high emotional intelligence (EQ) that focuses on open communication and building an inclusive culture.

In this article we answer some key questions around managing multicultural teams, including:

      • What are some of the challenges of workplace diversity?
      • What are the five essentials to managing multicultural teams?
      • What is the future of cross-cultural training? 

1.What are some of the challenges of workplace diversity?

For a start there is not enough diversity in the workplace. Statistics suggest that we do not have enough representation of women and, in particular, people of colour in senior management positions and even less at board level. The dearth of women and cultural diversity is a global problem and not just a South African one.

To address diversity organisations need to:

      • Make a compelling case for diversity.
      • Invest more in employee training.
      • Expose all staff to diversity and inclusion workshops.
      • Ensure that hiring, promotions, and reviews are fair.
      • Give employees the flexibility to fit work into their lives.
      • Focus on accountability and results. (McKinsey report, 2017)

2.What are the five essentials to managing multicultural teams?

It is important to understand that culture is fluid. It is also common to find people identifying with more than one culture. This means that we need to be careful about making the error of cultural stereotyping. There are as much differences within cultural groups as there are between groups.

So the way to manage multicultural teams, I believe, should be no different to managing any team. If we want great teams then managers need to have the following attributes:

      • High EQ
        • Awareness of self (ability to self-regulate)
        • Awareness of others (Skilled at relationship management)
        • Motivated
        • Empathic
      • Be skilled communicator
      • Be inspirational
      • Be courageous
      • Understand diversity (in all its forms)

Here are five ways to get the most out of a multicultural team:

1)Clearly communicate the “Why" (Simon Sinek).

It is important for leaders to clearly communicate the organisation's vision and to ensure that the message cascades throughout the organisation. Organisations where staff are clear about their purpose and know what is expected of them, show less entropy (time spent on non-revenue generating activities). Staff also report higher job satisfaction when their purpose is clear. ​

2)Create an inclusive culture

Leaders need to create a space that allows everyone a seat at the proverbial table. Staff need to feel they have a voice and that their opinions matter.

3)Create a psychologically safe workplace​

Employees need to feel safe to express their opinion without fear or favour. It is the manager's responsibility to ensure that the right culture (the way things are done daily) is in place and that candid conversation is encouraged.

4)Allow employees to bring their 'whole-selves' to work.​

It is important for managers to get to know their employees. Managers need to make time to enquire about their lives outside of the workplace. 

5)Create a culture of accountability​

All employees need to understand the role they play in the long-term sustainability of the organisation. Employees who need support should be encouraged to ask for help timeously as their contribution impacts the whole organisation. This understanding of the individual contribution to the collective outcome should also encourage staff to support each other and discourage the creation of silos in the workplace.

3.What is the future of cross-cultural training? 

The global trend is towards the need for greater cross-cultural awareness. In South Africa particularly, we are becoming increasingly aware of the legacies of our political history that continues to negatively impact the world of work.

To intensify cross-cultural training or diversity and inclusion we need our industry leaders to be courageous and know that increasing diversity not only makes good business sense, but that it's the right thing to do.

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Dr. Sorayah Nair is a Lecturer at the University of Stellenbosch Business Executive Development (USBED), a clinical psychologist and a Diversity and Inclusion facilitator. She is the founder of Business Health Solutions (BHS) and an advocate for 'Courageous Conversations'. She holds Masters in Psychology (Clinical) from the University of the Western Cape (UWC), D. Phil University of Stellenbosch (US), Masters in Business Administration (MBA) University of Stellenbosch Business School.

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