Leveraging Cross Cultural Differences Part 2


By Gaia Grant

Part I of this article can be found here.

Working cross-culturally can be a double edged sword. On the one hand, if you are able to leverage cross cultural strengths effectively there is the potential for significant benefits. On the other hand, if there is not the required awareness and sensitivity there can be detrimental consequences. Balancing that ‘high-wire’ act effectively can be a challenge!

So how is it possible to build on cross-cultural strengths without risking making those embarrassing – or worse – damaging blunders?

1. Leverage team diversity1

Teams in general can take one of three basic forms if not managed effectively. They tend to either become:

  1. Destructive
  2. Equalising
  3. Compromising

Alternatively, if team diversity is managed and facilitated well it can allow for another option:

  1. Synergy: Creating a superior team

This means the sum of the parts can be much greater than the whole. There should be a wealth of varied backgrounds and experiences to draw from in a diverse team

The MBI approach has been found to be an effective strategy for dealing with team management in cross cultural situations and ensuring synergy. This approach involves the steps of Mapping, Bridging and Integrating. By firstly Mapping or describing the differences and their potential impact in an objective way, it is possible to start to determine the potential challenges and solutions. The Bridging step involves finding ways to communicate that specifically take these differences into account. The Integrating step, finally, directs the stakeholders towards creating team-level ideas. This can be achieved through carefully monitoring participation, dealing with disagreements and finding ways to create new perspectives.

FIGURE 1: Creating Value in Diverse teams: The MBI Approach (Distefano & Maznevsky, 2000)

2. Consider communication strategies2

Cultural sensitivity is usually a first step in understanding how communication can be appropriately prepared to meet the needs of specific cultural contexts. The next recommended steps are:

  1. Careful encoding, or ensuring the communication is clearly formed
  2. Selecting the appropriate means of communication
  3. Carefully decoding the feedback, or ensuring it has been correctly understood, and
  4. Appropriate follow up.

As “noise” or “Interference” can occur at any stage, potentially altering or blocking the correct interpretation of the communication, it is important to try to minimise potentially damaging factors that can impact the communication at any stage of the process.

A helpful graph which has the “richness of communication” on one axis and the “sensitivity of information” on the other demonstrates which communication methods are most appropriate in which contexts. For example, where information is merely being conveyed and there are no sensitive issues being addressed, email can be an appropriate form of communication. Where the issues being addressed are more sensitive, and where a problem solving process is required, a face-to-face meeting will be most appropriate. Phone calls can be adequate where the information is not too sensitive, but when the information is more sensitive a video conference at the very least should be set up, while face-to-face meetings remain the most ideal.

What strategies can you use to build on strengths and create synergy in your diverse team?


  1. DiStefano, J. J. & Maznevski, M. L. (2000). Creating value with diverse teams in global management. Organizational Dynamics 29(1): pp. 45–63.
  2. Deresky, H. (2006). International management: Managing across borders and cultures (5th ed.) Chapter 4: Communicating across cultures. Upper Saddle River, N.J: Pearson Prentice Hall, pp.116-146, pp.490-491.

Gaia Grant

Gaia Grant is the author of Who Killed Creativity?… And How Can We Get it Back? and the author of a number of books and resources, including A Patch of Paradise and The Rhythm of Life. She has a BA, Dip Ed, BD (hons), Grad Dip Change Leadership, and MSc in Creative Thinking (International Centre for Studies in Creativity State University of NY). She is now completing an MPhil, leading into a PhD focusing on research into the role of culture change and transformation in innovation at Sydney University, where she is also a guest lecturer on innovation across cultures for the Business School.

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