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How Do People Usually Create Disharmony in Multicultural Teams?


Multicultural teams are now the norm within many of our larger companies, organisations and brands.

Challenges relating to communication, trust and morale within culturally diverse teams are common.

Working with clients to help overcome such challenges is exactly what we do - through cultural training, such as our team-building courses, we see and hear first-hand how disharmony is created within multicultural teams.

Having delivered training for multicultural workforces, we have become very adept and spotting similarities between teams' challenges and some of the common behaviours that lead to disharmony in international & culturally-diverse teams.

There are certain character traits and behaviours one sees time and time again within struggling teams.

6 Common Characteristics of Disharmonious Teams

#1: Cultural Myopia

There is usually a type of person who believes that the way they do something is the only way to do it. Their approach is the right way and everybody else is wrong.

They view events through their own cultural lens and fail to appreciate that others may be operating from a different framework.  In doing so, this creates all kinds of conflicts and disputes.

#2: Ignoring Body Language

They might ignore body language and physical cues and, instead, focus purely on the spoken word of their intercultural peers. This is particularly problematic when working with ‘high context’ colleagues. 

In high context cultures, staff rarely articulate their feelings or publicly oppose something.  The clues as to their feelings are to be found in their body language and eye contact.

#3. Mis-Managing Disputes

They expect others to step up during a period of conflict and voice their opinions; becoming irritated if they don’t.  In many cultures, ‘stepping up’ in disputes is an alien concept. 

In some cultures, disputes might be resolved by someone more senior in the hierarchy whilst, in others, harmony is a key objective and employees may try to keep the appearance of normality while feeling resentful about events.  This individual, therefore, carries on, under the impression that the issue has been dealt with, and fails to realise that there is considerable resentment being harboured.

#4. Not Grasping the Concept of ‘Face’

They may be openly critical of another manager or colleague which will certainly lead to resentment. 

In many cultures ‘face’ is important and it’s really important to protect the reputation and ‘face’ of others.  To publicly insult the reputation of another (even if poor behaviour is privately acknowledged) is not acceptable at all.

#5. Disrespecting a Colleague’s Religion

They may make disparaging comments in respect to the religious attire of a colleague, such as the hijab, turban or kippah.  They may also make disparaging remarks when the colleague takes a break to perform prescribed prayers.

Not only could these comments significantly damage the quality and productivity of their relationship with this colleague they could also lead to the individual ending up in a disciplinary scenario.

#6. Making Little Effort to Understand the Team

This individual may fail to make the effort to understand the diversity of their peers.  Although they may appreciate that ‘differences’ exist, they don’t have the interest or curiosity to find out more or create synergy. 

Instead, they may create a situation of ‘us and them’ in their head and interact only on a perfunctory level with those who divert from the ‘us’ persona. 

This ‘them and us’ mentality is a sure way to create both division and a setting in which communication starts to fail. Such communication issues can have profound impacts on the ability of the team to pull together in reaching common work goals.

So, to summarize, the 6 key ways in which people create disharmony in multicultural teams are:

1. Cultural Myopia

2. Ignoring body language

3. Mismanaging disputes

4. Not grasping the concept of 'face'

5. Dis-respecting a colleague's religion 

6. Making little effort to understand the team


It goes without saying that failure to understand and embrace diversity impacts the quality interactions of the people involved. 

Training might be a solution on some levels, but more importantly is a life event that spurs the interest and curiosity of the individual, motivating them to start building relationships with people who come from different backgrounds. 

Moving away from attitudes of ‘us and them’ and reaching out to others quickly brings its own rewards and opens a whole new world of relationships and opportunities.

Boost the success of your multicultural team with customised multicultural team training!

commisceo culture webinars


If you work in a multicultural team and would like to boost the working practices and productivity of your team, then contact us to discuss our multicultural team training courses via webinar.

Tailored to meet the specific needs of your team, our cultural training webinars are a fantastic way to equip team members with essential insights and know-how.

This understanding, in turn, helps team members to work successfully across cultural differences in essential areas such as values, working practices and communication style. 


Photo by Siavash Ghanbari on Unsplash

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