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What Causes Conflict in Multicultural Teams?


Conflict is normal in teams.

Any experienced professional knows that working in a team means dealing with conflict.

Dealing with conflict can be tough at the best of times; but consider the extra demands on team members and managers when the team is multicultural.

Working with and managing people from different cultures is an extra challenge.

This is especially true if the team leadership is not aware of what is causing the conflict and how best to manage it.

In this blog, we are not going to be looking at HOW to manage conflict but take a step back and first consider, WHY does conflict happen?

Here are 8 of the most common causes behind conflict in multicultural teams.

1. Time

How does a team manage time? How long should they apportion to tasks? What is considered a ‘waste of time’? How flexible are people when it comes to their personal time?

These are all major differences that cause conflict all the time. Managing team expectations around time is crucial.


2. Procedures

How are things done in the team? Who do people report to? Are there processes and protocols? Who do we turn to when we need help?

Different cultures have different understandings around reporting relationships, responsibilities, project scope, etc. If people are working in different ways, conflict will be inevitable.

3. Communication

How do team members communicate? Does technology help or hinder? How is information channelled between a manager and team members?

Communication is key to collaboration. Managers really need to ensure they understand differences at personal and team levels.


4. Goals

Do all team members share the same goals? What are people’s real priorities? Are team objectives clear or unspoken?

When team members share very different goals, pulling in the same direction is going to be a challenge. That’s why team leaders need to ensure the goals work for everyone.


5. Resources

Are resources available for everyone in the team? Can everyone access them just as easily? How does a lack of resources impact people in their roles?

Creating competition within a team for resources paves the way for bad team spirit. Teams needs to know they work in a fair environment.


6. Rewards

How should we be rewarded? Money or a pat on the back? As individuals or as a team? What is being measured in terms of ‘success’?

Teams that feel they are not being rewarded in the right way will lose trust. Managers have to understand their teams’ motivations.


7. Roles

Are people’s roles clear? What is the hierarchy of the organisation? Do roles overlap with one another? Where does accountability really lie?

In organisational structures where roles are not properly managed, conflict is common. Teams need to be given clarity.


8. Leadership

What does a good leader look like? How much respect should a boss receive? How involved should a manager be in their team’s projects?

Poor leadership will always have a knock-on effect when it comes to conflict. Leaders need to adapt to their teams’ differing expectations and needs.

Learn to Manage Multicultural Teams

We work with managers and leaders from around the world.

Through coaching, training and support we help them understand the impact of culture on how their teams communicate and collaborate.

If you would like to learn more, please refer to our training on Managing Multicultural Teams.

Learn about Cultural Differences in Teams

If you would like to learn more about culture and how it can create conflict in teams, then have a look at our eLearning course on Cultural Awareness.

You can watch a free version below or if you go over to the course page, then you can also upgrade for full course access for only $5.

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