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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 leader is not aware of what is causing the conflict and how best to manage it.

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

Check out the FREE SAMPLE of our
ELEARNING course on working across CULTURES
at the END of the page.

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.

Multicultural team communicating at work

Culture impacts many areas of teamwork. Communication is a big one.

Read more about Communication in Multicultural Teams

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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 need to know they work in a fair environment.

young white manager

Managing people from different cultures is made easier if you understand a bit about the cultures in your team.

Check out our free Cross-Cultural Management Guides for lots of insights.

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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.

Custom Training on Managing Multicultural Teams

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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.


eLearning Course on Cultural Differences in Teams

For only $15 you can buy our eLearning course on Cultural Awareness.

This is an ideal training course for professionals working with different cultures.

You can watch an abridged sample below or go over to the course page to learn more!

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