Multiculturals in Multicultural Teams

Cultural Dimensions (Cross Cultural Management)
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Chloe Xu
Director, Australia

Multiculturals in Multicultural Teams

🔥NEW People are always saying diversity matters. As a powerful tool for creative work, culturally diverse groups are becoming increasingly common. However, simply assembling a multicultural team doesn't always guarantee a high level of creativity, as cultural diversity can be a trigger, but also a barrier for team effectiveness.

To address the problem of how multicultural teams can leverage their diverse cultural background to produce creative outcomes while avoiding the pitfalls of cultural diversity, Jang (2017) from INSEAD proposed a new model. Jang believes that multiculturals, people who have internalised more than one cultural schemas, can play a unique and positive role in culturally diverse groups. To understand why, we need to look at 2 concepts: "cultural overlap" and "cultural brokerage".

Cultural Overlap

Cultural overlap refers to the extent to which an individual shares cultural membership with others in a group. The degree of cultural overlap determines if a multicultural is a cultural insider or outsider.
- Insiders: Share the cultural background of some or all group members, e.g., a Japanese Brazilian in a group of Japanese and/or Brazilians;
- Outsiders: Share the cultural background of none of the group members, e.g., a Japanese Brazilian in a group of Germans and Chinese.

Cultural Brokerage

Multiculturals benefit a culturally diverse group through a process called 'cultural brokerage', which is the act of facilitating interactions between members across cultural boundaries. Jang's experiments reveal that the type of cultural brokerage by cultural insiders and outsiders are different: the insiders often integrate while the outsiders tend to elicit knowledge from different cultures:
  • INTEGRATE: Combine the ideas and knowledge from the varying cultures that group members share and evolve into a whole new one. As cultural insiders are already familiar with the shared cultures, it is much easier for them to integrate knowledge and ideas than outsiders when they involve in cultural brokerage.
  • ELICIT: Inquire about the relevant ideas and knowledge that other group members hold so that these resources can be fully explored and utilised. As cultural outsiders don't have significant knowledge on any of the other cultures represented in the group, they have a natural incentive to gather the information from the others, which insiders often overlook.
Although cultural insiders contribute to team creative performance in a direct way while cultural outsiders contribute indirectly, they both play an essential role in a multicultural team.

Source: Jang, S (2017), "Cultural Brokerage and Creative Performance in Multicultural Teams", Organization Science 28(6):993-1009.

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