Cultural barriers and how to over­come them in your global company as a global leader (2024)

Did you know that cultur­ally diverse teams produce more creative and inno­v­a­tive results than cultur­ally hom*oge­nous groups?

This is aresult of the fact that people from different cultural groups approach chal­lenges and prob­lems in different ways. Different cultures think and react differ­ently to the same situ­a­tions. They get the job done in different ways.

By combining those different approaches and mind­sets, acultur­ally diverse team not only expands their skills and knowl­edge pool, but has the power to think in more abstract terms and find solu­tions on various levels.

Of course, this only works if the team works well together — and that tends to be the tricky part. Cultural differ­ences can lead to barriers between team members, when their different styles of approach are misun­der­stood, misin­ter­preted or not accepted.

Global leaders face not only the chal­lenge of making amulti-cultural team work well together despite their differ­ences, but often also of doing this while the team members are based in different inter­na­tional loca­tions.

In today’s glob­al­ized world, global leaders have to learn to under­stand awider, richer array of work styles. They must be able to deter­mine what aspects of an inter­ac­tion are aresult of person­ality and which are aresult of differ­ences in cultural perspec­tive.

Contents

  • Five causes of cultural barriers
    • 1. Language
    • 2. Stereo­types and prej­u­dices
    • 3. Signs and symbols
    • 4. Behav­iors and belief
    • 5. “Us” versus “them” (ethno­cen­trism)
  • How to over­come cross-cultural barriers
    • Down­load our eBook “Achieving Global Excel­lence” for Free
    • Embrace diver­sity and accom­mo­date cultural differ­ences
    • Promote open commu­ni­ca­tion
    • Lead open discus­sions about team norms and shared company culture
    • Rally the team around ashared vision or common cause
    • Leading cultural diver­sity as aglobal leader
    • Don’t miss our weekly emails

Five causes of cultural barriers

Let’s get on the same page here first: what exactly is culture?

Culture is all socially trans­mitted and shared behav­iors, manners, customs, rituals, beliefs, ideas, arts, knowl­edge, values, morals and ideals that are learned in agroup of the same nation­ality, reli­gion or ethnicity. It is handed down from gener­a­tion to gener­a­tion, slowly evolving, and creating many subcul­tures in the process.

Cultural diver­sity can make commu­ni­ca­tion diffi­cult, espe­cially in the work­place, where amisun­der­standing can cause costly prob­lems. When people from different cultures work together, several factors can become barriers. We’ll be taking alook at these factors first, and then dive into how to over­come them in aglobal team.

1. Language

Not speaking the same language (well) can cause amyriad of misun­der­stand­ings and is consid­ered the most crucial barrier in cross-cultural commu­ni­ca­tion.

Verbal commu­ni­ca­tion is impor­tant in every context, but the meaning of words can liter­ally get lost in trans­la­tion. If one person isn’t aware of the exact meaning of aword, it may be misun­der­stood or misin­ter­preted by the other person and lead to aconflict of ideas.

2. Stereo­types and prej­u­dices

Stereo­types are mostly nega­tive images or precon­ceived notions about aspecific commu­nity, group or culture. The basis of stereo­typing can be many things, though the most common are nation­ality, gender, race, reli­gion or age.

Popular stereo­types, for example, are that all Germans are punc­tual and very direct, or that all Asians are good at math.

This creates prej­u­dice among people of different cultures and causes judg­mental atti­tudes towards one another. People look at other cultures with certain stereo­types as “bad” or “diffi­cult to work with”, or “incom­pre­hen­sible” and treat them with contempt and disre­spect. If things get this far on ateam or in acompany, working together effec­tively can become extremely diffi­cult between people who resent and disre­spect each other.

3. Signs and symbols

Non-verbal commu­ni­ca­tion like signs and symbols differ from culture to culture and can there­fore not be relied upon in commu­ni­ca­tion. For example, the “thumbs up”, known in the Western world as asign of approval, is seen as an insult in Bangladesh.

While not quite as easily miscon­strued in ateam envi­ron­ment as the other factors, it can still lead to cultural faux-pas that may take time to smooth over and could be avoided in the first place.

Cultural barriers and how to over­come them in your global company as aglobal leader (1)

4. Behav­iors and belief

Cultural differ­ences cause behav­ioral and person­ality differ­ences like body language, gestures, mind­sets, commu­ni­ca­tion, manners, and norms, which may lead to miscom­mu­ni­ca­tion. Eye contact, for example, is very impor­tant in some cultures, but rude and disre­spectful in others.

People’s varied reli­gious or spir­i­tual beliefs can also lead to conflict and cross-cultural barriers.

Different cultures also have different under­stand­ings of time. Some coun­tries like Germany, Nether­lands, Scan­di­navia, Switzer­land or the United States tend to view time as linear. Time is money, and punc­tu­ality is agreat value. Things tend to be done one at atime, to be able to focus on it and finish the task within afixed time frame.

Other coun­tries, for example many Southern Euro­pean coun­tries like Spain or Italy, see time as multi-active; this means that the more things they do at the same time, the happier and more fulfilled they feel. Present reality and espe­cially personal rela­tion­ships are more impor­tant and valued than sched­ules or punc­tu­ality.

5. “Us” versus “them” (ethno­cen­trism)

From an evolu­tionary stand­point, belonging to agroup made you stronger and more likely to survive in ahostile world. Strangers or other groups were “the enemy”, competing for food, safety and terri­tory.

This us- versus them-thinking is ingrained in our subcon­scious and can lead to asense of alien­ation if someone behaves in away we don’t under­stand or aren’t expecting — if they don’t fit in.

A person’s stan­dard is his or her own culture; the more another person’s culture, behavior, language, and beliefs deviate from it, the more “other” they are labeled. This affects the under­standing of message and creates hostility.

How to over­come cross-cultural barriers

Successful and effec­tive cross-cultural manage­ment can be adaunting task — and even more so for teams with members scat­tered across the globe. People who are constantly inter­acting with each other face-to-face for eight hours every day will bond and find common ground faster than people who only interact with each other online at certain times.

Down­load our eBook “Achieving Global Excel­lence” for Free

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As aglobal leader you not only have to be aware of the cultural barriers within your team, but actively strive to over­come them.

Embrace diver­sity and accom­mo­date cultural differ­ences

As aglobal leader, you must make your team members and employees under­stand that cultur­ally diverse teams produce more inno­v­a­tive and and creative results as opposed to hom*oge­nous groups. There­fore, cultural differ­ences should be appre­ci­ated, openly discussed and utilized to support each other, rather than creating barriers. You want ateam to work well because of their differ­ences, not in spite of them.

Create oppor­tu­ni­ties for your employees to learn about their colleagues’ perspec­tives and ways of life to build open-mind­ed­ness and appre­ci­a­tion. Focus on the strengths that each culture brings to the mix and discuss how these strengths can be inte­grated in the way your team works together, handles chal­lenges and tackles projects.

Promote open commu­ni­ca­tion

Open commu­ni­ca­tion is the only way that cultur­ally diverse teams can work through and over­come their differ­ences to make them work well together. As global leader, it’s up to you to promote that culture of open commu­ni­ca­tion within your company or team.

Don’t let resent­ment, prob­lems, or misun­der­stand­ings between team members fester; address them as soon as they arise and give all parties the oppor­tu­nity to present and discuss their griev­ances in asafe and open envi­ron­ment.

If your team members’ or employees’ prob­lems are with you, listen closely to what they have to say. Thank them for their honesty, and try to find agood solu­tion or compro­mise that everyone agrees with.

A company culture of open commu­ni­ca­tion is grown from the top down. As global leader, you must lead by example and value everyone’s opinion equally to ensure open­ness and honesty between your team members.

Cultural barriers and how to over­come them in your global company as aglobal leader (3)

When your team members differ on acultural level, you can unite them by creating anew common culture: your company or team culture.

Unlike leading by example to promote open commu­ni­ca­tion, this won’t happen in atop-down approach, though. Acompany or team culture must be culti­vated together and include all members. As the team leader, it’s impor­tant to allot specific times for the team to discuss differ­ences and air griev­ances, find common ground and decide together how to proceed.

This becomes more impor­tant, but also more chal­lenging, with ateam that isn’t just cultur­ally diverse, but situ­ated in various loca­tions. Where people don’t interact person­ally, it becomes more diffi­cult to look beyond the cultural stereo­types and get to know the person behind them. But this is crucial to foster under­standing of each other and building acompany- or team culture together.

Bringing people together around ashared vision or common cause can be apowerful thing to unite the team and have all members pulling together in the same direc­tion.

Maybe the product or tech­nology you’re devel­oping and producing together will save lives or help people in need? Or you might run regular fundraisers to support local char­i­ties in your team members’ loca­tions. Or maybe you’re all working together towards that 20% more revenue to ensure araise for all team members this year.

Leading cultural diver­sity as aglobal leader

As aglobal leader, it is your respon­si­bility to ensure that your team members or employees work together through their cultural differ­ences. Be aware of the stereo­types and prej­u­dices you may your­self have and try to consciously over­write them. Under­stand the differ­ences your team members deal with among each other and foster acompany culture of open commu­ni­ca­tion.

But the ability to lead your team or company through cultural barriers is only one of the chal­lenges aglobal leader faces every day. Find out more about global lead­er­ship on this Global Lead­er­ship Maga­zine, or make it even easier by signing up for our weekly news on all things Global Lead­er­ship:

Cultural barriers and how to over­come them in your global company as a global leader (2024)

FAQs

Cultural barriers and how to over­come them in your global company as a global leader? ›

Overcoming cultural barriers in international trade can be achieved by fostering cultural intelligence, utilizing local resources, employing professional translation services, adapting to local cultures, building strong relationships, and maintaining authenticity.

How do we overcome cultural barriers in international business? ›

Overcoming cultural barriers in international trade can be achieved by fostering cultural intelligence, utilizing local resources, employing professional translation services, adapting to local cultures, building strong relationships, and maintaining authenticity.

What are the cultural barriers in the workplace how do you overcome them? ›

Investing in English language training for employees, hiring a translator, or using digital translation programs are other ways to overcome workplace language barriers. Body language and gestures are also a significant aspect of communication. Certain gestures and mannerisms mean different things in different cultures.

What are the ways to overcome cultural barriers to communication? ›

Top Ten Tips for... Effective Cross-Cultural Communication
  • Maintain etiquette. Many cultures have specific etiquette around the way they communicate. ...
  • Avoid slang. ...
  • Speak slowly. ...
  • Keep it simple. ...
  • Practice active listening. ...
  • Take turns to talk. ...
  • Write things down. ...
  • Avoid closed questions.

How do you overcome cultural barriers in managing community development? ›

How to Overcome Cultural Barriers
  1. 1 Working with People from Different Cultural Backgrounds.
  2. 2 Familiarizing Yourself with Other Cultures.
  3. 3 Preventing and Dealing with Cultural Conflict.

Why is it important to overcome cultural barriers? ›

Cultural barriers prevent people from different cultures from effectively communicating and working with each other. Cultural barriers can be caused by differences in languages, beliefs, or values.

How to overcome cultural conflict in your working environment? ›

What are the most effective strategies for resolving conflicts between people from different cultures?
  1. Recognize your own biases.
  2. Learn about the other culture.
  3. Adapt your communication style.
  4. Manage your emotions.
  5. Collaborate on solutions. ...
  6. Celebrate diversity. ...
  7. Here's what else to consider.
Sep 13, 2023

How do you overcome cultural differences in a team? ›

Top 10 Tips for Managing Multicultural Teams
  1. Avoid a single-culture bias. ...
  2. Build your cultural intelligence. ...
  3. Structure your teams mindfully. ...
  4. Avoid stereotypes and keep an open mind. ...
  5. Handle feedback and criticism with care. ...
  6. Clarify expectations. ...
  7. Nip issues in the bud. ...
  8. Diversify leadership.
May 11, 2024

What are the strategies for overcoming cultural problems? ›

  • Be open-minded. ...
  • Efficient communication system. ...
  • Cultural difference awareness. ...
  • Let the new team members introduce themselves. ...
  • Establish clear rules, but don't rely exclusively on them. ...
  • Team building. ...
  • Seek feedback. ...
  • Use simpler and more accurate language.
Sep 18, 2020

How can we overcome global communication barriers? ›

Offering language courses or hiring interpreters and translators can significantly improve communication effectiveness. Additionally, encouraging the use of simple and concise language, avoiding jargon, and providing clear instructions can enhance comprehension among team members.

How do cultural barriers affect a business? ›

Cultural differences can also impact the methods and processes used in commercial decision-making. Different cultures have values, beliefs, and societal norms that affect how people evaluate risks and consider options. Crucially it also plays a significant role in how people make decisions.

What are 3 ways to overcome barriers to communication? ›

Barriers to communication can be overcome by:
  • checking whether it is a good time and place to communicate with the person.
  • being clear and using language that the person understands.
  • communicating one thing at a time.
  • respecting a person's desire to not communicate.
  • checking that the person has understood you correctly.

How to deal with cultural differences in international business? ›

9 Tips for Managing Cultural Differences in International Projects - Insights from the Middle East
  1. Invest in Education & Promote Awareness. ...
  2. Embrace Effective Communication. ...
  3. Build Relationships and Trust. ...
  4. Provide Cultural Sensitivity Training. ...
  5. Acknowledge Language Diversity in the Middle East. ...
  6. Respect Local Customs.
Oct 31, 2023

How to overcome challenges of cultural diversity in business? ›

Here are 5 strategies to help transform your organization as well as manage differences and avoid cultural issues in the workplace:
  1. Hiring. ...
  2. Communication. ...
  3. Religious Accommodations. ...
  4. Team-Building. ...
  5. Intercultural Interaction. ...
  6. Policies and Procedures. ...
  7. Zero-Tolerance Policy. ...
  8. Sensitivity Training.

How to overcome organizational barriers? ›

13 Tips For Breaking Down Your Company's Internal Barriers
  1. Provide Clear Directions And Communication. ...
  2. Create An Action Plan. ...
  3. Implement An Effective Organizational Structure And Training. ...
  4. Build A Team Forum. ...
  5. Demonstrate Empathy. ...
  6. Align One Key Metric To Teamwork. ...
  7. Lead By Example. ...
  8. Set Up Cross-Departmental Conversations.
Mar 20, 2023

What are some of the cultural barriers to international trade? ›

Effective communication is the cornerstone of successful international trade. However, cultural differences can greatly impact communication styles and norms. Directness versus indirectness, hierarchical versus egalitarian communication, and the use of non-verbal cues can vary across cultures.

How can international business overcome challenges? ›

Start by understanding the cultural preferences, economic conditions, and consumer interests of your target market through exhaustive market research. Next, figure out if your business can handle an increase in offshore demand for its products and services.

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