Multiculturalism in organisations


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Multiculturalism in organisations

  1. 1. Paper presentation At National conference On“Implications of Multiculturalism in the changing business scenario” organized by Al-Ameen Institute of management Studies, Bangalore on Oct 10th 2012 Paper prepared & presented by Dr.MAHESH KUMAR.K.R., MBA (Marketing), MBA (Finance), MHRM, MA (Economics)., M.Phil., MS (Edu.Mgt).,LLB., PGDFM., PGDBA., DCA., Ph.D., M.Sc., (Psy)., MIMA.,MA.,( Mc&Jr) DEAN Community Institute of Management studies, 2nd Block Jayanagar, Bangalore-11 Prof.Bhagya Rathna .R Associate Professor Community Institute of Management Studies, Bangalore SRINIVAS.K.T., (Ph.D), Associate Professor, Community Institute of Management studies, 2nd Block Jayanagar, Bangalore-11 Venkatesh. R MBA, MA, PGDBA Assistant professor Community Institute of Management studies, 2nd Block Jayanagar, Bangalore-11
  2. 2. Topic: Managing cultural conflicts among multicultural teams “Culture is a group which shapes a persons values and identity”.Abstract:India, seventh largest country in the world, in terms of land area and second most populouscountry. It is known for its rich diversities. It‟s a country with population, speaking differentlanguages, practicing different culture, cuisines and traditions, different religion. It is aptlyregarded as Sub continent, because of its rich diversities. Despite these diversities, we believeand practice „Unity in diversities‟. In this context the concept multiculturism gains moreimportance, because, any organisation will have employees belonging to different cultures. Indue course of time, differences tend to arise between them, due to these diversities. Balancingthose cultural diversities, winning confidence of the employees and working towards the goal isthe challenge that almost all organizations are facing now. In this regard this paper concentrateson, understanding those cultural diversities and probable methods to deal with them.Meaning of MulticulturalismMulticulturalism means communities containing multiple cultures. Organizations are known as„Melting pot‟ which comprises of employees belonging to different cultures.CultureCulture is a group which shapes a persons values and identity. A single term used to define aparticular culture is often exclusive. For example, the term "Hispanic" does not take into accountcultural differences between Cuban-Americans and Mexican-Americans. Cultural identities canstem from the following differences: race, ethnicity, gender, class, religion, country of origin,and geographic region.
  3. 3. Cultural assumptionsCultural conflicts arise because of the differences in values and norms of behavior of peoplefrom different cultures. A person acts according to the values and norms of his or her culture;another person holding a different worldview might interpret his or her behavior from anopposite standpoint. This situation creates misunderstanding and can lead to conflict. Oftenpeople of the mainstream America, the Anglo culture, perceive their behavior and beliefs as anultimate norm, forgetting that Anglo culture is just one of the multiple cultures existing in theUSA. They are often unable to perceive their own cultural distinctiveness.For example, a group of women wrote an excellent and detailed proposal, but did badly duringthe interview part of the evaluation. It happened because those women came from a culturewhere establishing personal relationships precedes business relationships. These women feltuncomfortable when government officials did not allow time for casual conversation andimmediately moved toward firing questions at them.The following case exemplifies how unintentionally one cultural group can hurt the feelings ofthe other. The city of Kenai, Alaska was planning a celebration of 200 years since the firstRussian fur traders came to the region. A Native Indian tribe which lived in Alaska for athousand years was offended by the implication that before the Russians came to the region therewas no civilization there. As a result the celebration turned to a year-long event and NativeIndian culture became its basis. By the end of the celebration, the Kenai Bicentennial Visitorsand Cultural Center was completed. Thus, accommodation of different cultural interests helpedthe region to recognize its historical past.Identifying cultural conflictsCultural conflict has three dimensions. To the two dimensions that every conflict has (contentand relational), cultural conflict adds the third one--"a clash of cultural values." This thirddimension constitutes the foundation of the conflict since it determines personal identity.Cultural conflict can be identified by the following signs:
  4. 4. (1) It usually has complicated dynamics. Cultural differences mentioned above tend to createcomplex combinations of expectations about ones own and others behavior.(2) If addressing content and relational issues does not resolve the conflict, it can be rooted incultural differences.(3) Conflict reoccurs or arises strong emotions even though the issue of disagreement isinsignificant.Effectively managing a multicultural business requires at least a basic knowledge of youremployees culture and traditions. Familiarity with both is essential because each has a bearingon an employees every day behavior.Our cultural identity helps us feel like we are "part" of the society around us. It keeps us fromfeeling isolated and sometimes it even helps us know how to react. For example, as Americans,we know its appropriate to stand and place our hands over our hearts when we hear "The StarSpangled Banner" because its part of our culture.Traditions involving family, religion, education, and nationalism play a large role in anyoneslife. Personal appearance, ethics, and etiquette are also factors to be considered.Whether we realize it or not, culture and tradition are powerful principles we always carry withus. Its almost like carrying a cell phone. We take it for granted that our phone is in out pocket,but we dont think about it until it rings. Culture is like that. Its always with us even though weare unaware of it.When a major international software developer needed to produce a new product quickly, theproject manager assembled a team of employees from India and the United States. From the startthe team members could not agree on a delivery date for the product. The Americans thought thework could be done in two to three weeks; the Indians predicted it would take two to threemonths. As time went on, the Indian team members proved reluctant to report setbacks in theproduction process, which the American team members would find out about only when workwas due to be passed to them. Such conflicts, of course, may affect any team, but in this case
  5. 5. they arose from cultural differences. As tensions mounted, conflict over delivery dates andfeedback became personal, disrupting team members‟ communication about even mundaneissues. The project manager decided he had to intervene—with the result that both the Americanand the Indian team members came to rely on him for direction regarding minute operationaldetails that the team should have been able to handle itself. The manager became so boggeddown by quotidian issues that the project careened hopelessly off even the most pessimisticschedule—and the team never learned to work together effectively.Multicultural teams often generate frustrating management dilemmas. Cultural differences cancreate substantial obstacles to effective teamwork—but these may be subtle and difficult torecognize until significant damage has already been done. As in the case above, which themanager involved told us about, managers may create more problems than they resolve byintervening. The challenge in managing multicultural teams effectively is to recognizeunderlying cultural causes of conflict, and to intervene in ways that both get the team back ontrack and empower its members to deal with future challenges themselves.We interviewed managers and members of multicultural teams from all over the world. Theseinterviews, combined with our deep research on dispute resolution and teamwork, led us toconclude that the wrong kind of managerial intervention may sideline valuable members whoshould be participating or, worse, create resistance, resulting in poor team performance. We‟renot talking here about respecting differing national standards for doing business, such asaccounting practices. We‟re referring to day-to-day working problems among team members thatcan keep multicultural teams from realizing the very gains they were set up to harvest, such asknowledge of different product markets, culturally sensitive customer service, and 24-hour workrotations.The good news is that cultural challenges are manageable if managers and team members choosethe right strategy and avoid imposing single-culture-based approaches on multiculturalsituations.
  6. 6. The ChallengesPeople tend to assume that challenges on multicultural teams arise from differing styles ofcommunication. But this is only one of the four categories that, according to our research, cancreate barriers to a team‟s ultimate success. These categories are direct versus indirectcommunication; trouble with accents and fluency; differing attitudes toward hierarchy andauthority; and conflicting norms for decision making.Direct versus indirect communication.Communication in Western cultures is typically direct and explicit. The meaning is on thesurface, and a listener doesn‟t have to know much about the context or the speaker to interpret it.This is not true in many other cultures, where meaning is embedded in the way the message ispresented. For example, Western negotiators get crucial information about the other party‟spreferences and priorities by asking direct questions, such as “Do you prefer option A or optionB?” In cultures that use indirect communication, negotiators may have to infer preferences andpriorities from changes—or the lack of them—in the other party‟s settlement proposal. In cross-cultural negotiations, the non-Westerner can understand the direct communications of theWesterner, but the Westerner has difficulty understanding the indirect communications of thenon-Westerner.An American manager who was leading a project to build an interface for a U.S. and Japanesecustomer-data system explained the problems her team was having this way: “In Japan, theywant to talk and discuss. Then we take a break and they talk within the organization. They wantto make sure that there‟s harmony in the rest of the organization. One of the hardest lessons forme was when I thought they were saying yes but they just meant „I‟m listening to you.‟”The differences between direct and indirect communication can cause serious damage torelationships when team projects run into problems. When the American manager quoted abovediscovered that several flaws in the system would significantly disrupt company operations, shepointed this out in an e-mail to her American boss and the Japanese team members. Her bossappreciated the direct warnings; her Japanese colleagues were embarrassed, because she hadviolated their norms for uncovering and discussing problems. Their reaction was to provide her
  7. 7. with less access to the people and information she needed to monitor progress. They wouldprobably have responded better if she had pointed out the problems indirectly—for example, byasking them what would happen if a certain part of the system was not functioning properly,even though she knew full well that it was malfunctioning and also what the implications were.First, managers must develop skills that will allow them to evaluate their own cultures as well asthose of others. Harris and Kumra (2000) list the prerequisites for doing this that Geert Hofstedeelaborated in Cultures Consequences (1980)These key cultural skills are:1. The capacity to communicate respect2. The capacity to be non-judgmental3. The capacity to accept the relativity of ones own knowledge and perceptions4. The capacity to display empathy5. The capacity to be flexible6. The capacity for turn-taking (letting everyone take turns in discussions)7. Tolerance for ambiguityOnce managers have internalized these skills, they can approach work with multiculturalemployees with more confidence of communicating well.For a general cultural outlook, managers can use an analogy developed by the Youth forUnderstanding exchange program, which holds intercultural training sessions for high schoolexchange students for living with overseas host families. Briefly, this analogy posits thatAmericans wear a pair of yellow sunglasses, which represent our culture and the Japanese, forexample, wear a pair of blue sunglasses that represents the culture of the Japanese. Whenmanagers attempt to understand Japanese culture, they want to view the culture through the sameblue sunglasses the Japanese wear. What managers should avoid at all costs is placing their
  8. 8. yellow sunglasses on top of the blue ones of Japanese culture and interpreting what they see asgreen.Keeping this analogy in mind will help managers understand an important theory on how topresent management practices and objectives to a multiculturalism diverse workforceWhat rings your cultural bell?Even though its hard to make broad generalizations about culture, many studies have beenconducted over the years on its importance to Hispanics. There are certain basic principles aboutLatino culture and tradition that make good survival skills for all American employers.Family: Nuclear families are the foundation of Hispanic society. An intense love of family is astrong feature in Latinos employees.To most, the family and its needs are even more important than work. Work is often seen as a"necessary evil" done for the purpose of earning enough money to satisfy the needs of the family.As managers, we must also take into consideration the fact that many Hispanic employees haveleft close members of their families in Latin America. This is true for both first and secondgeneration Hispanic employees.Personal sacrifice in Hispanic families is the rule, not the exception. The estrangement andisolation that comes with being separated from parents, wives and children can be devastating.This causes severe depression, isolation and even substance abuse. Each of these becomes highrisk factors for on the job accidents.Children: Children in Latino families are cherished, protected and loved. A typical weekend isspent enjoying time together, preparing meals, visiting friends, or extended family. Children aremore heavily influenced by their parents and extended family members rather than by thoseoutside the family.
  9. 9. Religion: Religion and spirituality are also deeply rooted in Latin American culture. Almost 90%Latin Americans are Roman Catholic and most observe basic religious traditions, even thoughthey might not attend church on a regular basis.Throughout Latin America religious practices play a more visible role in the workplace than theydo in the US. Many Hispanic managers feel these practices make a valuable contribution tooverall worker morale.An unusual feature of Latin American spirituality is an indefinable fatalism or fatalismo which ispervasive in the culture. Many Latinos have the underlying sense that their lives are controlledby fate; consequently, whatever success or tragedy befalls them is no result of their own actions.Whatever is supposed to happen, will happen.This is almost opposite of the American belief that our success or lack of it depends solely on thechoices we make and the hard work we put into it.Nationalism: Nationalism is deeply ingrained in Hispanics. This is a fact that most Americansdont realize fully. When we see a person speaking Spanish, many automatically assume that theperson is Mexican. Often that just isnt true. Spanish is spoken over a wide geographic area thatincludes many very different countries.All of us are deeply proud of our roots. Latin Americans have deep attachments to theirhomelands and the unique culture that comes with that. Because you speak English, would youlike to be mistaken for a Canadian instead of an American? Probably not!Its savvy management for employers to know which countries their employees come from.Getting to know individual employees is a basic feature in successful Latin Americanmanagement strategies. The boss becomes personally acquainted with each employee and knowsa bit about his family. This is called "personalizmo" and its very important to workplaceattitudes.When "el jefe" or "el supervisor" recognizes an individual employee, he feels more respected andvalued. That increases his loyalty to the company and to its leadership.
  10. 10. Etiquette: Basic etiquette and social skills are valued by Latin Americans. Good manners are asign of solid upbringing. Training begins at the home and continues in school. Great emphasis isattached to shaking hands and greeting the staff each morning in the workplace.Not only is this sort of etiquette valued in face to face interactions, its also a part of goodtelephone communication. In a Latin Americans eyes its rude to "cut to the chase" on thetelephone and immediately begin to discuss business without first asking how the person is thatyou are talking to. Next, to be truly polite you should ask how the family is doing.Etiquette is so important on the job many think "por favor" and "gracias" are the two mostimportant phrases in the Spanish language. These are definitely words that will help you get thejob done.Strategies for Success: Theres no doubt that Americas Hispanic workforce is going to becomeeven more important to our countrys economic growth and success. Now that you understandsome of the basic attitudes your Hispanic workforce has, its time to plot a course for yoursuccess in a multicultural environment. 1. Work aggressively to overcome the language barrier. Obviously, this means learning to speak some Spanish. You dont have to be fluent to be successful. 2. Make every effort to learn about the culture of your employees. This will help you build trusting relationships that Latinos value. 3. Develop an open culture in your workplace that accepts and appreciates the differences individual employees bring to your organization. 4. Establish employment policies carefully and communicate them so all employees understand your expectations for appropriate conduct on the job. 5. Acknowledge your employees strong family ties and desire to return home periodically. Make every effort to develop staffing that is flexible enough to allow employees to return home for a period of time to visit their families and then return to the job. Learning these simple, common-sense practices and principles will give you a positive edge in managing your multicultural work place.
  11. 11. Resolving Cultural ConflictsThe resolution of cross-cultural conflict begins with identifying whether cultural issues areinvolved. There are three ways of cross-cultural conflict resolution.1. Probing for the cultural dimension.The resolution process should start from the parties acknowledgment that their conflict containsa cultural dimension. Next, there should be willingness on all sides to deal with all conflictdimensions including the cultural one. Third, systematic phased work on the conflict is needed.Williams identified four phases: (1) the parties describe what they find offensive in each othersbehavior; (2) they get an understanding of the other partys cultural perceptions; (3) they learnhow the problem would be handled in the culture of the opponent; (4) they develop conflictsolutions. Resolution of the conflict is particularly complicated if the conflict arose not just outof misunderstanding of the others behavior, but because of incompatible values.2. Learning about other cultures.People can prevent cross-cultural conflicts by learning about cultures that they come in contactwith. This knowledge can be obtained through training programs, general reading, talking topeople from different cultures, and learning from past experiences. Important aspects of culturaleducation are understanding your own culture and developing cultural awareness by acquiring abroad knowledge of values and beliefs of other cultures, rather than looking at them through theprism of cultural stereotypes.3. Altering organizational practices and procedures.Often the organizational structure reflects the norms of just one culture and inherits the culturalconflict. In such cases, structural change becomes necessary to make the system more sensitiveto cultural norms of other people.
  12. 12. ConclusionConflict, depending on the outcome, can be a positive or negative experience for an organization.With changing demographics, cultural differences become an acute issue. Many groups resistassimilation and wish to preserve their cultural distinctiveness, which makes cultural conflicteducation an essential tool for maintaining healthy relations in organizations and society ingeneral.References 1. Barry, B., 2001, Culture and Equality: An Egalitarian Critique of Multiculturalism, Cambridge, MA: Harvard. 2. Blum, L.A., 1992, “Antiracism, Multiculturalism, and Interracial Community: Three Educational Values for a Multicultural Society”, Office of Graduate Studies and Research, University of Massachusetts, Boston. 3. Carens, J., 2000, Culture, Citizenship, and Community: A Contextual Exploration of Justice as Evenhandedness, Oxford: Oxford University Press 4. Parekh, B., 2000, Rethinking Multiculturalism: Cultural Diversity and Political Theory, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 5. Dr. Mack is a professor of philosophy at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana