The Intercultural Team Leader

So you have just been made the new team leader at work. Your colleagues draw from the US, UK, Germany, Brazil, India and China - a truly intercultural team. Working with people from different cultures and countries can be a challenge. What do you need to know? How should you go about being an effective team leader? The intercultural team leader needs to be aware of their style and how this fits in with the expectations and needs of their colleagues.

Firstly, as the team leader you to bear in mind the concept of leadership varies from culture to culture.  If you want to be a successful team leader you need to appreciate who in your team expects what. What they expect will be culturally influenced. 

Have a look at your colleagues and try to think what each expects of their leader.

. Do they expect you to be an authority figure? i.e. someone to tell them what to do, when and how.
. An empowering coach? i.e. someone to give them lots of space but at the same time help them improve.
. A collaborative facilitator? i.e. someone that works with you to help meet targets.
. Do they expect you to take an active role in the team? i.e. should you be mixing with them on a personal and social level too?

Once you appreciate the differences in expectations it is then easy to translate these onto certain key areas within a leader's role. Let's take decision-making as an example.

. Are you collaborative, meaning you like to work with the group to come to decisions?
. Are you authoritative, meaning you simply make the decision and pass down the result to your colleagues?
. Do you try to build consensus and let people have their say?

Getting the right balance is about being aware. For example, if you are an authoritative leader who has attempted to adopt a more collaborative style you may find that you revert to a more directive style when confronted by a stressful situation and severe challenges. One needs to be aware that this will cause more anxiety in the team. On the other hand if you are a collaborative leader who prefers consensus, you'll need to recognize that in similarly challenging situations (where team members from other cultures may look to you for guidance) your intuitive preference will be to revert to your collaborative style. In that case, you run the risk of confusing your team.

Being an intercultural leader is a challenging role. One has to manage expectations from one team member to another. Essentially it is important to be aware of your style and the needs of your team. However, this takes time. As the leader, you will need patience and understanding to allow those styles to mesh with each other and to achieve the collaborative efforts you are pursuing.