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Opposites attract, but love their fellows: information-sharing in multicultural teams

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Author: Salvatore Corradi – FM Chairman

Information-sharing is a crucial issue for any business. In fact, an aspect that must be cultivated with great attention is the constant and mutual sharing between colleagues and employees. But it may become a real problem on multicultural teams: the more cultural distance employees perceive, the more the problem is exacerbated.

How much an employee’s cultural background impacts on their ability to perform as a part of a team?

An uncomfortable but real truth is that, in the workplace, people tend to trust and attribute a higher status to colleagues whose cultural backgrounds are similar to their own. As a result, members of the majority nationality group also share the most information with one another. Whereas, minorities with the most cultural differences are often attributed a lower status and information is withheld from them. This withholding can cause those from “low status” minority groups to underperform and never reach their full potential.

Speaking of “minorities” or presumed minorities, a further distinction can be underlined. Discrimination, conscious or unconscious, within a company team affects groups of workers more decisively than others. In fact, not all minorities are stereotyped and classified equally: when cultural differences are apparently slight, the status of the minority group is not necessarily considered inferior to the status of the majority group, and the information-sharing proceeds without particular inhomogeneities.

On the other hand, when cultural differences appear larger (i.e. when team members are not only from different nations but from different continents), the status of the minority group is perceived as being much lower than the status of the majority group and the information is less inclined to be shared with them.

For a company accustomed to being global and for an employee who does not make distinctions of origin when confronted with a colleague, all this is nothing more than “discrimination within discrimination”. Naturally, if certain employees are not receiving vital business information, it will eventually have a negative impact on the larger organization. So, managers must stop these cultural biases from infiltrating their teams.

Valuing knowledge sharing and diversity is therefore extremely important. Companies should actively encourage knowledge sharing among peers.

Increasing the diversity of a team will also create a more open and inclusive workplace. The more cultural differences your team members have, the more likely they are to perceive themselves as one unit  and the less likely it is for a majority group based on nationality to form.