Cultural Diversity and Team Dynamics

Posted on 27. Sep, 2015 by in Cultural Festivals

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Having lived in the multi-cultural city of Toronto, Canada the past 13 years, I have seen how well cultural diversity can work in enhancing everyday life. Through my experience in building software development and consulting teams, I have learned there are many benefits to team dynamics of embracing cultural diversity. Here is a list of 5 common benefits:

1. Saving Face
In many countries, the concept of “Saving Face” is important. Especially true within Asian cultures, this trait often motivates team members work harder in solving difficult challenges and overcoming technical obstacles. It is however important to ensure team members are not afraid to speak-up when they are unclear on a particular issue. Asking questions is not a sign of failure; it will enhance their knowledge, allow them to produce better results, therefore saving face in the long run.

2. Fresh Thinking
Having recently returned from a trip to South-East Asia, it was interesting to note how common engineering, technical and transport challenges were solved differently than that of western countries. Team members from other parts of the world have lived with and experienced all sorts of different solutions to everyday problems. By pulling from their previous knowledge they can bring fresh new thinking to challenges your business may be facing, however big or small.

3. Motivation to Succeed


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I consider this point to be a by-product of cultural diversity. In many cases immigrants have moved from their native country due to unrest, or to pursue opportunity to provide a better life to themselves and their family. In many cases having sold everything to afford this new lease on life, and these individuals are therefore motivated to “Make it Work.” Since so much is riding on the success and experience gained, these team member often bring an enthusiasm and motivation to succeed which can propel themselves and the entire team through tough, challenging projects.

4. Enhance your Team or Corporate Culture
An important part of any successful company is a healthy corporate culture. What better way to build or enhance your team or corporate culture by introducing some “real” culture. Do this by embracing cultural holidays, sponsor cultural festivals, or have pot-luck lunches where each team member must bring one food item from their native country. These sorts of activities bring teams together, and help team members feel part of the overall corporate entity. Highlighting the cultural differences within a team enhances awareness within employees that each person is contributing, each person is unique, and each person is valued.

5. Think Globally, Act Locally
As a recent financial crisis has demonstrated, companies are increasingly operating with the greater world economy. Therefore, the impact of truly understanding and effectively marketing to each unique culture is pronounced. Cultural diversity doesn’t just happen with outsourcing to a far away land – far from it. The best type of cross-culture teams are those where the members are co-located and can lend their unique view points in a timely manner. Hiring local talent that have diverse cultural backgrounds allow you to compete efficiently in today’s global marketplace. Think about this: Maybe the next time you are pondering expanding into a new country, your engineer from Malaysia may be your best asset, and not necessarily for his engineering skills.

An interesting note in closing – I once managed a software development project with a team of 8 developers. Within the team we had a representative from 5 different continents. That is at least one person from every continent in the world except Australia and Antarctica. We also proudly represented 5 different religions. And remember this is from a team of only 8 people! I hope you embrace your own culture and those around you so you may learn, grow and enhance the team dynamics for which you play an important role.

Diversity is indeed one of the most beautiful aspects of our society. However, it does come with great responsibility to be shared by all. The majority of us, as adults, live and work with people from all walks of life. Our children are no exception. Not only do they need to be aware of all the different cultures, races, and beliefs of the world around them, but it is also necessary to teach them the importance of respecting these differences and recognizing the beauty that such diversity creates.

Parents are often a bit hesitant to talk with their children about such a touchy subject. Children are very impressionable and tend to take what trusted adults say at face value. Parents who have not been trained or advised in cultural competence themselves may feel uncomfortable facilitating such an important conversation. Here are a few tips and strategies that can be followed in provided the proper atmosphere and information for the occasion.

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Do not be afraid to talk openly and honestly with your child about racial and cultural differences. Children are not totally oblivious to the fact that there are people around them who may or may not share their own physical characteristics. Anyone who has spent time witnessing the curiosity of child knows that questions will arise. Questions that will require a delicate answer. Treating the subject as if it is too taboo to discuss will only open the door for misconceptions. This in itself can lead to prejudices.

Be prepared to lead by example. Children are constantly watching our reactions and mirroring what they see. As parents, it is important to be very mindful in recognizing and pointing out generalizations and stereotypes that exist even in our own thinking. It is all too easy to continue a certain pattern of thinking when we have not sought opportunities to broaden our own minds. Seek some avenues of obtaining a higher level of cultural competence as an adult. Many agencies and institutions offer training in cultural competence, but learning does not have to be formal. There is a wealth of valid information available on cultural and racial differences on the web and at your local library.

Look for teachable moments. Introduce cultural differences to your child in a way that sparks their interest and attention. Teach them that learning and experiencing other cultures can be fun and exciting. It is not hard to find cultural activities that are open to the public throughout the year. Attending cultural festivals and parades are great opportunities to answer your child’s questions in a comfortable and enjoyable atmosphere.

Finally, and most importantly, keep the lines of communication open. Continue to stay connected with your child on the topic of cultural and racial differences. As children become older and more aware of prejudices and stereotypes, they tend to become more hesitant about expressing their thoughts and feelings on the subject. Provide a safe environment where these thoughts can be discussed openly and lovingly. This will give you the opportunity to guide them as they develop their own sense of self and identity as well as a respect and appreciation for that of others.


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It is important, however, to note that there is not just one prescription for helping your child to appreciate the cultural differences around them. The key is to keep an open mind when seeking opportunities to teach children about cultural acceptance as well as opportunities to practice what they have learned.

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