11.4 Team Diversity and Multicultural Teams

When discussing teamwork and collaboration, refer back to Chapter 9, when teamwork within organizations and the use of cooperative learning were discussed. There are some thoughts on diversity and multicultural teams within an organizational structure. Rock and Grant support the idea of multicultural and diverse teams, as they are key to boosting the intellectual potential, helping to keep biases and assumptions in check[21]. When reflecting on aspects of indigenous pedagogy, the value respect for group processes and a sense of community are important to fostering knowledge within these communities.

Previously, the importance of the forms of communication and how communication is used in a collaborative nature was explained.  However, multicultural teams can experience challenges because of cultural differences in the communication process. Some cultures use direct communication, which is the use of communication tools directly through the words they use, with literal interpretations[22].  Other cultures use indirect communication, which is the use of non-verbal behaviours and implications to convey meaning within the communication process[23]. Here is a general outline of the differences between cultures with direct and indirect forms of communication, and examples of some cultures that are both direct and indirect communicators:


Direct Cultures Indirect Cultures
  • considered to be low-context
  • succinct and accurate verbal speak
  • be truthful in any situation (speak your mind)
  • cultures include: Canadian, American, British, and Australian
  • considered to be high-context
  • elaborate and descriptive actions of non-verbal communication
  • best to be polite than to be truthful
  • cultures include: Russians, Italians, Brazilians, and African Nations


With this understanding of different ways cultures communicate within a workforce and how it can present challenges, it also creates a very important opportunity to check biases and assumptions of individuals or groups, where different cultures are amalgamated. Rock and Grant outline a study done by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, which concludes that groups from diverse background completed a task with greater efficiency and with less errors, compared to the homogeneous group[24]. They also cited a study in Texas where diverse teams were able to accurately price stocks more correctly than homogeneous groups[24]. Although the methodology and data collection were not stated, the conclusions found that when errors occurred in deliberation that members of diverse groups worked more efficiently to remedy the situation[24].

This might be because when diverse groups get together, traditional norms are cast aside.  One of the traditional norms within any society can be confirmation bias. As discussed in Chapter 8, distinctions in cultural world-views can be beneficial to the success of an organization. Perhaps the diverse group moved away from confirmation bias and engaged in a wholesome discussion, leading to a more successful outcome. With teamwork, it is important to remember the core tenants of what makes a good team, and add in the understanding of a multicultural and diverse dynamic. This leads to a richness within an organization, and progress towards goals.  In the case of learning organizations, it increases learning richness and progress towards mastery.

Review Questions:

  1. Define direct and indirect communication?
  2. What are some cultures that engage in direct communication?
  3. What are some cultures that engage in Indirect communication?
  4. What is a potential outcome when cultures do not cast aside traditional norms?


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Leadership and Management in Learning Organizations Copyright © by Clayton Smith; Carson Babich; and Mark Lubrick is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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