Guest Commentary: How I successfully led a multicultural team

Lead multicultural team

„First: Motivate! Second: Read the environment! Third: Find common ground!“: In his Guest Commentary Vinicius Andriolo (32) from Vitória/ES (Brazil) shares his experiences about leading a multicultural team in a German company in New Zealand.
Andriolo holds a Bachelor in International Relations, another in Law , an EMBA in Logistics Management and the same in Project Management and is now pursuing his Master’s degree in Global Logistics and Supply Chain Management at the Kühne Logistics University (KLU) in Hamburg (Germany).

Are you a leader? How was it leading a multicultural team?

I thought I had what it took to perform my job well until I had to do it – then it felt like I knew nothing, like all those years of studying, working and dealing with difficult people didn’t pay off.
When I was working in Brazil, leading a team seemed easy because we all had similar tastes due to our common cultural background. It felt easy to motivate employees and create incentives, it felt safe. But then I moved to New Zealand and everything changed.

I thought the mission of leading a team like that was close to impossible

More than 40% of New Zealand’s inhabitants are not New Zealand-born citizens. And in Auckland, New Zealand’s biggest city, there are 194 different nationalities. While there, I worked for a German company, and in my department, we had 12 different nationalities represented, while my direct team had five. I didn’t know much about their cultures and customs at the beginning, so keeping everybody motivated and finding out their drives was difficult.
At some point the cultural differences got to me and I thought the mission of leading a team like that was close to impossible. However, I didn’t give up. I developed a solution to my problem starting with a well-known concept: stereotypes.

Stereotypes: A powerful tool if used carefully

lead multicultural team
Vinicius Andriolo (32) from Vitória/ES (Brazil) has led a multicultural team in a German company in New Zealdn

Stereotypes can be a powerful tool if used carefully to encourage positive behavior. It worked for me.
Giving a South African boss the numbers and KPIs (Key Process Indicators) he wanted was enough to keep him happy, while giving targets and well-defined tasks to the Pacific Islanders (Tongans, Cook Islanders, etc.) encouraged them to work harder. Meanwhile, making sure there was a satisfying work/life balance improved the Kiwis’ (New Zealanders) performance.

A three-step process to keep the office morale high

But only using the concept of stereotypes wasn’t enough. We had to use it in a logical and effective way, so I created a three-step process to make sure I would beat my targets and keep the office morale high.

What leads to smarter choices being made?

First: Motivate. Make sure you find each individual’s pressure points. What makes them work harder? What leads to smarter choices being made? What does an individual need to have more passion for what they do? Give them that and watch their will to do the job grow.

Read the environment

Second: Read the environment. Assure yourself that you can fit your motivational actions into the frame of the company, the region and the country you are working in. It does not matter how good your plan and actions are if they do not fit the environment. You will eventually get frustrated with the constraints and rules stopping your actions.

Find what motivates your team collectively

Third: Find common ground, find what motivates your team collectively. In my case, my team members were all hard workers and would work extra hours whenever I needed. Of course, we would need to compensate this somehow, like by buying pizza at the end of the day. The main takeaway here is that you need to find that element that motivates the group to go forward and buy into the goals you propose. Give them a purpose and a target to look forward to—this will help the team focus as a unit.

Flexibility, adaptation, staying positive, leading by example

Most importantly, the leader needs to change himself/herself from within. You need to hone certain skills: flexibility, adaptation, staying positive, leading by example. Be humble and admit your mistakes, demonstrating that lessons are learned from mistakes and done better the next time the situation arises.
Hamburg has an excellent environment in Europe for people to acquire the skills I mentioned because it is a highly international city. Make sure to profit from this, because the odds of a professional working in a multicultural team today are extremely high, and when the time comes to lead a team like that you will be ready.

Also in our blog: It has been 11 years since Shyam Machiraju left India to pursue a Masters in Germany. Today he plays an important role as engineer and project manager in an international company: He not only serves as an engineering specialist for the company, but also as a culture-mediator: An Indian engineer in Germany – Being a specialist and culture-mediator.
Also read the interview with Andriolo: Number one country in the world for Logistics, great opportunities to network with people from all over the world and a drive to improvements in business culture: This is what motivated Vinicius Andriolo (32) from Vitória/ES (Brazil) to undertake his next career step in Germany.

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