Diversity in Groups:
Benefits & Pitfalls Of Working In An Inter-Cultural Group
Keywords:cultural diversity, inter-cultural team, group communication, group dimensions, intergroup contact theory, cultural friction
Abstract: Today, globalization has made it so that there is more cultural diversity in educational institutions and organizations than ever before. As a result, it is now become more important than ever to examine and understand the benefits and pitfalls of working in inter-cultural groups. Multiple Studies have shown that inter-cultural groups performed better than intra-cultural groups. However, it also important to recognize that while the benefits of diversity are clear, there are significant challenges that come with working in inter-cultural groups as the multi-cultural nature of the group brings in friction, and the different manners of communication often lead to misunderstandings.
This article aims at identifying the benefits and pitfalls of inter-cultural groups applying the group development theory and social identity theory.
In recent years, the number of international students in universities across the world has significantly increased, giving rise to more and more diverse study groups. The idea that diversity can promote creative and innovative outcomes in groups is widely accepted. (Austin, 1997; Bantel & Jackson, 1989; McLeod, Lobel & Cox 1996). Research has shown that the thinking process of inter-cultural groups is demonstrated in several different ways, including the number of perspectives and alternatives offered and the degree to which members share uniquely held information. Nevertheless, navigating through cultural differences and different styles of communication becomes one of the biggest challenges as a member of a diverse team. Diversity, thus, appears to be a double-edged sword, increasing the opportunity for creativity as well as the likelihood that grouped members will be dissatisfied and fail to identify with the group (Milliken & Martins, 1996).
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People from different cultures view and understand the world in different ways, and the assimilation of these differences into a diverse group might make them adopt an approach that allows them to look at different perspectives and generate alternative solutions to the problem at hand. Hofstede describes culture as the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from the others (Hofstede, Hofstede & Minkov 2010). His theory aims at explaining cultural differences through six (6) dimensions: power distance, individual v. collectivism, masculinity v. femininity, uncertainty avoidance, short-term v. long-term, and indulgence v. restraint, that attempt to explain differences in communications in diverse teams using a survey conducted by IBM in the 1970’s, and with other surveys that later supplemented it.
When people from diverse cultures work together, there is a high possibility of disagreements between team members. Shenkar, Luo, and Yeheskal (2008) define these differences as cultural friction, which they describe as “the extent to which two or more entities, such as organizations, units, teams, groups, and individuals, from different countries culturally resist (i.e., think or act in opposition, shaped by implicit beliefs and tacit values) with one another in real contact or interactions over the course of international business activities or transactions”. With the myriad of different experiences and perspectives that each member brings to the table, comes their own intrinsic problems of coordination, communication and conflict management which could lead to problems in completing the desired group objective.
In order to reduce friction among the group members, it is important to recognize and resolve all conflicts. Allport (1954), in his intergroup contact theory, suggested that positive effects of intergroup contact occur in contact situation characterized by four key conditions: equal status, intergroup cooperation, common goals, and support by social and institutional authorities. Thomas Pettigrew updated Allport’s theory adding a fifth condition for reducing the prejudice and social distance between groups: friendship potential (Pettigrew 1998).
This article will analyze my experience as a member of a group project as part of the Masters Program at TU Delft, focusing on the group discussion, the conflicts we faced, how we resolved them, and what we could have done to enhance our experience, and improve our performance to achieve the desired results.
Group project – Asset Management – EPA CIE4381 –
4 Indians; 1 American –
3 Dutch; 2 Indians
Work process = discuss; Dutch were faster with work; more initiative; 2 Indians and South Americans
Laid back attitude with course work –
In a large part, it is assumed that groups can gather a diversity of information, backgrounds and values necessary to achieve the desired result. If groups are to provide forums for sharing information across functional and cultural boundaries, however, the diverse views and backgrounds members bring with them to the group must be successfully managed.
Researches have devoted considerable attention to how workgroups can generate knowledge and insights beyond the reach of their individual members (e.g., Perret-Clermont, Perret and Nell, 1991; Garton, 1992).
However, it is also important to note that the disagreements in the group could be on the task content, but they could also be disagreements about to how to do the task or how to delegate resources, reflecting process conflict (Jehn, 1997).
It was noted that members of inter-cultural groups tend to bring in different perspectives to the same issue at hand to come up creative, out-of-the box solutions.
For diversity to have positive effects on creativity it is necessary that group that group members share their diverse perspectives. Ironically, members tend to focus on ideas or knowledge that they have in common rather than unique information.
Nonetheless, the experience of being in a group with members who have different backgrounds and perspectives can often be difficult.
These findings highlight the challenge for creating a diverse workplace. While being exposed to people different than ourselves helps us become more productive, it also adds an element of discomfort to an already stressful professional environment. When combined with the demands of an increasingly competitive economy, that stress can boil over.
Understanding the differences in the ways these leaders and their followers think, feel, and act is a condition for bringing about worldwide solutions that work.
Validation of the Country Culture Scores Against Other Measures (pg 38)
The next step was showing the practical implications of the dimension scores for the countries concerned. This was done quantitatively by correlating the dimension scores with other measures that could be logically expected to reflect the same culture differences. These quantitative checks were supplemented with qualitative, descriptive information about the countries. This entire process is called validation.
- Hirokawa, R. (1990). The Role of Communication in Group Decision-Making Efficacy : A Task-Contingency Perspective. Small Group Research : An International Journal of Theory, Investigation, and Application, Volume 21 (2), 190-204.
- Hofstede, G. Hofstede, G. J., & Minkov, M. (2010). Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind : Intercultural Cooperation and Its Importance for Survival (3rd ed.). McGraw-Hill.
- Hutt, Rosamond. (2016). The Dutch are direct, Canadians are diplomats. How leadership styles vary around the world. Retrieved on January 2, 2019, from WeForum : https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/05/which-country-s-working-culture-would-suit-your-leadership-style/
- Jehn, K. A., Northcraft, G. B., & Neale, M. A. (1999). Why Differences Make a Difference : A field Stufy of Diversity, Conflict, and Performance in Workgroups. Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol 44(4), 741-763.
- Milliken, F. J., & Martins, L. L. (1996). Searching for Common Threads : Understanding the Multiple Effects of Diversity in Organizational Groups. Retrieved on January 8, 2019, from Academy of Management Review, Vol 21(2), 402-433 : https://www.jstor.org/stable/258667?read-now=1&seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
- Paulus, P. B. (2003). Group Creativity : Innovation Through Collaboration. Oxford University Press.
- Pettigrew, T. F. (1998). Intergroup Contact Theory. Retrieved on January 4, 2019, from Annual Review of Psychology, 49:65-85.
- Rock, D., & Grant, H. (2016, November 4). Why Diverse Teams are Smarter. Retrieved on December 26, 2018, from Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2016/11/why-diverse-teams-are-smarter
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