Foreign managers make multicultural teams more effective

With their international work experience, foreign leaders are better placed to build bridges in multicultural teams than local leaders. Under a foreign leader, the team performance of such teams improves. Managers from the country itself can also learn this skill when leading a multicultural team, although it may take a little longer before they become just as effective. This was discovered by business expert Katja Raithel in her PhD research.

By combining knowledge and experience from different cultures, a multicultural team can come up with creative solutions to solve complex problems. On the other hand, negative prejudices about team members with different cultural backgrounds can undermine team spirit and lead to poorer performance. Raithel's research now shows that foreign leaders can reduce the negative effects of multicultural collaborations and, on the contrary, see more quickly what other cultural backgrounds of team members can bring to the company.

More effective teams
Katja Raithel suspected that the reason for this was that foreign leaders would be better able to understand and manage the processes of multicultural teams through their work experience abroad. Raithel conducted a survey of 66 teams with members from different cultural backgrounds. It turned out that teams with a foreign manager felt that they were doing more of their best and were generally more effective. They also said that they were more likely to get their work done on time and that they were better able to find new, smart ways to carry out their tasks.

Local leaders
Raithel's research also showed that for foreign managers of multicultural teams, it does not matter how long they have been team leaders. Their experience gives them an edge when dealing with other cultures. She discovered that for local leaders, the experience of managing a team with cultural diversity also works as an international work experience. The longer a local leader had his or her position in a multicultural team, the better the team would perform, Raithel said.

These results show that companies need to be patient with multicultural teams, especially if the team has a local leader, says Raithel. It takes some time for working with a multicultural team to deliver benefits. And because this research shows that international experience is so important, companies would do well to create as many international career opportunities as possible for their employees, says Raithel. Finally, she concludes that companies should give foreign leaders more opportunities to transfer their knowledge of leading multicultural teams to their local colleagues.

More information

Ramses Singeling, Media Officer RSM, T (010) 408 2028 E

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