Foreign leaders bring out the best in multicultural teams

Foreign leaders are better equipped to lead multicultural teams – and can directly increase team performance, according to new research.

Multicultural team
Katja Raithel, a researcher at RSM Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University, surveyed 66 multicultural teams and found that those led by foreign managers put in more effort and were better at completing their work on time.The teams also reported to be better at problem solving and were seen to be more effective in general.The results also showed that it does not matter how long a foreign national has been in the job – they will be more effective regardless of tenure. However, when looking at local leaders, Raithel found that the experience of leading a culturally diverse team could serve as an international experience in itself – and that the longer a local leader held their position in a multicultural team, the better the team would perform."Multicultural teams are double-edged swords. Combining knowledge and experiences from different cultures can be extremely powerful in problem solving. On the other hand, negative biases towards team members with a different cultural background can undermine team spirit and harm performance", says Raithel."Companies need to be patient with multicultural teams, especially if the leader is local. It takes time to tap into the advantages that working with a culturally diverse team brings. International experience is clearly very important. The results of this study indicate that companies would do well to create international career opportunities for their employees – and that foreign leaders should be allowed to teach their local colleagues about cross-cultural leadership challenges."

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