Multicultural members boost team performance

New research suggests that multicultural individuals can act as ‘cultural brokers’ to enhance team creativity.

According to new research by business school INSEAD, multicultural individuals can enhance the creative performance of diverse teams.

These individuals can act as ‘cultural brokers’ within such teams, whereby they facilitate interactions between individuals across cultural boundaries. Such facilitation can prevent any misunderstanding or conflict that might arise due to differing cultural norms and beliefs, and preventing effective collaboration.

Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour Sujin Jang analysed archival data from a global business student competition – looking at more than 2,000 teams over a five year period, involving participants from more than 40 countries. In the competition, teams had eight weeks to come up with a business plan proposing the “next big idea” for a company of their choice.

Surprisingly, multicultural members enhanced the creative performance of the team irrespective of whether they shared the same cultural background with other team members. at facilitating greater creativity in their team.   

Teams with one or more multicultural members, regardless of whether those multiculturals were cultural insiders or outsiders, were found to outperform teams devoid of multicultural individuals (‘cultural outsiders’ shared no common background with the rest of the team while ‘cultural insiders’ shared a cultural background with one or more other members).

While every company has a different cultural context, the research suggests that all firms stand to gain by leveraging the diverse knowledge and perspectives of their increasingly multicultural teams.

“Organisations would do well to think about the conditions they could put in place to facilitate cultural brokerage. For example, it may be helpful to give recognition to potential cultural brokers or provide opportunities for them to enact this role, as they are not always the most senior person in their team,” said Jang.


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