Multicultural Team Effectiveness: Emotional Intelligence as Success Factor
©2015 Textbook 49 Pages
As a result of the increasing globalization more and more organizations are operating internationally. Such multinational companies often rely on successful teamwork to reach goals and to compete on the fast-paced global market. Indeed, teamwork plays an important role and can lead to faster results. Teams, whose members come from different nations and backgrounds place special demands on operations, diversity clearly adds complexity and a longer learning curve for establishing effective processes. In the multicultural team, the role of emotions has gained increasing interest in the last years; practitioners report that where people work together, emotions are not far to seek. An awareness of emotions seems to be especially important as cultural differences in emotion processing and diversity among members may cause negative emotion and lead to conflict and misunderstandings what may have serious consequences reducing performance. The aim of this book is to identify challenges for multinational teams focusing on emotions within the team, and to propose emotional intelligence as an approach to multicultural team effectiveness.
2.1 An Era of Globalization
Within the last two decades globalization has become the buzzword to describe the
current state of the world. We are living in a or even the global age (Albrow 1996).
The historical origins of globalization are the subject of on-going debate. Several
scientists situate the origin of globalization in the modern age, while others debate that
the world did not turn ,,global" over night and accordingly regard it as continuous process
with a long history. For instance
Osterhammel and Petersson (2005, p. 28) argue that
the origins of globalization can be traced back to the 1750s-1880s an era of free trade.
A phenomenon described as a process of the sudden increase in the exchange of
knowledge, information and ideas, trade and immigration driven by technological
innovation. From the internet to shipping containers, globalization has brought advances
in telecommunications and a rapid increase in economic and financial interdependence
all around the globe.
According to Arnett, (2002, p. 774) globalization is seen as one of the most significant
and commonly known changes taking place in today's work environment.
The world gets increasingly interconnected; this unstoppable integration is exposing
people to divergent ways of thinking and acting to cope with differing cultural values,
norms and behavior.
The phenomenally rapid expansion of many sorts of global business interaction and
the proliferation of transnational corporations determines i
ndividuals of different
cultural backgrounds to interact with each other in day-to-day workplace situations more
intensively than before. Setting up multicultural teams to work, develop and transfer
ideas, has become an important issue to be competitive and attractive at international
level, based on longevity, integrity and commercial success.
2.2 The Character of a Multicultural Team (MCT)
2.2.1 Definition of a Team
A team can be defined as "an interdependent collection of individuals who work together
towards a common goal and who share responsibility for specific outcomes of their
organization". (Sundstrom et al. 1990, p. 120).
A team is always a group (of individuals) but a group is not necessarily a team.
According to Mabey and Caird (1994, p. 7-9) the main characteristics for what is
considered a team are as follows:
A team refers to two or more individuals who contribute their respective competences
within interdependent roles towards the accomplishment of a common goal.
There is the team identity, which is distinct from the individual members' identities along
with established methods of communicating within the team and with external teams.
The organized and purposeful structure is explicit, tank as well as goal orientated and
the effectiveness of the team is reviewed periodically.
2.2.2 Types of Diversity in Teams
A distinction can be made in relation to the criteria diversity. "Team members can have
very similar or quite different backgrounds". (Adler and Gundersen, 2007 p. 132); they
distinguish: Homogeneous teams including all members that have a similar cultural
background, in contrast to heterogeneous teams the members are generally perceiving,
interpreting and evaluating more similarly. In Token teams one single member has a
culturally differing background whereby that particular person is the so-called "token".
Bicultural teams consist of members who represent two distinct cultures, such as a fifty-
fifty partnership between two different cultures, and finally Multicultural teams whereas
the members are coming from three or more cultural backgrounds.
In multicultural team settings there are two important aspects playing a major role.
The influencing factors in the collaboration with members of different cultural
backgrounds are culture and emotions.
2.3 The Concept of Culture
2.3.1 What exactly is Culture?
No fixed universal understanding does exist; there is little consensus. Over the last
century researchers on culture such as anthropologists, psychologists and others have
attempted to describe culture from various perspectives. To some culture is learned
behavior while by others it is just seen as an abstraction from behavior and not as
behavior at all. For example the American Psychologist Harry Triandis describes culture
as a "by human made part of the environment" (1989, p. 306); and Hofstede, Dutch
social psychologist (1991, p. 5), defines culture as the collective programming of the
mind. However, most of the theorists roughly agree on definitions as, culture, a
collection of values, norms and beliefs shared by a group of people and consequently
guiding their thinking and actions.
The above attempts to define culture and citations as, "cultures are like underground
rivers that run through our lives and relationships, giving us messages that shape our
perceptions, attributions, judgments, and ideas of self and other" (LeBaron, 2003, p.1),
strongly suggest that there is more to it than common sense characteristics as
language, religion, dress codes or national dishes, thus there is way more to culture
than we might notice in the first place.
Furthermore, culture it is a pattern of responses developed within a particular group of
people, aroused from interactions between its members. Those responses are
considered the correct way to perceive, feel, think and behave, including observable
actions as the way people greet or say good-bye to each other. No matter if social
habits, specific behavior or attitudes, those patterns are automatically passed on to all
hands of a culture through transmission and learning.
Culture is, the unwritten rules of a society, determines what is right; what is wrong, what
is inappropriate and what is considered important or unimportant; including the learned
and shared assumptions, along with norms and values (Culture, n.d.,
2.4 Dimensions of Culture
Over the last decades, intercultural issues have received an explosion of interest. Many
ways of approaching cultural diversity were introduced.
For instance Hofstede's (1980, p. 65ff.) dimensions of culture have been widely
influential in the last 30 years. A simple and easily comprehensible model was provided
to make direct comparisons in terms of cross-national differences. However, shared
experiences, values, and basic assumptions that were adaptive in the past may not be
adaptive at present, or in the future because of contextual changes (Triandis, 1994,
cited in Erez and Gati, 2004, p. 586).
In former dimensions of culture the overemphasis on differences only related to the
cultural heritage has resulted in stereotyped judgments and biases. The possibility of
significant within-country variations in cultures has practically been ignored; variations
such as, regional or personal life experience and personality traits. Indeed, cultural
differences include a variety of parameters combined that go beyond national borders.
The changing work environment and increasing cultural complexity in response to
globalization requires dynamic, rather than stable models of culture to serve for
2.4.1 The Multi-Level Model of Culture
A multi-level model (Figure 1.) was introduced to define cultural differences beyond just
the national culture, to embody the dynamic nature of culture.
Characterized by two significant dimensions: The structural dimension referring to the
hierarchy of levels nested within one another. The individual level (cultural self
representation) is the most internal one nested within group culture, organizational
culture, national Culture and global culture. Erez and Gati (2004, p. 587) define the
boundaries of the collective at the national level as partly determined by the shared
agreement on desired, or existing values in the society. The level nested with national
culture is the level of organizational culture. According to Schein (1992, p. 18) in an
organizational culture members of the same organization share a set of beliefs and
values that influence their behaviors. At the team level shared values by team members
such as interpersonal trust, shared learning orientation and support reflect a group
culture (Bunderson and Sutcliffe, 2003, p. 552ff.; Edmondson, 2002, p.128ff.). Finally,
cultural values in the individual level are reflected as represented in the independent
The model is characterized by structural as well as dynamic dimensions. The dynamic
dimension refers to the interrelationships among the various levels of cultures and how
they affect each other. During top-down processes of socialization individuals internalize
the shared meaning system of the particular society and the individual self represents its
values, taking a multi-level approach, where each cultural level serves as the context
and stimulates a process of adaptation and change in the cultural levels below it, such
Figure 1. Multi-Level Model of Culture (Erez and Gati, 2004, p. 588)
as the macro level of the global culture influences the national culture and the national
culture further affects the meso level of organizations and groups which in turn affects
the individual and cultural self-representation.
Reciprocally bottom-up processes of interaction and sharing also exist. Emerging from
the individual level, behavioral norms and cultural characteristics of higher-level entities
are formed at group, organizational and national levels (Erez and Gati, 2004, p. 590). As
soon as most members of the organization (the level) share the new cultural norms the
process permeates the group and organizational levels. Once modified, the
organizational culture becomes a meso-level construct and when it is further shared by
all organizations in a region, it becomes a national-level culture.
2.5 Emotions: An Attempt for Classification
2.5.1 Emotions in the Workplace
When making sense of what is going on around them, individuals do not only engage
their rational mind but also their emotional mind (Goleman, 1995, p.20).
There is no doubt that emotions play an important role in the human mind and
interactions among individuals. "When we meet people, either directly or remotely, in
addition to communicating thoughts and attitudes, we also transmit emotions"
(Parkinson, et al., 2005, p. 25). Social interaction always implies the experience and the
expression of feelings in forms of happiness, anger, disappointment or hope and other
emotions, and there is evidence that these effects can be beneficial as well as the other
way around. Several studies have shown the influence of emotions on creativity,
motivation and performance at individual, group and organizational levels (e.g. Ashforth
& Humphrey, 1995; Ashkanasy, 2003; Fisher & Ashkanasy, 2000).
Thus, the impact of emotions on workplace interactions and behavior is of increasing
2.5.2 The Group Emotion
The "group emotion" in a team is shaped by the affective experience of the team, a
combination of the individual-level affective state and group- and contextual-level factors
(Kelly and Barsade, 2001, p. 106). Emotions are contagious; they spread in teams
(Barsade, 2002, p. 646ff.; Bartel and Saavedra, 2000, p. 197ff.). This contagion effect
depends on the level of team commitment and the team climate (Totterdell et al., 1989,
p. 1507ff.). Thus, if is there is a high degree of commitment in the team and a good team
climate an enhanced contagion effect serves to spread emotions. Positive emotions in
the team and the resulting upward spiral of excitement lead to a high degree of personal
involvement and positive attitudes towards the task, whereas negative emotions have
adverse consequences, they provoke conflict, distrust and fear what may result in poor
Emotional investment influences the degree of effort exerted in the team, determines the
willingness to commit oneself to the team, hence they increase relationship commitment
and facilitate team survival (Saavedra and Van Dyne, 1999, p. 110ff.). Indeed, effective
emotion management helps to avoid a culture of mutual dissatisfaction.
As mentioned earlier, the world gets increasingly connected and so do the people living
and working in it. So what part do emotions play here?
2.5.3 Emotion Management in Multicultural Teams
Diversity clearly adds complexity to various kinds of significant team processes. In order
to develop effective interaction processes in the team it is crucial to understand the role
of emotions in these processes (Druskat and Wolff, 2001, p. 82ff.). The great
interdependence between the members involved requires a special focus on expressing,
interpreting and sense making of the emotions and feelings of individual team members.
According to several studies emotional competence is connected with team
effectiveness, high team performance and outstanding conflict resolution (Feyerherm
and Rice, 2002, p. 343ff.; Jordan and Troth, 2004, p. 195ff.).
In matters of diversity, what actually is subject of the cultural context?
2.5.4 Emotional Meaning Across Cultures
Beginning with the very basics of cultural diversification, the question arises if there are
differences in emotional meanings, to cross-cultural variation in emotion itself, and what
exactly belongs inside the emotion category in one culture compared to another?
Culturalist views of emotion often focus on language, "
Language is the road map of a
culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going"
p. 55). As stated in Parkinson et al (2005, p. 31), there are differences in the meaning of
emotion according to language. In countries like Samoa or Tahiti the translated meaning
for emotion would be "our insides" (Ifaluk); or thoughts and feelings that originate in the
liver (Chewong), thus they don't appear to have such a term as "emotions". Or the
Japanese have two different words labeling emotions in their language (kanjo and jodo),
whereas "jodo" translates into something that the English would rather call personality
traits. Thus, it is not clear if these Japanese words refer to the same types of feelings
that is meant by emotions in the English language. Hence, emotions may be understood
and evaluated differently because they mean different things (Parkinson et al, 2005, p.
In English speaking countries the five most prototypical or basic emotions are "love",
"joy", "anger", "sadness" and "fear" (Shaver, et al., 1987, p. 1076-1079). Even though
those prototypes seem to match in a wide range of languages as the Western ones,
significant differences can be found in non-Western languages. For instance in the
Chinese language "love" itself seemed to be just a part of the "joy" cluster and "shame"
was considered a separate cluster, unlike results in the U.S. where "shame" was just a
subcategory of "sadness".
"The general concept of emotion forms a category that does not have a similar meaning
across cultures, and does not even seem to exist in all languages" (Parkinson et al,
2005, p.31). Emotions may be the same across the world but are represented in very
different ways and to very different degrees.
Obviously, there are cultural differences in the meaning of emotion and the words that
belong inside the emotion category, but which emotions and which components are
affected by cultural factors? Are there basic emotions or expressions?
2.6 Basic Emotions and Expressions
2.6.1 The Basic Emotions Approach
According to a number of investigators (e.g., Ekman, 1972; Izard, 1977; Oatley and
Johnson-Lairsd, 1989; Plutchnik, 1980; Tomkins, 1962; Tooby and Cosmides, 2001.
Cited in Parkinson, 2005, p. 57) a set of "basic emotions" is preprogrammed in the
minds as a matter of evolution, and in addition there are other "non basic" emotions wich
are developed during socialization.
The roots of the basic emotion theory can be traced back to 1872 when Charles Darwin
argued that emotions are universal across cultures as well as across a number of
species. Thus, the basic emotions theory suggests that there is a small set of basic
emotions that are shared with humans and other nonhuman primates.
There are three dimensions each of these basic emotions can be differentiated from one
another: The unique, subjective, "feelings" linked with each basic emotion; the unique
facial expression and the fact that each of them results in a certain behavior (Caruso,
2008, p. 4). It appears to be unclear which emotions are basic, and how many, "the
divergence of opinion about the number of basic emotions is matched by the divergence
of opinion about their identity" (Ortony and Turner, 1990, p. 315). In turn Ortony and
Turner (1990, p. 329) came to the conclusion that not emotions themselves are
biological basics, but rather some of their component processes. Furthermore Camras
(1992, cited in Parkinson, et al., p. 58) stated that the interdependencies that are
developed between environmental, social and individual processes are considered
Furthermore the evolution of the human brain brought with it improvements in many
cognitive abilities and in turn facilitated the emergence of uniquely human emotions that
go beyond basic emotions. "The universe of human emotions is invariably much more
complex than the set of basic emotions we share with animals" (Matsumoto and Juang;
2012, p. 209). Indeed humans don't only have fear, instead they become nervous,
tense, worried, shocked; or they don't just get angry but may be irritated, annoyed,
frustrated or grumpy.
2.6.2 The Basic Expressions Approach
A further key aspect of emotions is how people of different cultures express or display
emotions. The idea of "basic expressions" is, that distinctive facial positions characterize
each of the basic emotions. Members of all cultures recognize a smile as an indicator of
happiness, a scowl as an indicator of anger (assuming that happiness and anger are
"basic emotions") and so forth (Parkinson et al, 2005, p. 59). After several studies in
terms of facial expressions, Ekman (1998, p. 391) made the point, that, when people are
not making any attempt to mask their expressions when experiencing strong emotions,
the expression will be the same regardless of age, race, culture, sex and education.
As situated above, emotions may be culturally universal in their underlying dimension,
but what about the way they become manifest?
2.6.3 Emotion Display and Culture
In multicultural team settings a major difficulty of recognizing emotions results from
diverse ways of expressing emotions around the globe (Ekman, 1971, p. 225). While
some cultures are very expressive and extensively using their body language, people
from other cultures are conditioned to suppress certain emotions right from infancy on.
One can distinguish between neutral and affective cultures, which vary in the extent of
emotions displayed to other people (Trompenaars, 1993, p.70
the expression of
emotion is learned and based on cultural norms and values (e.g. Ekman, 1971;
Matsumoto et al., 1998; Tsai and Chentsova-Dutton, 2003)
For instance in Chinese culture settings showing emotions like anger, and direct
confrontation are viewed as inappropriate and unacceptable behavior, people must not
lose their balance and temper in order to maintain harmony and face (Renjun and Ziang,
2005, cited in Kaar, p. 99).
Ekman (1973, p. 216) conducted a study of American and
Japanese students watching a stressful film including scenes as grisly accidents and
gory surgery. The students either had to watch the film by themselves in a room while
secretly being watched through an observation window or with a notes taking
experimenter present. Both student groups displayed the same expressions of disgust,
anger, fear and sadness when they believed they were alone. When with the
experimenter the Japanese students clearly suppressed the display of their negative
feelings, whereas the American students expressions were similar in both situations.
According to several studies (Matsumoto, 1996, p. 70) Japanese have a high level of
experiencing emotions such as people of other cultures, Japanese are very emotional;
quite surprising, considering the fact that the Japanese have proven to be dramatically
good in suppressing the display of their feelings. Hence, display rules can be learned to
a degree that they become automatic and unconscious (Matsumoto, 1996, p. 72).
Every culture disposes of display rules, prescribing which emotions are allowed to be
shown in which situations and how. These distinct emotion display rules make it difficult
to understand and interpret someone else's emotional state, because the behavioral
indicators normally used for decoding emotions as well as their intensity are misleading
(Matsumoto et al., 2002). Difficulties may arise when it comes to accurately recognizing,
interpreting and judging emotions in others,
Such culturally determined differences in the team do not remain unnoticed among its
members, are emotions affected by diversity?
2.6.4 Emotions and Diversity
Perceptions of dissimilarity in the multicultural team character are quite likely to occur
and team members are confronted with unfamiliar behaviors and attitudes. That
experience of dissimilarity can result in positive or negative emotional reactions, it can
either enhance team performance when positive; or lead to tensions and conflict in the
team and consequently limit team performance when negative (Kaar, 2010, p. 98).
"Diversity is a subjective experience of social categories to which members "feel" they
belong" (Garcia-Prieto et al., 2003, p. 413). The most frequently cited diversity attributes
are gender, age, race and ethnicity. Individuals identify with a particular group based on
these categories and derive sense of belonging from them (Ashforth and Mael, 1989,