INFOGRAPHIC: 9 Tips for Managing Impatience in Multicultural Teams

| By Terence Brake

Impatience in a multicultural team typically leads to exclusion and withdrawal of some members.  This results, of course, in the reduced flow of information and ideas, and sub-optimal use of talent on the team. 

I once observed a multicultural team during a business simulation in the UK.  Most of the members in the team were quite fluent in English, except for two Spanish managers who had some difficulty expressing their ideas.  In the early phase of the simulation, which was focused on building market share in different cultures, I saw the Spanish managers working very hard to be heard.  Very quickly, the more fluent English-speaking members took over the discussions and decision making.

The simulation went through several rounds and the team I was observing continually lost market share until they ended the simulation with zero.  They all looked very despondent and were critical of each other.  At one point in the review discussion, one of the native English speakers looked apologetically at the Spanish managers and said, “Oh my, what a mess we got into (slapping his head) and all because we didn’t listen carefully enough to what you were trying to tell us.  We got impatient and carried on walking blindly over the cliff.”  The outcome was not only that the team lost, but that in the process they lost the participation of two valuable members who decided that there was no use in trying to contribute.

At a workshop in Spain (different company) a Spanish manager expressed his frustration to the American participants – “Listen to me!  Because our English may not be as fluent as yours doesn’t mean we’re stupid and have nothing of value to add.  Slow down and listen!”

Impatience is irritation or even hostility toward something that actually or potentially causes delay.  We’ve all experienced the feelings of frustration that can arise when our expectations for progress are not being met, or the fear that we’re going to be missing out on something (especially not winning).  The need to be supercharged has become an epidemic in many cultures; everything becomes a crisis that must be dealt with immediately.  If there is no real crisis, then create one.  An underlying message I was given when I first started working in the States was “Do it yesterday.” 

There are multiple potential causes of impatience on a multicultural teams – different orientations to time and decision making, different communication styles like direct and indirect (not just fluency), different orientations to hierarchy, and differences in problem solving to name a few. 

In coping with different fluency levels what are some of the things we can do?

Although I have written somewhat negatively about impatience, it is important to recognize that impatience can have a positive role to play in our lives.  It can drive us to achieve more than we imagined; on multicultural teams, however, the outcomes are most likely to be negative and costly. 

  • If we are to manage our impatience we need increased self-awareness:
  • In what circumstances on my team am I most likely to experience impatience?  Why?
  • Are there certain kinds of people or behaviors that trigger my impatience or make it worse? Why?
  • What physical, mental, and behavioral changes do I tend to experience when I’m impatient?  What reactions am I most able to control?
  • What the costs of my impatience to myself and the team’s performance? 

Challenging our own impatience is a difficult task; it requires what US Admiral Hyman Rickover referred to as “courageous patience.”

We hope these tips prove useful for eradicating non-inclusive behavior in your organization. For more advice on introducing cultural intelligence training into your learning programs contact our team today