Are teams able to work together when they come from different cultures? What are the benefits of a global team? We've talked to recruiter Juliana Rabbi to learn more about her work and experiences with multicultural work environments.
What makes a team international or multicultural? Which are, for you, the differences between these two words and which one would you use to describe your team?
I confess I haven’t cleared the differences 100% between those two words, and I realized I normally use both to refer to the same idea: people from different places or nationalities.
I am very used to have people from different countries in my team, working together with them every day side by side, or with virtual contact, in case we are not in the same country. Also, as a recruiter, I have traveled to several different continents, to interview candidates from all over the globe. I had the privilege to be “the different one” in countries that foreigners are not so common, and I really enjoyed the experience!
Since you’ve started your work in multinational companies, how did the international mobility change?
Traveling, visiting new places and relocating to a different country has never been so easy. It’s funny because we tend to take those things for granted, but my mom still struggles with traveling to a country where she doesn’t speak the language or doesn’t have a local tour guide at her side all the time. For me – and for most of the people with whom I deal on a daily basis – traveling to a different country for a business meeting or to spend holidays is not only considered “normal”, but also desirable.
We incorporated international mobility as part of our routines. We read news about other countries on social media all the time, and although they can be partial and not entirely true, we feel like we already know some of the places before even being there. The fact that multinational companies have offices in different places, and send their employees for trainings, immersions or team building in different countries makes those international exchange experiences more and more frequent. I consider that we are very lucky to have those opportunities, and we should make the most of it.
I won’t be able to remember the exact words, but I could never forget one of the ideas from the book “Sapiens”, from Yuval Noah Harari (highly recommended, by the way). The author was comparing the amount of new people we can meet in one single day if we travel by airplane from one country to another. If we consider everybody we will see in the public transportation or in the traffic on our way to the airport, at the airport itself, inside the airplane and all the ones we will cross once we arrive in the new country, this is way more people than the total amount of people our intercessors used to meet in their whole life. They were living in a small village, spending all their life in the same place, and moving was not even an option. Amazing perspective, right?
How do you manage to handle a multicultural team? Is it hard to include everyone and to communicate?
It can be challenging. Even dealing with people from the same country can be challenging, because each of us is different, so imagine putting together people that were raised with totally different values and priorities, different religion, relationships with work, gender relationships and much more. I love facing situations like that, and this is exactly the reason why I travel: to put myself out of my comfort zone, and not only learn from different people and cultures, but try to incorporate new ideas and practices in my own life.
What are the challenges of working with international teams?
To manage a multicultural team, cultivating clear and open communication is essential. It’s very important to keep an open channel for people to ask questions and clarify things that could be obvious and common sense to some, but completely new, impolite and even violent to others. Set expectations about acceptable behaviors (like dress code, use of alcohol, physical contact, etc.) might seem not relevant, but not clarifying those aspects in the team can make relationships more complicated.
Having a multicultural team that everyone feels included doesn’t need to be a hard task. If people are careful and respectful of different customs, and more “alert” to think twice before making jokes and comments about things that are not their reality, the contact with other cultures can be interesting, fun and addictive.
This question is more about you: What is the most difficult challenge a Hiring Manager has to face?
Trying to keep personal preferences separate from a fair evaluation about the candidate’s skills, personality, behaviour and profile, in general, can be difficult for the Hiring Manager. There is even a term in Psychology for that: “halo effect”. It is a tendency for positive impressions of a person in one specific area to positively influence one's opinion or feelings in other areas.
For example: if the candidate comes from a country I had a nice experience while traveling there, I assume this candidate is a good choice and that he will fit well in my team. The other way around can also happen: I overheard a negative story about a violent situation in that person’s country, so I automatically assume that everybody who comes from that region will be conflictive and potentially dangerous, and I decide to not have that person in my team.
All of that happens, most of the time, on a more unconscious level. We probably are not doing it on purpose, but if we are not aware that those things are a deviation from rationality in judgment, they will keep happening more often than we would like.
You’ve moved from Brazil to Europe about 13 years ago, right? How did your own experience help you to make better hiring decisions?
When I moved to Spain more than 13 years ago, I had to start my career from zero. I didn’t know anybody in the country, so I had zero connections, zero referrals and nobody that could facilitate my process of getting a new job. I remember perfectly how hard it was to do a job interview in a language that is not your native language, while trying to get your very first job in a new country.
All those experiences made me more flexible and comprehensive with the candidates I deal on a daily basis now, especially the ones coming from different nationalities. Even when I am interviewing a Spanish candidate, for example, I know they might need a few minutes to get used to my Brazilian accent and understand me properly, so flexibility works both ways here.
When I am recruiting for a specific job position, I need to be fair and do a professional evaluation of the candidate, despite of the nationality. The fact that somebody comes from a different country isn’t necessarily a good or a bad thing. But I tend to see it more often as a positive aspect, because living abroad implies adjusting into a new environment, getting out of your comfort zone, maybe learning a new language and immersing into a very different reality.
What is your most important advice for companies when it comes to building a multicultural team? And for candidates to join one?
Be flexible and respectful. Behaviours that might be considered acceptable and ordinary in your own country could be seen as a totally inappropriate option in a different place. Sense of humour is also important, because mistakes will happen, and it’s just easier if we take a step back, allow ourselves to have fun with that, and learn from the situation. There is not a single book that covers all the cultural and behavioural aspects of a country – but the more you read and get information about the new place, the better.
I always suggest people to keep their eyes and ears very open when they just started working in a new company. Observe what others do. Check the routines at the office. Take some time to know the people in your team and try to map how they do their work. All those details will give you tips about what to do, and what not to do in the new ambience.
I worked recently for a company in which long e-mails were not only taken as a bad practice, but they were not read most of the time, as Managers were “too busy to read long e-mails”. In that multinational company, “less is more” regarding e-mails. On the other hand, I recall another multinational company I worked for years ago, in which details and further information in each e-mail were taken as a polite behaviour and a way of “taking care” of whoever was receiving that e-mail. Longer e-mails would allow the person who receives them to have all the details to understand the situation without the need to send further e-mails asking for more details. Even something as simple as the way we send e-mails inside the company can vary a lot!