The international environment of IE is my favorite aspect of the school. In one classroom, there are students with more than 40 different nationalities and from diverse academic backgrounds. Every term, students are assigned to a different multicultural team by the program management based on the condition that each team be as diverse as possible.
After working with different multicultural teams, I have learned some key lessons:
- Embracing Diversity
In a team at IE you will be working with people who not only come from different countries, but also have completely distinct working and academic experiences. This is much less likely to happen at university level where most of your classmates have just finished high school and are trying to figure out the same as you with very little experience.
Essentially, at a regular multicultural team at IE you will have the finance person, the accounting person, the presenter, the communications person, the back-office person and the PR person. By understanding what strengths each person brings to the table, you also understand that good work can only be achieved when different skill sets are combined.
Additionally, while trying to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each person in the team you begin to understand what your own strengths and weaknesses are, which leads me to my next biggest lesson of working in multicultural teams.
- Developing self-awareness
This might sound controversial since when working in teams we feel like we are constantly trying to understand others around us. However, after working with different multicultural teams I realized that every time I found a difference between me and another teammate, I was actually moving one step closer to understanding myself and how I function in a team. The better you know yourself, the better your relationship tends to be with others.
I learned how to appreciate differences instead of fighting them, since they became great opportunities for me to expand my own perspectives. A little warning: developing self-awareness is not a comfortable exercise. But well, let’s face it: nothing worthwhile comes easy.
This leads to the biggest and final lesson I have learned from working in multicultural teams.
- Exercise empathy & adaptability
Call it flexibility, open-mindedness, versatility, whatever resonates best with you. More important than naming it is actually doing it. Working in a multicultural team can be hard, but overall, working in a multicultural team can work as long as you are willing to adapt.
First it takes empathy, which means “having the ability to share someone’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation”. Practicing empathy means acknowledging that a cultural gap exists. After acknowledging the gap, we should understand its size and how we can better bridge it. After the empathy step comes the adapting stage. The act of actually building the bridge between the two ends of the gap. At this point you must equip yourself with some basic tools such as creativity, self-awareness and time.
Empathy and adaptability are skills that improve over time. In other words, as you start to practice these skills it might take a week to empathize and another week to understand how to adapt. But with time, the time span between identifying the cultural gap and fixing it tends to become shorter to the point where it becomes natural.
Being a bachelor of International Relations who is passionate about cultural exchange, I think there is something special about working with multicultural teams. I believe that we develop important skills when working with a team and more so if this team is culturally diverse.
Additionally, I am certain that the lessons I extracted from this experience will be of great value to me when working with multicultural teams in the workplace. Hopefully, they can be of great value for you too.
By Arthemis Siqueira
current MIM student