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Culturally diverse teams are a norm in today’s business context, yet despite the potential for intercultural diversity to promote team creativity, this is not always the case.
Past research has revealed that open communication can occur less frequently in culturally diverse teams, as social categorization, stereotyping and bias can create communication barriers (Earley & Mosakowski, 2000). Moreover, team creativity is stifled when team members fail to share and elaborate on information effectively (Van Knippenberg et al. 2004).
Research conducted by Prof. Lu (Shanghai Jiao Tong University), Prof. Li (Xi’an Jiaotong University), Prof. Leung (Chinese University of Hong Kong), Prof. Savani (Nayang Business School Singapore) and Prof. Morris (Columbia Business School), explores the relationship between team cultural diversity and creativity in a Chinese context, and examines the conditions under which multicultural teams can communicate more openly with each other.
The researchers sought to determine whether leaders’ benevolent paternalism – a leadership style common in East Asia – would positively affect how openly team members interact and communicate with each other. Benevolent paternalistic leadership is characterized by: personal concern for subordinate’s overall job-related and personal wellbeing, the development of positive interpersonal relationships and creation of a familial team environment (Morris et al. 2008).
Ultimately the researchers found that leader benevolent paternalism moderates the negative effect of cultural diversity on communication openness, which in turn can promote creativity.
To examine the leadership conditions under which cross-cultural teams in China can achieve their creative potential.
Data was analysed from 48 multicultural teams (including 330 team members and 48 team leaders) in 30 China-based organisations from industries including: manufacturing, financial services, trading, retailing, education and IT.
Participants responded to two online surveys (provided in English and Chinese).
In the first survey, self-report data was collected from team members, measuring:
Two weeks later, the second survey collected self-report data from team members and team leaders, measuring:
The research found that a benevolent paternalistic style of leadership reduces the negative relationship between intercultural diversity and communication openness. In particular, the researchers found:
In particular, the researchers argue that dimensions of benevolent paternalistic leadership buffer the negative relationship between intercultural diversity and team creativity in the following ways:
In turn, benevolent paternalistic leadership promotes more open and frequent communication among team members.
Asian organisations seeking to be more innovative by unlocking the creative potential of their culturally diverse teams would do well to consider increasing the presence of benevolent paternalistic leadership behaviours through:
This research extends our understanding of how leaders can positively influence the dynamics of culturally diverse teams. In addition to transformational leadership and inclusive leadership styles, multinational and western organisations with culturally and linguistically diverse employees might also seek to understand the benefits of having a benevolent paternalistic leadership style, as there is an obvious question as to whether Asian styles of leadership will add additional value to Western organisations.
For more information, contact Shilpa Didla.
This blog was originally authored by Shilpa Didla.