Managing multicultural workforce the biggest challenge for organisations: UWA Business School researcher

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Managing a multicultural workforce will be the biggest challenge for organisations in coming years, according to a leading researcher from The University of Western Australia's Business School.

Winthrop Professor Cristina Gibson, who was recently named in the top one per cent of influential scholars worldwide in the field of Economics and Business, believes that organisations must embrace diversity in their teams.

"Currently in Australia, 27 per cent of the population was born overseas and another 20 per cent live in households with at least one overseas-born parent," Professor Gibson said.

"My research suggests that, rather than down-playing or forsaking these affiliations in the name of becoming ‘one team' instead, members should be encouraged to contribute the views and knowledge that coincide with these different affiliations, and strongly maintain them.

"This results in a greater pool of perspectives for the team's task and increases the reach of the network of relationships outside the team, which bring greater resources and opportunities."

Professor Gibson was named in the prestigious Thomson Reuters 2014 Highly Cited Researchers list, recognising her work in the area of international management and cross-cultural psychology, with a focus on multicultural and geographically dispersed teams.

Over several decades, she has worked with more than 30 major multinational firms, including General Electric, General Motors, Johnson & Johnson, Oracle, Westpac, and Woodside.

"I'm most proud of the research I have done which gives a voice to those who otherwise wouldn't be heard - for example, members of a minority culture who are collaborating with those from a majority culture in the workplace on a multicultural team," Professor Gibson said.

"My findings have shown that when a broad array of needs and expectations are taken into account by managers, rather than just those of the majority culture, then workers have a higher quality of life and also contribute more to the organisation."

Professor Gibson will teach a new unit called Leading Global Collaborations, to be offered to Master of Business Administration full time students from 2015.

Winthrop Professor Gibson's top tips for working with and managing virtual teams: 

  1. Ensure you establish trust based on performance consistency (such as rapid responses to emails) rather than social bonds.
  2. Provide training for team members in virtual teamwork (including skills such as virtual team leadership, conflict management, and meeting management).
  3. Create a virtual environment of inclusiveness and involvement by maintaining both virtual and face-to-face contact with team members where possible (such as team conferences).
  4. Ensure team members have an appropriate mix of technical and interpersonal skills.
  5. Develop creative approaches for providing feedback, coaching and support for virtual team members. For example, you may use team-member peer reviews or identify online training and development resources.
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