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  • Audrey Bevan

Ancient wisdom for modern multicultural teams

Updated: May 24, 2022

Teamwork is challenging as it is. But when different cultures are working together things become even harder – even though we know how rewarding it can be to have diverse viewpoints. So let’s look back to ancient Toltec wisdom for tips on how to get multicultural teamwork right.

The Toltec culture was prevalent in southern Mexico during the 10th to 12th century CE. The Toltecs thought that by adhering to the following four principles, people would let go of self-limiting behaviours and beliefs, and achieve higher levels of freedom and happiness:

  1. Be impeccable with your word

  2. Don't take anything personally

  3. Don't make assumptions

  4. Always do your best

1) Be impeccable with your word

In an intercultural team, there is a higher chance of misunderstandings which can lead to frustrations. Don’t let this feeling overwhelm you to the point of speaking ill of someone. Only say or write something you mean and that you would be prepared to have forwarded to the entire team. A good way of doing this is to stick with facts without judgement and if you want to share the emotional impact it has on you, use phrases such as “I feel that….”. When you express your frustration in such a way the receiving party will be much more willing to engage with you and resolve the situation.

2) Don’t take anything personally

People behave and express themselves according to their cultural code. When the code is not shared within a team, some words/ tones/ behaviours can come across as aggressive or offensive. It is a reflection of that person’s culture and personality, it’s not about you! Distance yourself from what you perceive as an aggression and don’t let it cloud your behaviour and your state of mind. You’ll be much happier for it and will perform better.

3) Don’t make assumptions

You’ve heard the saying “assumptions are the mother of all mistakes” (or a less polite version). The moment you learn to question your assumptions, you will instantly be a better team player, especially in a culturally diverse team. For example during a presentation you have someone in your team who is nodding. Does that mean they agree with you? Does that mean they understand? Does that mean they are listening and processing the information to form an opinion? The only way to know for sure is to ask questions and use plain language to seek clarification.

4) Always do your best

When you behave in a way that makes you proud, you perform better and your team engages with you more. And the more your team responds positively to your behaviour, the prouder you are and the more your performance improves. The self-fulfilling cycle starts! That feel-good factor fills up your energy tank and pushes you forward. Always doing your best does not mean that you are THE best, it means giving what you can to the project/ task/ meeting etc. in a way that makes you proud.

These four principles can be applied by managers in how they line manage someone from a different culture, it can be useful to a junior staff who has a manager of a different culture and it can be used as a way to reset the behavioural expectations of staff members within a multicultural team.

For more information on how to get the best performance in a culturally diverse context please contact us.


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