Importance of cultural intelligence in team communication: How to build it in the workplace

Today, most high-growth companies are a melting pot of cultures. In a bid to expand their global footprint and welcome the best talents, companies hire employees from diverse backgrounds. Companies tolerant of different cultures have better employee loyalty rates and business productivity.

But, quite often, companies struggle to retain the workforce. Companies are reworking their team communication methods and management strategies to reduce employee turnover.   Companies have realized that in order to interact with employees from different cultural backgrounds effectively- they need to develop cultural intelligence!

What is Cultural Intelligence
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Cultural Intelligence is a vital concept in organizational psychology. It is a skill that a modern leader should possess.

What is cultural intelligence?

Cultural intelligence (CQ) refers to the ability to recognize and adapt to diverse cross-cultural situations. A culturally intelligent individual has a keen interest to learn, understand and adapt to diverse multi-cultural scenarios.

An employee trained to practice cultural intelligence can adapt to cultural differences and collaborate effectively. Cultural mindfulness and knowledge can help in handling multi-cultural interactions without bias. Hence, CQ is a necessary skill in cross-cultural teams.

Cultural intelligence in communication: Its impact and benefits in the workplace

Many organizations hire employees from different cultural backgrounds. This is quite a progressive approach. But the management must ensure that the company’s work culture supports diversity. This effort can positively impact the way teams communicate and collaborate.

Here are a few benefits of cultivating cultural intelligence in the workplace:

  1. CQ brings in diverse perspectives and creativity

One of the reasons why companies hire global talent is because of the growing need for innovation and creativity. A diverse workforce frequently is much more creative as each employee has a different viewpoint due to the diverse range of global exposure. These viewpoints can lead to solutions that are not easily evident when everyone thinks the same way. While teams with cultural diversity are productive and creative the team members still need to feel included and feel like they fit in. Only then can there be a free flow of ideas and open team communication.

  1. CQ fosters Team cohesion

Social cohesion is the ability of a team to work together in harmony. It means that every employee feels included, seen and heard. In a cross-cultural team, making employees feel like they belong to the team is challenging.

However, cultural intelligence drives employees to understand and proactively respond to their teammates. For example, if a new hire working from another country needs assistance, managers need to be able to communicate with the person in a way that makes the person feel comfortable in their cultural situation.

  1. CQ drives inclusion and equality

Developing cultural intelligence helps in creating an equal space for all employees. An employee trained to be culturally agile strives to communicate without pre-conceptions.

Being culturally intelligent is not confined to the ability to understand different cultures. It also implies an individual’s curiosity to learn and adapt himself to other cultures with ease. For this, employees, as well as managers, must be open to accepting differences that will arise with every circumstance.

CQ helps individuals see beyond a person’s differences. Rather, it helps in encouraging mindful communication.

Stereotyping and social conditioning are common issues in a diverse workplace. Employees from a similar cultural background are often expected to show certain characteristics or behavioral traits. Assumptions and biases about a certain cultural group can lead to discrimination. This can affect teamwork and work performance negatively. In a cross-cultural team, it is important to see beyond stereotypes. Every individual regardless of cultural background is unique due to their personal experiences.

  1. CQ minimizes conflicts and misunderstandings

Conflicts and misunderstandings are inevitable within any team. In a culturally diverse environment, it could get worse. Employees may have a difference in opinion. They may even have different behavioral traits or gestures that they follow. What is acceptable in one culture may be offensive in another. A simple example is a way top-level managers are addressed. Often, senior managers are addressed as ‘Sir’ as an act of respect in one culture, while they are addressed much more informally in many others.

A culturally agile workplace is built on the foundation of equality and inclusion. Managers must establish a clear code of conduct in the organization. This can prevent a considerable number of issues that arise in a multi-cultural workplace. Adopting culture-sensitive practices enhances tolerance in the workplace.

  1. CQ improves brand reputation on a global scale

When a company is intelligent with how it manages its diversity, it speaks a lot about its company culture. By developing cultural intelligence in the workforce, the company puts itself on the international map. Job seekers around the world look for cultural diversity. Employees seek companies that practice inclusion, equity and acceptance in the face of differences.

  1. CQ encourages unbiased, merit-based recruitment

The good thing about cultural intelligence is that it sees beyond cultural barriers. Companies with well-strategized diversity and inclusion policies hire employees based on their skills and merits alone. This unbiased approach reflects in core company values, policies and hiring practices.

Four ways to build cultural intelligence in culturally diverse teams

  1. Celebrate festivities and special days

Representation is quite important in a diverse workforce. A workforce could have employees from a diversity of nationalities, regions, religions and many other differences. Celebrate festivals and special days with small gestures. It could be a lunch party, an event, or a social media post. Celebrating diversity is the first step toward making employees feel included in the workplace. An inclusive workplace adapts and accepts cultural differences. It allows employees to be who they are and celebrates their identity.

  1. Find similarities to bond over

Acceptance is key to sustaining a diverse workplace. But it is the similarities and effective team communication methods that hold a team together. Find common ground amidst all the differences. For this, it is vital to communicate with employees and understand where they come from.

CQ unites the team over similarities. Every culture has similarities. It could be a festival, music, sports or other similar traditions. Culturally agile management integrates them into strategically planned team-building activities.

  1. Provide culture sensitivity training

Interacting with people from different cultural backgrounds, personal experiences and perspectives can be challenging. It requires an open and empathetic mindset. Cultural awareness is what helps teams to thrive in diversity. Diversity training can be an eye-opener. It helps employees eliminate communication barriers, unconscious biases and stereotypes. Training employees to embrace diversity improves team collaboration and work efficiency.

The training helps raise awareness about the organizational code of conduct. These clear guidelines provide a deeper understanding of inclusive behaviors and practices. It also addresses issues like bullying and harassment.

  1. Culturally competent leadership

Team leaders must display cultural competency from the time an employee is recruited. Managers must own the ability to interact effectively with employees of varied cultural backgrounds. Their interactions must be genuine, empathetic and free of bias.

Demonstrating cultural agility must start from the top. Leaders must lead by example. Leaders must be able to understand the context of cross-cultural interactions. They must have the ability to communicate effectively without prejudice.

Employees must feel free to approach their managers with their concerns.

Keep an open-door policy. Be mindful when interacting with employees. Be sure not to demean an employee based on his/her background. Be kind and empathetic when communicating feedback. Make a consistent effort to adopt inclusive team meeting practices. Make sure every employee has a voice.

An agile leader respects and acts upon the needs of a culturally diverse workforce. Provide a new employee with all the assistance and opportunities to integrate with the team. Managers must make an effort to provide individualized training. Encourage other team members to assist in the process. Train new employees on the team practices and code of conduct. Sometimes, leaders may have to go the extra mile and implement new strategies that work for the team. For example, in a hybrid team, employees from different time zones and locations often find themselves being passive attendees in team meetings or group discussions. Use digital tools and invest in meeting room technologies to enhance the remote meeting experience.


In the modern workplace, cultural intelligence is the need of the hour. With companies going on a global talent search, workforces comprise a blend of employees from different backgrounds. Integrating cultural intelligence into the core values is a worthy corporate investment.

Hiring the best candidates from the global talent pool is only half the job. The major challenge is employee retention. Organizations must practice cultural mindfulness and celebrate diversity rather than disregard the differences. Encouraging leaders and employees to be culturally agile improves team productivity. Develop culturally sensitive team communication methods to reduce problems and misunderstandings.  Create a positive working environment where employees feel included, heard and understood.

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