5 Lessons that Will Help You Manage a Multicultural Crew

Soraya (Morgan) Gutman

iStock_000072444633_SmallIf you’re like most project managers, you face a challenge that didn’t exist years ago—managing a multicultural crew.

The landscape of construction staffing has changed significantly and many cultures now cross paths on painting projects.

And like most project managers, you probably struggle to manage these diverse teams.

Maybe the communication barrier in a crew that doesn’t speak the same language fluently is difficult to break through. Maybe it’s a struggle to get a crew of diverse cultures to bond and function together as a team. Maybe the daunting challenge of motivating a crew of different cultures is overwhelming. Maybe you have no idea how to manage conflict in a multicultural crew.

Add in the stress of looming completion dates, full project schedules, working around and over other contractors, meeting safety regulations, customer expectations, and all the other demanding aspects of project management, and you have a challenge on your hands.

The good news is the challenges of managing a multicultural painting crew can be overcome.

I was born into a family of immigrants. My father is first-generation Egyptian, my mother a first-generation German, and my husband a first-generation Russian (who is also Jewish). They showed me that bridging cultural gaps isn’t impossible, and being raised in this multicultural environment taught me important lessons in how to bridge those gaps.

Because learning the language, or the multitude of languages of crew members in just a few days isn’t possible, it’s important to find ways to connect with them that go beyond language from the onset. While the following lessons work with crews even of the same culture, they are particularly helpful in developing and demonstrating respect for and understanding of multicultural crews.


Mirror the other person’s body language and speech

Body language is powerful—it shapes how you see others, and how they see you. So when meeting someone for the first time, mirror what the other person is doing with their body and speech while being conscious of your own body language and speech patterns.

For example, if that person is standing, you should be standing. If they speak using simple words, you should use simple words. If they make a lot of eye contact, you should as well. In business, sales training often emphasizes this technique as a way to simply make the other person feel comfortable by mirroring them.


Focus on being humble, not right, during conflict

When there is conflict—or even a simple miscommunication—between people of different cultures, tensions can run even higher than they might normally because of cross-cultural challenges. Especially if it’s during the ‘getting-to-know-you’ phase with someone you haven’t connected with yet.

But there are four little humble sentences you can use to diffuse tension and help everyone relax. They are, “I may be wrong. I am often wrong. I want to get it right. Let’s go over the facts.”


It doesn’t need to be big to be motivating

Regardless of their culture, everyone—absolutely everyone—likes recognition and encouragement. And it’s an easy thing to give. Something as simple as a weekly ‘Employee Spotlight’ awarding a $5 Dunkin Donuts gift card for performance can do the trick nicely.

Take 15 minutes out of your week to recognize the employees who are demonstrating the performance you want from everyone. Tell your crew why that employee is being recognized, including the specific behaviors and reasons they are a good example to follow. Remember to keep your speech and language simple if there are communication barriers.

But don’t rotate through employees for the sake of fairness. Everyone who is meeting (or exceeding) your expectations should be in the spotlight every week. The goal here is to eventually get everyone in the spotlight every week and have them stay there by telling them what your expectations are, and recognizing them for meeting those expectations.


There are two types of personalities

I believe there are two specific sets of characteristics that most people fall into—they either do not adapt well to change or they thrive on change. And each type needs a different approach.

Type 1 personalities are steady, deliberate people who do not like to be rushed. They are careful, cautious, and objective thinkers who have very high standards.

When interacting with a person who has these characteristics speak slowly, discuss facts and data, and be deliberate. You’ll find your communication with this type can be improved by approaching them in a direct way, taking your time, providing solid and tangible actions you expect, and sticking to business.

What you should not do with a this type of personality is put them in a sloppy work environment, make small talk, socialize before the main issue to be discussed—or interrupt them while they’re focused.

Type 2 personalities are results-oriented, rapid thinkers who make quick decisions and challenge the status quo by initiating changes. I’ve found that most painters are in this category.

When interacting with a person who has these characteristics, speak at a rapid pace, be stimulating and fun-loving, and keep things moving at a fast pace. You’ll find your communication with this type can be improved by leaving time for socializing, asking about their passions, talking about the rewards of doing the job, sharing tales of success of people they see as important, and clarifying any parameters in writing.

What you should not do with this type of personality is focus on facts or figures, or hesitate to deal with the situation when they confront you.


Everyone smiles in the same language

People of any culture will be more productive in a positive environment than a negative one. As a leader, a positive attitude is critical to successfully managing your crew; it sets the tone for the environment.

Sometimes, something as simple as a smile is the perfect opportunity to connect with someone. It’s a universal symbol of a humble, positive attitude and is hard to misinterpret or misunderstand even when the communication barrier is a big one. And it builds the foundation of trust between you and the other person.

But make sure you aren’t putting on a false positive attitude. Because smiling is a universal language, it’s also pretty universally understood when it isn’t sincere.

Finding ways to connect with your crew—no matter where they’re from—is key to mutual happiness and success. Knowing that ahead of time, you can better plan and prepare. These five simple lessons could be the difference between frustration and stress—and a productive crew that engages with each other on a consistent basis.


Soraya head shotSoraya (Morgan) Gutman is the president of Executive Services of Brand Launcher:

Current Issue

Current IssueRead the current issue in page-turner format.





Free Subscription

Sign up for your FREE subscription to inPAINT magazine, delivered directly to your mailbox.

Sign up