Leading Multicultural Teams. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2014. 249 pp. Paperback. $17.99..
Evelyn and Richard Hibbert team up to write a how-to manual on Leading Multicultural Teams. They bring to the table over twenty-five years of working with ministry teams, both monocultural and multicultural, as well as specific research they conducted for this book. The authors prize team synergy and emphasize that multicultural teams are worth the extra effort, even though they are more difficult to maintain. The book’s aim is to help leaders and organizations, both secular and Christian, help their teams sustain a high level of efficiency. While the material is neither comprehensive nor groundbreaking, the book is a helpful presentation of the broad challenges facing multicultural teams and general best practices.
After a brief preface and list of acknowledgements, ten chapters make up the book. There is no distinguishable flow to the argument. Three appendices follow the closing chapter, the first with leadership discussion questions, another with a tool to parse team expectations, and the last with an inventory for multicultural team leaders. The book ends with an extensive bibliography that spans the last four decades of work on the subject.
The first chapter introduces the challenge of managing multicultural teams. The authors rightly acknowledge that there is potential for conflict when any group of people comes together for a specific task. They argue that this conflict potential is amplified on a multicultural team. The goal of every team is to achieve synergy, a dynamic in which the team accomplishes more than the sum of its individual parts. The authors begin to present their vision of healthy teams but wait until the third chapter to complete the picture. Chapter two is dedicated to how cultural differences affect teams, especially when it comes to personal values. An effective leader will help the team’s members understand each other’s value systems, which should, in turn, enable better communication.
In the third chapter the authors struggle to articulate a biblical foundation for their vision of multicultural teams. They start with the Tower of Babel and trace the theme of multiple cultures through Israel’s story and into the ministry of Jesus and the early church. While Revelation could have been the climax to the biblical thread of cultural diversity, it only gets a hat tip from the authors. They fail to make a connection between their biblical vision for diversity and why multiple cultures should be represented on an individual ministry team.
Chapter four focuses on building good team relationships. The authors highlight conflict as a potential catalyst for establishing trust. The fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters address clarifying a team’s purpose, appreciating various personalities and gifts, and managing team conflict. This material applies to monocultural teams as much as it does to multicultural teams, so the authors provide brief examples of cross-cultural application for each section.
Chapters eight and nine are the book’s best. Here the reader benefits from the research the Hibberts conducted specifically for the book. They present character qualities and skills that team leaders must develop to be effective. Since the skills and character traits apply broadly, each is illustrated with an anecdote from a multicultural setting. The book’s final chapter is an apology for intentional team development, urging organizations not to cut the process short.
The book’s main strength is found in the wealth of examples and anecdotes from multicultural situations that span the entire globe. There is naturally some overlap between discussing healthy teamwork generally and multicultural teamwork specifically. The authors are at their best when they take a concept from team collaboration theory and amplify it through the lens of multicultural teams. A secondary strength is the notes section at the end of each chapter, which often provides links to online resources. In the Kindle edition, these are hyperlinked and just a click away. In the paper version, each link must be typed in separately.
The book has several weaknesses. First, it fails to inspire. In a century thus far marked by globalization and a heightened sense of cultural diversity, the authors fail to make a case for the timeliness of the subject. Next, the book’s working definition of culture is Paul Hiebert’s. This would usually be a great starting point but in this case is unnecessarily narrow. The authors miss an opportunity to broaden the discussion to include multigenerational teams as well as teams with members from varying personalities, socioeconomic classes, and ethnicities. In addition, the book takes for granted that a sending organization will assemble a team and appoint a team leader. Members of teams that have come together more naturally and lack a singular leader must adapt the material to fit their situation.
The failure to examine an attitude of learning is a glaring omission. While the authors mention the need to learn (chapter two) and learning as a shared value (chapter four), nowhere do they treat the subject with any depth. This seems odd, given that all multicultural relationships, both short term and long term, will be marked by learning and will require a learner’s attitude to be successful. One final weakness is the book’s use of the Bible. While there are many references to Scripture throughout, they are often cursory examples and thus give the appearance of being tacked on.
Despite its drawbacks, Leading Multicultural Teams provides a helpful framework for team leaders and organizations to navigate the complexities of multicultural teams. Even if a team only benefits from pieces of the book, the authors will have accomplished their goal.