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Mgt2000

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Submitted By jonilabu
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In today's global work environment, it's a given that companies need culturally diverse teams to succeed. Both scientific studies and common sense tell us that having people with different viewpoints onboard increases the creativity that teams will employ in solving problems. Of course, that's assuming all members of the team are pulling in the same direction.

But what if they aren't? Can being exposed to intercultural conflicts and tensions have an impact even on observers who are not directly involved in these disharmonies?

Harvard Business School Assistant Professor Roy Y. J. Chua started asking those questions a few years ago, when writing a case about a Chinese luxury apparel company. The firm had members from China, Hong Kong, Germany, and France, who were all working together to meld Chinese elements with Western fashion. As he observed them, however, Chua saw tension and miscommunication based on cultural differences. "Even though, when you asked them, they didn't think it was a problem, I wondered if it could have an indirect impact on people observing these tensions," he says.

Chua compares it to the kind of "hostile work environment" that occurs in cases of sexual harassment or racial discrimination—in which coworkers' morale or performance suffers even when they are not the direct targets of abuse. He coined a term for the phenomenon, "ambient cultural disharmony," which he discusses in depth in The Costs of Ambient Cultural Disharmony: Indirect Intercultural Conflicts in Social Environment Undermine Creativity, a paper published this month in the Academy of Management Journal.
Multicultural teams may need managerial nurturing to overcome frictions. Photo: iStockPhoto

"A lot of times when we study cultural conflict, it's about people directly involved in conflict," says Chua. "The key word here is 'ambient,' looking at the effect that...

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