Enjoying and Getting the Most from Cultural Differences in Groups

On many educational programmes as well as in teams in global companies, you’ll find yourself working with people from different countries and cultural backgrounds. That diversity can be a strength, you can broaden your horizons and learn from others.

People speak different langauges, have different customs and cultural norms. Many are living away from their country of origin and you may find yourself working or studying overseas or in a group with people who are, themselves, away from home.

Some cultures are more “polite” and won’t speak out and speak up easily. Others have a more relaxed attitude to time keeping or may be “louder” in terms of speaking up in a group.

Even within diffierent countries there are regions with different languages and customs and norms of behaviour. There will also be people who identify themselves as from more than one country and culture. Some see themselves as “global citizens”.

We are also all individuals, unique and different from each other, whilst sharing common ground and many similarities. Just because one country or region has cultural norms, doesn’t mean everyone from that region will behave the same. We all have our own personalities.

In teams and groups, getting to know and to enjoy our differences, even ig that process is clumsy or awkward for some people at first, is key to that group perfoming well over time. We need to understand and get the best out of each other.

An Activity: Tuning in to your group

One useful activity – though it might feel strange at first – is to introduce ourselves to each other in our own language. Say your name, where you come from, a bit about your family, your hobbies and interests, why you chose this course or job. Even if others don’t speak your language it is surprising how much we can grasp by “tuning in”. Each language offers up its own clues but is also different – the words, the intonation, the gestures. Some words arem in some cases,  the same or similar in all languages = names or places, for example. This is a good way for the group to break the ice and realise that we are different and we need to get the best out of each other, through recognising and enjoying our diversity.

An Activity: Discussing our cultural differences

Have a short coversation, perhaps together over coffee in the common native language you are sharing e.g. English. Discuss how you would normally behave in groups:



  • how to you share ideas?
  • how do you seek clarification?
  • how do you time keep?
  • how do you challenge or disagree?
  • is it ok in your culture to interrupt?
  • how is success or failure defined or dealt with in your culture?
  • are there any difference in the way gender is approached in your culture
  • how do you give or receive feedback or criticism?
  • what happens if someone isn’t contributing to the group?
  • how is humour used (If at all) in groups in your culture?
  • what kind of language is acceptable or unacceptable?

Explore the similarities and differences about how people get things achieved in groups in your own hime culture(s).

An Activity: Cooking for Each Other


Food can be a real social glue! Take it in turns to host an informal gathering or a forma team meeting over lunch or dinner where you cook some of your home nation’s cuisine for the rest of the group. Describe some of the cultural customs about how meals are served and eaten and let them try your cooking!

It doesn’t need to be gourmet or expensive – just a taste of where you are from.

It can lead to group bonding as well as getting to know each other through relaxed conversation.

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