Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Cross-cultural management and Diversity in Team Sports

If all the players in a team do not speak the same language - can they play together?

Do players in a team need to have a common language and culture? Is it enough to just learn the vocabulary of the game or does one need to have a deeper knowledge of the culture where one lives? 

Only six of the forty member 2008 squad of UK's top tier Chelsea Football Club (owned by a Russian) are ethnic English. This situation is nowadays commonplace in the national teams of many countries in different sports.

How Does Communication Affect Sports Performance in Multicultural Teams

Photo source:

Does diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds affect sports performance in multicultural teams? 

Some basic requirements for communication success in diverse teams seem to be:
  • Everyone understands verbal communications, especially those of the coach
  • All players have a clear picture of their own role and how it fits with the big picture
  • Players and coach have a common language
  • Cultural 'mindsets' and mentalities do not conflict too much with the above
How does communication and language issues affect sports performance in the multicultural Trentino Volley team with six Italians and six non-Italians? 

Cross-Cultural blogger Elizabeth Abbott talks about this issue in her blog 

cross-cultural moments: East meets West

Non-Verbal Communication in Multicultural Sports Teams

Words and how we say them are vital, so is non-verbal communication. However, words once said can be added to, qualified or explained. But they can never be retracted. How others get the message is not often easy to predict.

In conveying our messages, one thing which is often overlooked is: 
  • the norms people are used to when decoding the non-verbal cues in their own culture.
Some forms of non-verbal communications are called kinesics and they could be grouped as
  • body language
  • gestures
  • eye-contact - length and manner of eye-contact
Proxemics is the other type of non-verbal communication and it deals with how cultures view personal space and the relationship of people as regards to space.

There are also other areas such as inflection, intonation, how one raises one's voice in what situation and what it means etc.

National Stereotypes in Team Communication

People usually (rather often than not) use national or cultural stereotypes about other cultures. Germans are like this or the Italians behave like this, the Japanese don't do this, and so on. 

Though they may, at surface level seem to give a good working tool, they can be very misleading. If you start using the three tips about the English way of communicating you got from a consultant with experience from the banking industry in London and start applying it to everyone from the UK, you are surely in for trouble. 

Photo source:

So, avoid national stereotypes!

The best advice is: 

  1. Discuss the ways of communicating used regularly and how it is working
  2. How each member understands the communication
  3. Expects to be understood and 
  4. Is used to communicating and interpreting

Maximum Number of Foreign Players in a Team

Photo source:

Is there a limit to the number of foreign players in a sports team that will not prevent a team from performing successfully and actually be an advantage?

Quite often we see national teams with hardly any indigenous player. This is very common in high profile sports such as the soccer team of USA with all foreign born players. 

15% of NBA (National Basketball Association, USA) players are of foreign origin. They are from Argentina, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Lithuania, Serbia, Spain, Turkey. The NBA sees the situation as an opportunity for reverse marketing and spreading its influence in those countries. 

So, the answer is, it depends.

Here's an interesting article on diversity in a sports team.