Multilingualism and Cultural Fluency Are the Drivers of Tomorrow's Workforce Educators must adjust their methods accordingly to ensure that the next generation is prepared to thrive in this new reality.
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It is no secret that we are quickly shifting into a new business landscape in which global teams are increasingly common — and feasible — due to advanced technology and the rapidly changing conditions over the past two years. And, as any diversity and inclusion expert will tell you, a diverse workplace with employees located across the world offers a richness of perspective that can provide tremendous competitive advantages.
Culturally diverse work teams that hail from different countries or regions can tap into knowledge and processes that have been tried, tested and enriched through unique approaches to problem-solving. They can also access networks and opportunities in new regions, unlocked through the linguistic and cultural fluency of the members of the team.
There was an interesting study by Harvard Business Review that looked at precisely this topic. I recommend reading it in detail, but to summarize: The research found that while personal diversity such as language fluency, age difference and cultural differences can negatively affect team cohesion, the opposite is true for contextual diversity, which creates room for more views and perspectives in the creative, decision-making and problem-solving processes, according to the study.
Multilingualism as a competitive advantage
Looking at the workforce composition of today's thriving commercial centers in any continent, cultural fluency and multilingualism are skills that professionals across all sectors are keen to showcase and leverage to increase their value proposition. We are now entering an era in which global teams can benefit from contextual diversity, while the potential risk factors of personal diversity (e.g. language fluency, cultural differences) can be reduced or eliminated altogether through future-oriented, globally aware education.
With the stark increase in virtual work over the past two years, teams spread throughout different regions or countries have become increasingly common. Despite its convenience and potential positive impact on corporate operational budgets, it is safe to say that challenges can be foreseen in a world where the boundaries of "location of work" are a thing of the past. Language barriers and differences in work cultures can in fact be more strategically demanding to navigate than, say, aligning time zones, though arguably carrying wonderful opportunities for innovation and learning within them.
Thus, in order to maximize the collaborative benefits of a diverse team, companies must proactively promote cross-cultural collaboration and have the operational mechanisms in place to detect any disconnect or intercultural tensions before they come to a head or damage organizational culture. These types of issues can be avoided altogether more easily through learning and development that supports cross-cultural awareness and linguistic capacity.
Related: Multilingual Support: Speak Your Customer's Language
The need for future-oriented education
Of course, it is not just companies and staffing advisors that must evolve and adapt. More fundamental is the recognition that education, beginning at the earliest stages, must be future-oriented. For the future workforce to be prepared for this new way of working "with the world," the education system must look beyond the school zone boundary and take into consideration the skills that will be decisive for success in a hyperconnected global economy, in which employment and entrepreneurial relationships will be increasingly removed from the physical boundary of one's home.
Public and private education alike must make room for multilingual offerings, and ensure that the classroom is a place where learners connect and engage with diverse perspectives and approaches. Today's students must learn to solve problems in collaboration with their peers, and learn through experience that to achieve true innovation and progress, both contrasting and complementary experiences and cultural knowledge are needed.
The reality is that the global corporate world is in an adjustment period, with companies attempting to reap all the potential benefits of diverse teams. Although many are doing so successfully today, the possibilities for a future global workforce that is not limited by cultural differences or language fluency in our interconnected world are endless — but it must begin with a revitalized approach to education that recognizes the importance of multilingualism and global thinking, preparing the next generation for the market of the future through a diverse learning journey.
Related: 4 Reasons Entrepreneurs Should Learn Another Language