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CCVC original page

Page history last edited by Robert Ames 9 years, 4 months ago

(Spring 2010)

Cross-Cultural Virtual Collaboration

 

 

Overview

 

 

 

What is cross-cultural collaboration? Before there can ever be a discussion about cross-cultural collaboration, there must be a clear understanding to what cross-cultural collaboration is. The best way to find this out is to break it down. I think the easier of the word to look at first would be the word collaboration. The word collaboration comes from the Latin word collaboratus which is past tense of the Latin word collaborare which means to labor together. The word collaboration according to Webster means to “work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor, to cooperate with or willingly assist an enemy of one's country and especially an occupying force, or to cooperate with an agency or instrumentality with which one is not immediately connected”.

 

There are several types of collaborations including both classical examples and contemporary examples. Classical examples of collaboration include; trade, community organization, game theory, military-industrial complex, project management, academia, and classical music.  Contemporary examples of collaboration includes; arts, business, education, music, publishing, science, and technology. Collaboration dates back to the beginning of time and will continue to be a part of life.

 

The definition of cultural is a little more cumulated.  Webster defines the word cultural as “the act of developing the intellectual and moral faculties especially by education, expert care and training <beauty culture>, enlightenment and excellence of taste acquired by intellectual and aesthetic training, the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations, and the act or process of cultivating living material”. Cultural covers a lot of things from beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, and social group to acquaintance with and taste in fine arts, humanities, and broad aspects of science as distinguished from vocational and technical skills and everything in between. Cultural not only defines people and who there are but can go as deep as to tell why they are who they are and why people do the very things that they do. Cross-cultural is “dealing with or offering comparison between two or more different cultures or cultural areas” according to Webster. With all this stated it is very clear to see that cross-cultural collaboration is simply people for different cultural back grounds working together.

 

 

 

Chapter Goals

 

This chapter will discuss why cross-cultural collaboration exists. Exactly why would people from different cultural background what to work together. Evolving technologies can make cross-cultural collaboration easier and cheaper for companies to do business. People from different cultural backgrounds have a different way of life many times, this means that many challenge can and will arrive. The main challenge that would arrive would be time this and many more will be looked at and analyzed. Tools that are available that would make this process easier and what place will this tools have in cross-cultural collaboration. Lastly this chapter will take a look at the works of Geert Hofstede, Edward T. Hall, and Shalom Schwartz research and how it plays a major role in cross-cultural collaboration. Clear understanding of all these factors of cross-cultural collaboration will be discussed in later throughout this chapter.

 

 

Why Cross-Cultural Collaboration Exists?

 

Cross Cultural Collaboration exists because there is a need to share knowledge, discussions (verbal and non-verbal), and resources, and foster interaction and also providing cross-cultural feedback via collaboration tools and environments. Also, as a virtual team works to understand each other, that cross cultural appreciation would lead to better communication during brainstorming and therefore better ideas.(Dr. Ter Bush, 2010) There are differences with cross cultural collaborations that affect planning, designing, delivering, learning and behaviors. It also exists because it gives companies the ability to support products and services throughout the world. By creating a universe of globally-distributed business partners, organizations can operate as a single enterprise round-the-clock. They may utilize collaboration tools and common processes and systems to reduce barriers includ ing geography and time zones. Evan Rosensaid, “Without a Culture of Collaboration, the best processes, systems, tools, and leadership strategies fall flat.”

 

 

Expanding Work Environments

 

I think the reason to expand work environments is create an environment that works for those involved. Whether from the comfort of your home, office, or backyard, it’s a comfort to the company that knows you are fully participating. Work can go anywhere you are, and the expanded environment helps you build the listening and attention skills required for the job. The expanded or global workplace benefits from the richness of the cultural and personal diversity of their workers too. 

 

 

Cost-Saving Initiatives

 

Cost savings initiatives are programs designed to cut organizational costs in order to maximize profit and shareholder value. Some cost savings initiatives include organizational restructuring to centralize services spread throughout an organization, process automation, layoffs and workload redistribution, restructuring of spending controls, and a myriad of other programs a company may initiate to improve the bottom line. Virtual collaboration cuts cost from the perspective of, if employees work from home, then office space could be saved, along with the cost for utilities, etc. But, cost saving Initiatives can come in other forms. For example, “Video conferencing solutions are either: expensive and good quality only in a LAN but not in WAN or cheap and unacceptably but low in quality. Broadband services may not be available everywhere and installing dedicated lines could increase the cost to the organization and therefore offsetting any cost savings from telecommuting or reduced travel.”

 

 

Virtual Cross-Cultural Collaboration Issues

 

Virtual teams comprised of people from different cultural backgrounds pose both challenges and opportunities for the group. Cross-cultural team meeting face-to-face are presented with challenges to overcome such as expectations, values and language. These issues are magnified by same issues that present challenges to teams of the same culture meeting virtually.

 

1)           “Cultural diversity leads to process losses through task conflict and decreased social integration.” (Stahl, Maznevski, Voigt, & Jonsen, 2010)

2)           It is critical to understand what causes problems in cross-cultural teams.

a)      The main points of conflict—what Adams and Sockalingam call the “trust and respect breakers”—are not the most apparent differences, such as food, lifestyle or even language.

b)      The source that can cause the greatest harm to cross-cultural team is a disparity of values, expectations and communication styles. (Adams & Sockalingam, 1999)

3)           These issues are more difficult to recognize without actively looking for them.

a)      It is for this reason that cross-cultural training (CCT) is key to a successful virtual team.

b)      As Brandl and Neyer discovered “the type of CCT received can influence cognitive adjustment in global virtual teams.” (Neyer & Brandl, 2009)

4)           Cultural differences are also found within the same county.

a)      A study funded by the U.S. Office of Minority Affairs found that minority communities within the U.S. “understand that great differences separate them from the Anglo American mainstream cultures. In contrast, Anglo American communities do not have much awareness of the magnitude of differences.” (Adams & Sockalingam, 1999)

5)           Cultural diversity leads to “process gains through increased creativity and satisfaction.” (Stahl, Maznevski, Voigt, & Jonsen, 2010)

 

As we learned in the “Why CCVC Exists” section, working with people from other cultures brings an abundance of rewards/benefits and opportunities; however benefits isn’t the only product of such collaboration.  Studies have shown that people have their own unique cultural background that influences how they do things (like in business) and expect things to be done, which can potentially cause issues with people from different cultures. Each culture is normal to ‘some’ people, but weird/abnormal to people from different ‘cultures’.  With this in mind, it is extremely important for people to acknowledge and recognize their ‘culture’ in order to learn how to manage and narrow culture gaps. The following sections will explain some of the cultural differences and how these differences can cause issues.

 

 

Cultural & Intercultural Differences

 

In 1976, Edward T. Hall wrote a book called “Beyond Culture”, in this book he made famous the terms High Context and Low Context culture. High-context and Low-context refers to how much a speaker relies on things other than words to communicate. In essences, everyone uses both types of communication, but based on people’s culture and relationships, people tend to use, rely and focus more on one form of communication (High or Low Context) versus the other.  So what really is High Context or Low Context?

 

 

High Context Culture

 

•          High context refers to societies or groups where people have close knit long term relationships.

•          In such culture, many aspects of cultural behavior are not made explicit because most members know what to do and what to think from years of (long terms) interaction with each other.

•          People in these cultures place great emphasize on interpersonal relationships. 

•          According to Hall, these cultures prefer group harmony and consensus over individual achievement. 

•          Also, people in these cultures are less governed by reason, and more by intuition or feelings.  Words are not as important as context, which might include the speaker’s tone of voice, facial expression, gestures, posture—and even the person’s family history and status. 

•          Examples of High Context Cultures: French Canadian, French ,Finnish (especially Sami people), Russian, Italian, Spanish, Latin Americans, Greek , Arab, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, Brazilian, Jews

 

 

Low Context Culture

 

•          Low context refers to societies where people tend to have many connections but of shorter duration or for a specific reason (i.e. project).

•          In these societies, cultural behavior and beliefs may need to be spelled out explicitly so that those (from a different culture) coming into this cultural environment know how to behave. 

•          Low Context is also logical, linear, individualistic, and action-oriented. 

•          People from low-context cultures value logic, facts, and directness.  Solving a problem means lining up the facts and evaluating one after another.  Decisions are based on fact rather than intuition.  Discussions end with actions.  And communicators are expected to be straightforward, concise, and efficient in telling what action is expected.  Explicit contracts conclude negotiations.  This is very different from communicators in high-context cultures who depend less on language precision and legal documents.  High-context business people may even distrust contracts and be offended as they feel they suggest a lack of trust.

•          In general, cultures that favor low-context communication will pay more attention to the literal meanings of words than to the context surrounding them.

•          Examples of Low Context Cultures: German, Scandinavian (except for Finland), American, English, Irish, English Canadian, Australian

 

 

High/Low Context Issues

 

So, when people from different context cultures collaborate, there are often difficulties that occur during the exchange of information. For example, employees from a high-context culture like China might only share very specific and extensive information with their “close knit, long term relationships" (good friends, families, close coworkers, etc). Yet, a low-context culture like the United States might limit communication to a smaller/select group of people and share only necessary information.   So it’s very important that an individual is aware of the type of situation they are in, mainly so that when trying to communicate with a different culture, awareness will enable people to adapt and learn how to communicate in such culture. So with this in mind, another major hurdle to successful cross-culture collaboration stems from communication problems. Communication is especially crucial in business, as it’s extremely important to know what to say, when to say it and how to say it. 

 

 

Communication Style

 

In CCVC, communication problems can arise from type of language, use of language, and communication tools.

 

 

Type of Language

 

What one culture considers a positive communication style can sometimes be considered a poor communication style in a different culture.  A person’s approach to communication (i.e. aggressive, passive, explicit, implicit, loud or silent) can sometimes be considered a personality defect, if it’s different from what’s typical in your own culture.  When people do not understand the approach or the underlying reason for the approach (i.e. cultural), instead of people thinking, ‘that’s the way language is used in that particular country’ people will associate language style with negative characteristics such as rudeness or evasiveness.  


Use of language

 

Non-native speakers are at a huge disadvantage in all international communication scenarios, because even if they are “good” in a second language, they are rarely as fluent as they are in their native language, or a fluent as Native speakers.  This can lead to a few issues; for example, non-native speakers sometimes may be unable to express themselves as intended. For example, words might be misused and given the wrong emphasis, or the sentence structure might be incorrect, and as a result statements can come across as being rude.

 

Furthermore, Non-native speakers may be more reluctant to express themselves freely due to shyness or lack of confidence in their English. Such reluctance could interfere with the ability of team members to offer their maximum contribution, or to bring up issues or important points in a discussion or other collaborative scenario. 

 

Another issue is that the ‘same’ language might be spoken differently in different regions of the world. For example, UK English differs significantly from US English, as well as Mexico Spanish from Spain Spanish. 

 

 

Communication Tools

 

In global/virtual project teams, some forms of communication naturally take precedence over others, for example emails, conference calls and video conference calls are more much more prevalent than face-to-face communication.  Various communication mediums can be an integral and vital part of international communication, but they need to be carefully managed in order to avoid issues common in non face-to-face communication.  As described previously in High/Low Context Cultures, some cultures rely heavily on the use of body language and non-verbal cues. This is especially important to consider when deciding how to best communicate in a CCVC team, for example in virtual communication a certain culture’s communication style may be inhibited (i.e. non-verbal cues).  So, It is important to select the best communication medium for each situation, and for the entire CCVC team.

 

 

Behavioral Differences

 

In business, local face to face meetings are often seen as unproductive, confusing and/or a waste of time.  This is no different in CCVC, however due to cultural differences planning and approach of such meetings is even more complex.  So, to better prepare for CCVC meetings behavioral differences should be taken into consideration.  Cultural behavioral differences can cause many misunderstandings, but what this section will focus on how these differences can create issues in business meetings. So, to best explain how these differences create meeting planning issues below is a comparison of behavioral differences amongst the US, Mexico, Spain and China.

 

US:  Meeting agendas and punctuality is important. Americans are known for being outspoken and good communicators.  They tend to debate issues directly and openly with quantitative and qualitative arguments, however such behavior could be seen in other cultures as too aggressive or rude.  Such debate can also be viewed by more harmony/quiet cultures as a breakdown in communication, and could potentially signal to such cultures to abandon the interaction.  However, in the US, debate is seen positively and as a sign of progress. Furthermore, when debating with the US, other cultures need to be prepared to counter ideas/proposals/issues with quantitative and qualitative counter-arguments. In the US, decision making is distributed amongst teams and organizations. Such decision distribution might seem like there’s a lack of hierarchy within US organizations, however the boss is still the boss and is expected to make final decisions and is held accountable for those decisions.

 

Mexico:  Meeting punctuality is flexible and agendas are optional, and when agendas are produced they are not strictly followed.  Meetings start and finish times are only estimates. Emotion is shown in business discussions; such behavior can appear heated to cultures that do not support showing of emotion during business situations. In Mexico though, showing emotion is seen as a positive, as it implies engagement.  Generally, in Mexico, personal relationships are at the heart of business decisions.  Unlike the US, key decision making is much more hierarchical and less distributed, as decisions are made by a small number of individuals at the top of the hierarchy. It’s important for other cultures, like the US to understand this, to ensure the right people (manager, or above) are in the right meetings when decision making is needed.

 

Spain:  Similar to Mexico, agendas are optional and not necessarily followed. Punctuality is important, but it’s more important emphasis relationship building, so if the relationship is strong punctuality is not very important.  Spanish verbal communication can often be viewed from other cultures as over emotional, which could be a negative. Communication within Spanish organization is very often limited and on a 'need to know' basis. This is not necessarily defined by rank or position, but more by who you know; In other words, dissemination of information flows by strength of personal relationships. Departments do not, necessarily, freely communicate across departmental lines, as any such communication is more likely to be at a more senior level.  Similar to Mexico, decision making also comes from the top, and unlike the US, meetings are more for distributing of information rather than for open debate or decision making.

 

China:  Punctuality is important. Meeting agendas are necessary but not followed, they serve more as a starting point and a “jump off” for other topics and agendas. Chinese are quiet and reserved communicators, and follow a Confucian philosophy that considers all relationships to be unequal. So, ethical behavior demands that these inequalities be respected. Thus, the older person should automatically receive respect from the younger, the senior from the subordinate, etc. So in business meetings, respect is necessary. It is also common to be involved in a series of meetings rather than one big meeting at which all major issues are disclosed and assessed. Much like Mexico, Meetings are about building relationships and like spain they are for exchanging information, rarely are decisions made within a meeting. Decisions are typically made elsewhere in consensus-style discussions, which involve all the relevant people.  Unless you speak Chinese it can be difficult to do business in many parts of China without the aid of a translator. English language levels are low, there are fluent English speakers but there aren’t many and levels fall off very quickly. With that in mind there are constant dangers in terms of misunderstanding and mistranslation. One of the reasons that communication can be such a problem in China is that Chinese find it extremely difficult to say 'no'. Saying 'no' causes embarrassment (lose face) and it is therefore better to agree with things in a less than direct manner (like being silent). Thus anything other than an actual 'yes' probably means 'no'.

 

 

Team Dynamics

 

In CCVC, team chemistry issues can arise from the following:

 

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Basically, how a team operates, how a team ‘gels’ and what is expected of a team varies significantly from culture to culture. The following is a comparison of norms in team collaboration between the US, Mexico, Spain and China.

 

US:  In the US, teams are groups of individuals temporarily brought together to complete a given task or project. At the conclusion of the task/project, the team breaks up and rapidly moves on to the next task/project. Team breakups in the US are less traumatic than in other group-oriented cultures where identity is attached to the group. In the US, teams are transitory in nature.

 

Mexico:  Mexico on the other hand is a relationship driven culture; Mexicans will work extremely well in a team situation so long as the team members get along with one another. However, it may take a while for people to form these solid relationships if they are new to each other. In Mexico relationship building can be a lengthy process and teams can take a while to bond. But once teams have bonded/gelled, they tend to leave the group intact and move them together on to the next project.

 

Spain:  The Spanish are Individualistic, so they often find it difficult to be in a team role.   Teams, where they do exist, are more likely to consist of a group of individuals reporting to a strong leader and acting on his instructions. Communication between team members might even be through the boss to avoid confusion or duplication of activities, meaning inter-group communication can be limited.

 

China:  The Chinese are consensus-oriented, so as a result make good team members. The whole cultural emphasis is on group orientation (group being a general term for work team, or family, or some other group) with individual needs and desires being suppressed for the greater good of the whole group (or as Americans like to say “taking one for the team”). One of the downsides (from a Western perspective) of this strong group orientation is a perceived lack of individual initiative. It’s unusual for an individual to act on their own without involving other members of the group. Within their own culture, Standing out from the crowd can be viewed as very negative.

 

 

Leadership & Management

 

Different countries tend to develop different approaches to management and corporate structure.  As I mentioned earlier, some people are comfortable with the concept of hierarchy (i.e Spain and Mexico); others are not.  Some people see managers as mentors who are there to encourage and coach (i.e. US); others expect a more instructional approach from the boss (i.e Spain).  So when working in a Cross Cultural team, there are issues that can arise if the management styles are different. For example, you might need to come to a consensus with the team how decisions will be arrived at within your team?  I mean, will the boss/team leader make the decisions and then issue instructions? or will there be a more consensus-style in which all group members are encouraged to participate in the process? What management style does the team feel comfortable with? Let’s take a look at a few of the differences in Leadership and Management Style between the US, Mexico, Spain and China.

 

US:  American management style is often described as individualistic in approach, mainly because managers are accountable for the decisions made within their areas of responsibility. Although important decisions might be discussed in open forum, the ultimate responsibility for the consequences of the decision lies with the boss — support/backing will evaporate when things go wrong. The up side of this accountability is, of course, the ‘American dream’, as success brings rewards/opportunities.  Therefore, American managers are more likely to disregard the opinions of subordinates because at the end of the day, the reputation and job on the line is that of the manager.  Clear and precise instructions are not always provided to subordinates, subordinates have a longer leash on decision making. Subordinates do not typically answer well to authoritarian.

 

Mexico: Management style tends to be somewhat paternal and very similar to Spain’s Management Style. Good managers combine an authoritative approach with a concern for the well-being and dignity of employee; they provide and expect loyalty in return. In return for this loyalty the boss will look after the interests of subordinates. The bonds are deep, manager-subordinate relationship is viewed as a beneficial two-way relationship, meaning they treat each other the same, with loyalty and respect. As a result, Managers are authoritative but never authoritarian. It is important to show that you are in control but at the same time have a warm, human touch.  But much like spain, instructions should be given clearly and precisely and subordinates will be expected to follow those instructions with little or no discussion.

 

Spain: The style of a manager is extremely important. In Spain personal attributes are actually valued more than technical expertise. Managers tend to earn their respect from subordinates based on their personality. Key personal attributes often admired are honor, courage, seriousness, trustworthiness and the acceptance of being a leader. The boss in general is expected to be courageous, decisive and consultation is often perceived as weakness - 'doesn't he know the answer?‘ is the attitude subordinates might have. This doesn’t mean that the law is the law and that debate is forbidden, that’s not the case. Challenges, debates, questioning is accepted, as long as everybody is aware of who is ultimately in charge and who will make the final decision.   Furthermore, instructions tend to be specific and task-oriented with detailed explanations of how to achieve the end result.

 

China: Hierarchy and Confucian philosophy is at the cornerstone of all management philosophy, so ideas such as empowerment and open access to all information are viewed by the Chinese as weird Western notions. Thus, in China, management style tends towards the directive, with the senior manager giving instructions to their direct reports who in turn passes instructions down the line. It is not expected that subordinates will question the decisions of superiors - that would be considered showing disrespect and the direct result would be loss of prestige (face).  The manager should be seen as a type of father figure who expects and receives loyalty and obedience from colleagues. Same as Mexico, Manager and Subordinates have a beneficial two-way relationship.  Furthermore, senior managers will often have close relations to the Communist Party and many business decisions are likely to be scrutinized by the party which is often the unseen force behind many situations/decisions.

 

 

Cross-Cultural Virtual Collaboration Techniques

 

Build effective lines of communication

 

Communications are the lifeblood of any successful project. With global collaboration,

project teams need to be much more integrated and communicate much more frequently than in traditional outsourcing. We found several practices that enhanced communications with global collaboration partners. Direct contact between project team members in different locations works better than having a single point of contact on each side. The latter approach is time consuming and results in miscommunication during information handoffs. Projects that chose a single point of contact approach found that developers created an underground communication network providing direct team member to team member communication.

 

 

Communication norms should be explicitly established at the start of the project and should take into consideration the culture of both organizations.

 

For example, in some companies interaction is encouraged on an ad hoc basis as questions arise, while other companies prefer “visiting hours” – hours during which interruptions are acceptable as compared to other times that are dedicated to uninterrupted, heads-down work. The appropriate communications infrastructure and processes should support these norms. Email is the most common communication technology used in cultures that have “visiting hours”; instant messaging is the most common multi-site communication technology in organizations with a “drop in” culture. Interestingly, phone calls, though used when needed, are usually not the preferred ad hoc communication mechanism, due to time zone differences and sometimes language difficulties.

 

 

Complexity of Language Skills.

 

Our findings show that English language capability is rather a complex issue with multiple perspectives instead of a simple issue of knowing vs. not knowing, or good vs. poor proficiency. First, there are discrepancies regarding the proficiency level of different linguistic skills, with spoken English being the most challenging one. Participants in a study of global teams stressed that among Chinese IT professionals in general, the reading capability is better than listening comprehension and the listening comprehension capability is better than speaking. Therefore in globally distributed IT work, some communication technologies, such as email which is asynchronous and concerned with reading and writing capabilities, may be more preferred than other communication technologies, such as a teleconference which is synchronous and concerned with listening comprehension and speaking capabilities.

 

The second perspective related to English language capabilities is that the language barrier is more pronounced in confrontational situations than in routine work. The practitioners in a study felt that it was easier to handle routine, day-by-day work. However, in situations where conflicts are involved, the proficiency of language skills, especially the listening comprehension and speaking skills, becomes a challenge. One of the managers articulated a confrontational scenario in detail.

 

 

Extend development methodologies to include multisite and collaboration processes

 

Most methodologies assume single-site development. Global, collaborative, multi-site development requires augmented processes, communications, and technologies. Considerable thought should be put into building collaboration and communications processes that span continents, time zones, and cultures. Business processes, development methodology, and company culture all need to be considered. Globalized product development requires additional activities related to sharing artifacts, synchronization, handoffs, etc. Integration processes must be carefully designed and tested. Global partners often have significant expertise in these areas and should be asked to contribute their insights. That does not mean the two organizations have to perform each activity identically. Decide how much variation is allowed in the same activities performed in different sites. Successful methodology extensions and improvements should be codified and shared across the company, especially with other global collaboration projects.

 

It is noteworthy that the high teams were quite effective in the absence of any technological support designed to aid knowledge management, and that the rather simple act of summarizing appeared quite reviewing the knowledge repository created as a result of their electronic communication, and summarizing content. Indeed, others have found that, when provided with tools such as powerful navigation and search functionalities, virtual teams did not make use of them (Malhortra et al.,2 001). This suggests that  actively attending to the management of knowledge, perhaps by designating the role of knowledge manager within the team, may be a simple means of reaping the benefits of knowledge management without increasing the complexities of the communication technology. Future research should be explicitly directed at exploring the role of a knowledge manager within a virtual team.

 

 

Vision: Clarity of Team Objectives

 

Team members must be clear about objectives and obtain feedback on the achievement of these objectives. Conflicting goals and lack of leadership will impede integrated work, because team members are likely to be distracted by conflict and unclear about objectives.

 

A supportive team climate leads to increased communication, as group members are more likely to risk proposing new ideas when they do not feel threatened. This amplified information sharing increases members’ knowledge bases due to the cross-fertilization of ideas from other team members, which heightens the likelihood of creative achievements (Mumford & Gustafson, 1988).

 

 

Cultural Sensitivity

 

Select team members carefully and try to screen for intercultural competence; that is, look for people who are curious about other cultures, sensitive to cultural differences and also willing to modify their behavior out of respect for other cultures. You will build a foundation for success by choosing people who are open-minded team players.

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Some things team leaders or team members can do to improve this are:

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Conflict Resolution

 

Different cultures approach conflict in sometimes very contrasting ways. Some cultures accept that conflict occurs in the natural order of things and that when it does; it needs to be addressed in a direct and upfront manner. Other cultures however are uncomfortable with open disagreement and will do their best to avoid it in order to save face and not put people in uncomfortable positions. They may withdraw or withhold their opinion if someone strongly disagrees rather that confront another person.

 

It is important for a team to define the way it wishes to handle conflict and disagreement. However, even after a process has been defined for managing conflict, it is important to bear in mind that cultural values are difficult to change. People from cultures where harmony is more important will still not be totally comfortable dealing with conflict and confrontation. What is key is that all parties are aware of such differences and sensitive to ways of dealing with conflict.

 

 

Gender

 

Every culture or society has its own understanding of gender relations and acts according to them. What is acceptable in one culture may offend in the other. This may play a role on a team to some degree, especially when two ends of the spectrum are represented in a team.

 

The way men and women in a team interact, the way authority is allocated, assumed or perceived, and the way roles and responsibilities are distributed can all be impacted by different viewpoints on gender. As and where issues arrive it is best to tackle the subject head on and agree that within the company or team there are specific protocols when it comes to gender interaction.

 

 

Decision-making

 

Different cultures have different ways of making and expecting decisions to be made. Some expect that consensus is the only way to go, i.e. that all team members should be approached for their points of view and using rational debate come to an agreement. Others believe that the majority rules and debate is a waste of time. Then here are others who believe that decisions are made by the leader or most senior person and not the team.

 

A global team will have to agree on the way in which decisions will be made. When you consider the decision making process, it is not just the end result that you need to discuss. It is the process you undergo as you make the decision. For example:

  • Is it all right for juniors in a team to disagree with more senior people?
  • Are discussions limited or open-ended?
  • Is it typical for decisions to come about through a step-by-step process or is it more organic in nature?
  • Is consensus necessary or will majority-rule suffice?
  • How supportive are people expected to be to decisions in spite of their original objections?

In conclusion, for cross-cultural teams to succeed, managers and team members need to be attuned to cultural differences. Companies must be supportive, proactive and innovative if they wish to reap the potential benefits such global teams can offer. This goes beyond financing and creating technological links to bring people together at surface level and going back to basics by fostering better interpersonal communication.

 

 

Cross-Cultural Virtual Collaboration Critical Success Factors

 

The term “critical success factor” is used to denote a specific condition that must be present to achieve a particular mission or objective.  The presence of a critical success factor, or multiple factors, ensures that a project has a higher probability of success.  According to Duarte and Snyder, authors of Mastering Virtual Teams: Strategies, Tools, and Techniques that Succeed, critical success factors do not have to be in place in order to for virtual teams to begin collaborations and succeed; rather, a virtual team’s demand for certain conditions will help, over time, create specific critical success factors that make that particular team successful.  As members from various organizations, time zones, national cultures, languages, and corporate cultures join a virtual team the complexity of that team increases drastically.  To arrive to a determination of which critical success factors will best work for that particular virtual team it takes both cooperation and input from team leaders and team members.  The most commonly cited critical success factors for virtual teams and cross-cultural virtual teams are: cultural research, communication technology, policies, standardized processes, organizational structures, training and education development, and leadership and support.  With such critical success factors in place it becomes less challenging to overcome the cross-cultural differences that affect virtual teams. 

 

 

Cultural Research 

 

In today’s business world, working with people from other cultures is nearly unavoidable.  Most businesses today have one or more connections to other cultures.  There are various types of cross-cultural collaborations: between businesses in one country and another, between businesses in the same country and/or city, and between employees of the same business.  In the United States, for example, any given business is likely to have employees from several cultural backgrounds.  In this example, businesses must be aware of the needs and customs of these employees.  When working with individuals from a variety of cultural backgrounds or when working in foreign countries it is important to recognize the importance of culture as a strong driver of behavior.  (Beardsell, 21)  A business must allow for a certain degree of flexibility in their ways of doing business to accommodate to, and work through, cultural differences.  In the case of multiple businesses, whether they are located within the same city or country, or a business from a different country, cultural research on both ends brings awareness to any potential barriers.  Preparation for cross-cultural collaborations is vital.  Many multi-national companies see the importance of offering cultural training courses for employees who work overseas.  Additionally, a substantial amount of reading material can be found on cultural research and cultural diversity.  Thorough cultural research before collaboration negotiations begin ensures that an organization has a strong understanding of that particular culture’s behaviors, language, and most importantly their way doing business.  With this initial understanding, both culture’s decision-makers are able to come to the negotiation table and have an open discussion on items they may be wary of.  These discussions can lead to further analysis and adaptation additional critical success factors that deal directly with cultural differences. 

 

 

Communication Technology

 

Of the critical success factors delineated in the chapter, consider communication technology as the “core” of the seven listed critical success factors.  A virtual team that does not have an effective communication tool will experience great difficulties.  In order to make any sort of project gains, a virtual team must choose a technology that will best allow for effective communication throughout the life of the project.  This becomes especially important when virtual team members from various cultural backgrounds meet “live” to discuss a project.  Although it is difficult to pinpoint all of the potential needs of a virtual team, an assessment of key needs will serve as a guide when researching technologies available.  And while no tool is 100% exempt from experiencing glitches, thorough research into communication technologies is key to the success of virtual teaming as it allows a leeway of time to test the tool.  By testing the tool, the virtual team can determine whether identified key needs can be successfully met.  It also allows team members time to gain working experience with the particular tool chosen, particularly if they had not previously used it.  This is known as the “usability factor”.  If virtual team members are unable to use the communication tool chosen for the project, then the value of the tool begins to decrease and the overall negative impact on the virtual collaboration begins to increase.  The chosen communication tool’s functionality should, for the most part, align with the execution of the identified key needs of the project.

 

 

Policies

 

Organization policies should be designed to recognize the importance of working virtually.  Policies must also be designed to recognize the value of each virtual member, both team leaders and team members.  By creating policies that support and reward virtual teaming, members are more likely to respond in a positive manner to the idea of working virtually, particularly when working on a cross-cultural virtual team.  Overall, policies that are designed to value and support virtual collaborations foster a sense of “belonging” and a sense of feeling valued.  This in turn increases the probabilities of a successful project.

 

 

Standardized Processes

 

The initial development of standardized processes, or team charter, reduces a team’s project startup time.  The team charter also creates a common understanding for all virtual members involved.  Because of this common understanding, the probability of interventions and reinventions of protocol throughout the life of the project are significantly reduced.  However, standardized processes must have a certain measure of flexibility to allow for, and adapt to, cultural differences, changes in a project’s needs, and various other situations.  Common processes in a team charter usually include: defined project requirements, defined team leader and team member expectations, procurement protocol, communication protocol, documentation protocol, reporting protocol, and controlling protocol.  The common processes can then lead to more specific protocols based on a virtual team’s needs.

 

 

Organizational Structure

 

Defining roles of team leaders and team members in the first stage of a project provides a clear organizational structure that reduces tensions due to culture shock, power struggles, and role conflicts.  A poorly delineated organizational structure also fosters a sense of aimlessness amongst team members.  This can potentially lead to the failure of the project if not corrected in time.  A clear organizational structure, with defined roles, creates a heightened level of trust amongst a virtual team, particularly in cross-cultural collaborations.

 

 

Training and Education Development

 

Virtual teams that are not properly trained in a project or a chosen communication technology are potential contributing factors to a project’s failure.  Often times this occurs due to little importance placed on training and education, lack of funding and other resources, or lack of technical support.  The lack of resources and lack of importance can often be attributed back to a lack of stakeholder, organization, and management buy-in on a project.  Continual and updated training resources for team leaders and team members increases adaptability, if a project or cross-cultural differences call for it, and probabilities of success for a project.  Due to increased cross-cultural collaborations, more and more organizations are providing training and consulting support that enhances skills in cross-cultural interactions.

 

 

Leadership and Support

 

It is key that stakeholders and members in management and leadership positions buy-in to projects executed by virtual teams.  A lack of supportive behavior is detrimental to a project’s success.  The leadership culture must demonstrate that it values virtual teams, values virtual communication, values virtual collaboration training, and values diversity.  Effective leaders will demonstrate the behavior that they in turn expect from their team members.  An effective leader of a virtual team will also need to have an understanding of cultures and human dynamics.  Keeping a cultural understanding in mind, management can then articulate the benefits of virtual teams, including diversity in skills, diversity in knowledge, and diversity in ways of doing business.  It is also the responsibility of virtual team leaders and team members to suggest leadership behaviors and leadership support that enhance performance of virtual teams.

 

 

CC Virtual Collaboration Best-Practices

 

This part will not be ready for the initial rough draft.  I currently only have a list but I’d like to go more in depth in this section for the final version.

 

 

Cultural Dimensions

 

Several studies have been performed to analyze cultures in which a variety of models have been developed in order to help understand differences between cultures and intercultural relationships.  Edward Hall, Geert Hofstede, Shalom Schwartz, and Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner have all done research on cultural dimensions.   The various models which were developed help in understanding cultural differences which can then be accounted for when building or working with cross-cultural virtual teams.  Having an understanding of these models can also help reduce the level of conflict and frustrations within teams.

 

 

Hall

           

Anthropologist Edward Hall (1966) conducted a cultural study and developed a model based on three dimensions; high vs. low context, mono-chronic vs. poly-chronic time, and high vs. low territoriality.

 

In a high context culture, people assume they have a great deal of common understanding.  In a low context culture, people tend to have little shared experience.  Table 1 is a comparison of various factors between high and low context cultures.  (http://changingminds.org/explanations/culture/hall_culture.htm)

 

 

 

Monochronic time focuses on people do one thing at a time, using linear processing and depending on a schedule.  Polychronic time focuses on multitasking in which time is fluid and deadlines are less important than relationships.  Table 2 is a comparison of various factors between monochronic and polychronic actions in cultures.

 

 

Lastly, with the third dimension of territoriality, people of cultures with high territoriality want physical boundaries and need their own space with a distinction between intimate space, personal space, social space and public space.  Low territoriality cultures are more relaxed about boundaries and space.

 

 

Hofstede

 

Geert Hofstede, a Dutch social psychologist and professor, conducted a pioneering study of cultures across nations.  From 1967 to 1973 while working at IBM, Hofstede analyzed employee data from more than 70 countries.  Although the data maybe dated, there have been subsequent studies that validate these earlier results.  Based on the data gathered, Hofstede developed a model that identifies five dimensions to assist in differentiating cultures.  The five dimensions include the Power Distance Index (PDI), Individualism (IDV), Masculinity (MAS), Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI), and Long-Term Orientation (LTO). 

 

  • Power Distance Index

 

  • Individualism

 

  • Masculinity

 

  • Uncertainty Avoidance

 

  • Long-Term Orientation

 

The following graphs were generated from Hofstede’s website (www.geert-hofstede.com) and show each of the dimensions for the United States and China respectively.  This allows for analyzing a particular country’s culture and the ability to compare countries.

 

  

 

The United States has a low PDI so less powerful members expect power to be distributed more equally.   China on the other hand has a high PDI so the Chinese expect the power to be unequal.  The US is also very individualistic and into individual rewards, whereas China has a more collective culture for groups and group rewards.  The MAS score is relatively close for both countries and value the masculine values more than the female values.  The UAI is under 50 for each so both US and China tends to be more tolerant to change, with China being more tolerant than the US.  Finally the LTO is extremely high for China as compared to the US which means their culture values thrift and perseverance and long-term outcomes.

 

 

Schwartz

 

Another study was performed by Shalom Schwartz (1992, 1994) which analyzed individual and cultural values. Using his “SVI” (Schwartz Value Inventory), Schwartz asked respondents to assess 57 values as to how important they felt these values are as “guiding principles of one’s life”.

 

Schwartz collected data in 63 countries, with more than 60,000 participants.  From the results, Schwartz derived 10 distinct value types; Universalism, Benevolence, Tradition, Conformity, Security, Power, Achievement, Hedonism, Stimulation, and Self-Direction.   As seen in Figure 3, these value types can be represented in pie-chart form in order to see relationships between the value types.  Individual value types can also be grouped into 4 higher level value principles of Self-Transcendence, Conservation, Self-Enhancement, and Openness to Change.

 

Values play a guiding part in individual decision-making which may lead to conflicts with other values when trying to reach goals.  Figure 3 illustrates adjacent value types are most compatible (ex: Achievement and Power).  The further the distance between the values, the less compatible the values become (ex: Achievement and Conformity).   Values that are directly across from each other have the greatest conflict.  For example, personal success (Achievement) is a contradiction to promoting the welfare of others (Benevolence), although both values can be realized. 

 

http://www.acrwebsite.org/volumes/display.asp?id=11313

 

 

 

 

 

Self-Transcendence

  • Universalism - preference for social justice and tolerance
  • Benevolence - values promoting the welfare of others

Conservation

  • Tradition
  • Conformity - represents obedience
  • Security

Self-Enhancement

 

  • Power - values social status and prestige or control and dominance over people and resources
  • Achievement

 

Openness to Change

 

  • Hedonism - preference is given to pleasure and self-gratification
  • Stimulation - express a preference for an exciting life
  • Self-Direction - value independence, creativity and freedom

 

 

Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner

 

Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner (1993; 1998) conducted a study of business executive’s behavior and value patterns and analyzed how groups of people solve problems and reconcile dilemmas.  Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner identified seven value orientations.

 

 (http://www.sanjeevhimachali.com/?p= 4 – Understanding Cultural Dynamics and Cross-Cultural Communication)

 

  •  

 

Universalistic cultures believe the way they do business and manage people is the universal way and all countries should follow suit.  In Particularistic cultures, they look at the peculiarity and distinctiveness between cultures.  Particularistic cultures also value long-term relationships and the unique circumstances within those relationships.

 

  •  

 

Individualism has an emphasis on self-interest and individual rights.  On the other hand, collectivism emphasizes group interests before individual rights.

 

  •  

 

People in neutral cultures tend to control their emotions and composure.  Emotional cultures are more open with their emotions and feelings.  Conflicts can arise in interactions between these two cultures due to neutral cultures viewing emotional cultures as immature and emotional cultures viewing neutral cultures as insincere.

 

  •  

 

Specific cultures have clearly defined public and private spaces.  Their public spaces are larger in comparison to their private spaces and will let people into their public spaces but with limited personal commitment.  Diffuse cultures do not have a clear distinction between public and private spaces.  Public relationships, like business relationships, and private relationships typically overlap each other.

 

  •  

 

Achievement cultures value individual competency and individual achievement.  In ascription cultures, individual achievement and qualifications are less important than the person’s status based on title, position, family background, and the like. 

 

  •  

 

A culture having clock time means people use time linearly, where punctuality and schedules are very important.  There is also a clear distinction between work-life and personal-life.  Following cyclical time means people are more flexible with time and engage in multitasking.  Cyclical time does not have a clear division of work and family but relationships are more important than keeping a schedule.

 

  •  

 

Inner-directed cultures think that the person’s ability to think is the most powerful tool as well as having ideas and intuitive approaches.  This type of culture also believes personal actions and ideas can improve their own future personal situation.  Outer-directed cultures are data-oriented and believe in existing information and decisions.  They do not believe individual actions and ideas will change the future.

 

 

 

Conclusion

 

 

Future of Cross-Cultural Virtual Collaboration

 

Overcoming cultural obstacles can be one of the leading roadblocks to success for team projects. Whether you are working in a small team or large group setting, cross-cultural collaboration presents challenges. However, those challenges pale in comparison to overcoming cultural challenges in a virtual environment.

Currently, there are a variety of tools for virtual collaboration, ranging from GoTo Meeting to Wimba and Google Wave. Each of the technologies currently being used in today’s society offer solutions to a multitude of problems. However, cross-cultural virtual collaboration is far from perfected.

 

The main issue that has not been addressed in mainstream cross-cultural virtual collaboration technologies is crossing the language barrier. For example, current technologies rely on the individual user’s knowledge of a secondary language to increase communication. For example, if your boss asks you to join a virtual meeting with members from your corporate headquarters in Japan, the user would have to speak Japanese, or the other counterpart would need to speak English to make the virtual meeting work effectively.

 

One tool that would improve cross-cultural virtual collaboration would be a language translation tool, capable of translating text in real time. However, in a survey distributed by the CCVC group to seven working professionals, the most common issue with current cross-cultural virtual collaboration was regarding software not being “user-friendly” enough. (Appendix 1)

 

“You can make document sharing more user friendly so even beginners can figure out and contribute,”Survey Respondent #1.

 

Additionally, when asked the question “What do you think the future holds for Cross-Cultural Virtual Collaboration,” respondents nearly unanimously suggested that CCVC would play an increasingly large part of society in years to come.

 

“I am without a doubt convinced that it would catch on and become the next wave of communication,” Survey Respondent #6.

 

“With the huge flux of internet social networking tools, I think the future is bright. Visual net-conferencing may just become a norm since it can be done on an individual basis,”Survey Respondent #2.

 

“The rapid advancement of communications technology and associated decreased costs foretell a future where this type of interaction is destined to become commonplace,”Survey Respondent #4.

 

As with any evolving technology, improvements will be made over time. Just in the past five years, developers have made the largest strides in cross-cultural virtual collaboration since the concept was first originated. And in the future, regardless of what specific changes need to be made, one thing is for certain: cross-cultural environments will continue to be improved until they are as close to working in person as possible.

 

 

Evolving Technology

 

Technology is evolving at such a rapid pace, it may be hard to keep up. The rapid change in devices with such multi-functionality can be expected to drive up demand for increased production of newer and newer models. For Information and Digital Technology Research, our project situates itself within new research in digital technologies for cross-cultural communication and relations. Current work in intercultural theory, transnational studies, and global rhetoric, all point to the need for new practices and methods for developing solutions for how best to use information and communication technologies offered.

 

The methodology and outcomes of cross cultural collaboration through Persuasive Technology, for example, shows that for cross cultural communication and digital technology, a protocol was developed for employing the collaborative use of digital technologies – including webcam-enabled Marratech video conferencing among users, along with collaborative blogs and a project wiki for rhetorical analysis; web forums for employee review of research on rhetorical texts of cultural significance; and Google documents for collaborative writing concerning the development of intercultural competencies.

 

 

Bibliography

 

Adams, R. J., & Sockalingam, S. (1999, September 31). Multicultural Toolkit (Toolkit for cross-cultural collaboration). Retrieved July 7, 2010, from Awesome Library:http://www.awesomelibrary.org/multiculturaltoolkit.html

Hofstede, G. (n.d.). Geert Hofstede™ Cultural Dimensions. Retrieved July 6, 2010, from http://www.geert-hofstede.com

Intercultural Research. (n.d.). Retrieved July 7, 2010, from chairt.com: http://www.chairt.com

Issues in Cross Cultural Teams . (2009). Retrieved July 7, 2010, from Team Building:http://www.teambuildingportal.com/articles/team-failure/cross-cultural-team

Neyer, A.-K., & Brandl, J. (2009). Applying Cognitive Adjustment Theory to Cross-Cultural Training for Global Virtual Teams. Human Resource Management , 341–353.

Stahl, G. K., Maznevski, M. L., Voigt, A., & Jonsen, K. (2010). Unraveling the effects of cultural diversity in teams: A meta-analysis of research on multicultural work groups. Journal of International Business Studies , 690–709.

Vinaja, R. (2003). Major Challenges in Multi-Cultural Virtual Teams. American Institute for Decision Sciences, Southwest Region (pp. 341 - 346 ). San Antonio, Tex: American Institute for Decision Sciences.

Anawati, Danielle, and Annemieke Craig. "Behavioral Adaptation Within Cross-Cultural Virtual Teams." IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication 49.1 (2006): 44-56. Ieeexplore.ieee.org. IEEE Professional Communication Society, Feb. 2006. Web. 10 Oct. 2010.

Beardsell, Julie.  "Managing Culture as Critical Success Factor in Outsourcing."  SMC Working Paper Series.  SMC University, Sept.  2009.  Web.  12 Oct. 2010.

Cogburn, Derrick L., and Nanette S. Levinson. "U.S.-Africa Virtual Collaboration in Globalization Studies: Success Factors for Complex, Cross-National Learning Teams." International Studies Perspectivees 4 (2003): 34-51. Blackwell Publishing. Web. 10 Oct. 2010.

Duarte, Deborah L. and Nancy Tennant Snyder.  Mastering Virtual Teams: Strategies, Tools, and Techniques that Succeed.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001.  Print.

Kayworth, Timothy, and Dorothy Leidner. "The Global Virtual Mananger: A Prescription for Success." European Management Journal 18.2 (2000): 183-94. Print.

Kirkman, Bradley L., Benson Rosen, Cristina B. Gibson, Paul E. Tesluk, and Simon O. McPherson. "Five Challenges to Virtual Team Success: Lessons from Sabre, Inc." The Academy of Management Executive 16.3 (2002): 67-79. Www.jstor.org. Academy of Management, Aug. 2002. Web. 10 Oct. 2010.

Rosen, Benson, Stacie Furst, and Richard Blackburn. "Training for Virtual Teams, an Investigation of Current Practices and Future Needs." Human Resources Management 45.2 (2006): 229-47. Wiley InterScience. Web. 10 Oct. 2010.

 

 

Appendix 1

 

Cross-Cultural Virtual Collaboration Survey

 

Q:         What is your definition of Cross-Cultural Virtual Collaboration?

A:

 

Q:         Have you ever found yourself working in a Cross-Cultural Virtual environment?

A:

 

Q:         What obstacles did you encounter?

A:

 

Q:         What tools or software did you use?

A:

 

Q:         Was it helpful?

A:

 

Q:         What changes would you make to improve that software?

A: 

 

Q:         What do you think the future holds for Cross-Culture Virtual Collaboration?

A:

 

 

Chapter 5       Cross-Cultural Virtual Collaboration

 

Overview

 

What is cross-cultural collaboration? Before there can ever be a discussion about cross-cultural collaboration, there must be a clear understanding to what cross-cultural collaboration is. The best way to find this out is to break it down. I think the easier of the word to look at first would be the word collaboration. The word collaboration comes from the Latin word collaboratus which is past tense of the Latin word collaborare which means to labor together. The word collaboration according to Webster means to “work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor, to cooperate with or willingly assist an enemy of one's country and especially an occupying force, or to cooperate with an agency or instrumentality with which one is not immediately connected”.

 

There are several types of collaborations including both classical examples and contemporary examples. Classical examples of collaboration include; trade, community organization, game theory, military-industrial complex, project management, academia, and classical music.  Contemporary examples of collaboration includes; arts, business, education, music, publishing, science, and technology. Collaboration dates back to the beginning of time and will continue to be a part of life.

 

The definition of cultural is a little more cumulated.  Webster defines the word cultural as “the act of developing the intellectual and moral faculties especially by education, expert care and training <beauty culture>, enlightenment and excellence of taste acquired by intellectual and aesthetic training, the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations, and the act or process of cultivating living material”. Cultural covers a lot of things from beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, and social group to acquaintance with and taste in fine arts, humanities, and broad aspects of science as distinguished from vocational and technical skills and everything in between. Cultural not only defines people and who there are but can go as deep as to tell why they are who they are and why people do the very things that they do. Cross-cultural is “dealing with or offering comparison between two or more different cultures or cultural areas” according to Webster. With all this stated it is very clear to see that cross-cultural collaboration is simply people for different cultural back grounds working together.

 

 

Chapter Goals

 

This chapter will discuss why cross-cultural collaboration exists. Exactly why would people from different cultural background what to work together. Evolving technologies can make cross-cultural collaboration easier and cheaper for companies to do business. People from different cultural backgrounds have a different way of life many times, this means that many challenge can and will arrive. The main challenge that would arrive would be time this and many more will be looked at and analyzed. Tools that are available that would make this process easier and what place will this tools have in cross-cultural collaboration. Lastly this chapter will take a look at the works of Geert Hofstede, Edward T. Hall, and Shalom Schwartz research and how it plays a major role in cross-cultural collaboration. Clear understanding of all these factors of cross-cultural collaboration will be discussed in later throughout this chapter.

 

 

Why Cross-Cultural Collaboration Exists?

 

Cross Cultural Collaboration exists because there is a need to share knowledge, discussions (verbal and non-verbal), and resources, and foster interaction and also providing cross-cultural feedback via collaboration tools and environments. Also, as a virtual team works to understand each other, that cross cultural appreciation would lead to better communication during brainstorming and therefore better ideas.(Dr. Ter Bush, 2010) There are differences with cross cultural collaborations that affect planning, designing, delivering, learning and behaviors. It also exists because it gives companies the ability to support products and services throughout the world. By creating a universe of globally-distributed business partners, organizations can operate as a single enterprise round-the-clock. They may utilize collaboration tools and common processes and systems to reduce barriers includ ing geography and time zones. Evan Rosensaid, “Without a Culture of Collaboration, the best processes, systems, tools, and leadership strategies fall flat.”

 

 

Expanding Work Environments

 

I think the reason to expand work environments is create an environment that works for those involved. Whether from the comfort of your home, office, or backyard, it’s a comfort to the company that knows you are fully participating. Work can go anywhere you are, and the expanded environment helps you build the listening and attention skills required for the job. The expanded or global workplace benefits from the richness of the cultural and personal diversity of their workers too. 

 

 

Cost-Saving Initiatives

 

Cost savings initiatives are programs designed to cut organizational costs in order to maximize profit and shareholder value. Some cost savings initiatives include organizational restructuring to centralize services spread throughout an organization, process automation, layoffs and workload redistribution, restructuring of spending controls, and a myriad of other programs a company may initiate to improve the bottom line. Virtual collaboration cuts cost from the perspective of, if employees work from home, then office space could be saved, along with the cost for utilities, etc. But, cost saving Initiatives can come in other forms. For example, “Video conferencing solutions are either: expensive and good quality only in a LAN but not in WAN or cheap and unacceptably but low in quality. Broadband services may not be available everywhere and installing dedicated lines could increase the cost to the organization and therefore offsetting any cost savings from telecommuting or reduced travel.”

 

 

Virtual Cross-Cultural Collaboration Issues

 

Virtual teams comprised of people from different cultural backgrounds pose both challenges and opportunities for the group. Cross-cultural team meeting face-to-face are presented with challenges to overcome such as expectations, values and language. These issues are magnified by same issues that present challenges to teams of the same culture meeting virtually.

 

1)           “Cultural diversity leads to process losses through task conflict and decreased social integration.” (Stahl, Maznevski, Voigt, & Jonsen, 2010)

2)           It is critical to understand what causes problems in cross-cultural teams.

a)      The main points of conflict—what Adams and Sockalingam call the “trust and respect breakers”—are not the most apparent differences, such as food, lifestyle or even language.

b)      The source that can cause the greatest harm to cross-cultural team is a disparity of values, expectations and communication styles. (Adams & Sockalingam, 1999)

3)           These issues are more difficult to recognize without actively looking for them.

a)      It is for this reason that cross-cultural training (CCT) is key to a successful virtual team.

b)      As Brandl and Neyer discovered “the type of CCT received can influence cognitive adjustment in global virtual teams.” (Neyer & Brandl, 2009)

4)           Cultural differences are also found within the same county.

a)      A study funded by the U.S. Office of Minority Affairs found that minority communities within the U.S. “understand that great differences separate them from the Anglo American mainstream cultures. In contrast, Anglo American communities do not have much awareness of the magnitude of differences.” (Adams & Sockalingam, 1999)

5)           Cultural diversity leads to “process gains through increased creativity and satisfaction.” (Stahl, Maznevski, Voigt, & Jonsen, 2010)

 

As we learned in the “Why CCVC Exists” section, working with people from other cultures brings an abundance of rewards/benefits and opportunities; however benefits isn’t the only product of such collaboration.  Studies have shown that people have their own unique cultural background that influences how they do things (like in business) and expect things to be done, which can potentially cause issues with people from different cultures. Each culture is normal to ‘some’ people, but weird/abnormal to people from different ‘cultures’.  With this in mind, it is extremely important for people to acknowledge and recognize their ‘culture’ in order to learn how to manage and narrow culture gaps. The following sections will explain some of the cultural differences and how these differences can cause issues.

 

 

Cultural & Intercultural Differences

 

In 1976, Edward T. Hall wrote a book called “Beyond Culture”, in this book he made famous the terms High Context and Low Context culture. High-context and Low-context refers to how much a speaker relies on things other than words to communicate. In essences, everyone uses both types of communication, but based on people’s culture and relationships, people tend to use, rely and focus more on one form of communication (High or Low Context) versus the other.  So what really is High Context or Low Context?

 

 

High Context Culture

 

•          High context refers to societies or groups where people have close knit long term relationships.

•          In such culture, many aspects of cultural behavior are not made explicit because most members know what to do and what to think from years of (long terms) interaction with each other.

•          People in these cultures place great emphasize on interpersonal relationships. 

•          According to Hall, these cultures prefer group harmony and consensus over individual achievement. 

•          Also, people in these cultures are less governed by reason, and more by intuition or feelings.  Words are not as important as context, which might include the speaker’s tone of voice, facial expression, gestures, posture—and even the person’s family history and status. 

•          Examples of High Context Cultures: French Canadian, French ,Finnish (especially Sami people), Russian, Italian, Spanish, Latin Americans, Greek , Arab, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, Brazilian, Jews

 

 

Low Context Culture

 

•          Low context refers to societies where people tend to have many connections but of shorter duration or for a specific reason (i.e. project).

•          In these societies, cultural behavior and beliefs may need to be spelled out explicitly so that those (from a different culture) coming into this cultural environment know how to behave. 

•          Low Context is also logical, linear, individualistic, and action-oriented. 

•          People from low-context cultures value logic, facts, and directness.  Solving a problem means lining up the facts and evaluating one after another.  Decisions are based on fact rather than intuition.  Discussions end with actions.  And communicators are expected to be straightforward, concise, and efficient in telling what action is expected.  Explicit contracts conclude negotiations.  This is very different from communicators in high-context cultures who depend less on language precision and legal documents.  High-context business people may even distrust contracts and be offended as they feel they suggest a lack of trust.

•          In general, cultures that favor low-context communication will pay more attention to the literal meanings of words than to the context surrounding them.

•          Examples of Low Context Cultures: German, Scandinavian (except for Finland), American, English, Irish, English Canadian, Australian

 

 

High/Low Context Issues

 

So, when people from different context cultures collaborate, there are often difficulties that occur during the exchange of information. For example, employees from a high-context culture like China might only share very specific and extensive information with their “close knit, long term relationships" (good friends, families, close coworkers, etc). Yet, a low-context culture like the United States might limit communication to a smaller/select group of people and share only necessary information.   So it’s very important that an individual is aware of the type of situation they are in, mainly so that when trying to communicate with a different culture, awareness will enable people to adapt and learn how to communicate in such culture. So with this in mind, another major hurdle to successful cross-culture collaboration stems from communication problems. Communication is especially crucial in business, as it’s extremely important to know what to say, when to say it and how to say it. 

 

 

Communication Style

 

In CCVC, communication problems can arise from type of language, use of language, and communication tools.

 

 

Type of Language

 

What one culture considers a positive communication style can sometimes be considered a poor communication style in a different culture.  A person’s approach to communication (i.e. aggressive, passive, explicit, implicit, loud or silent) can sometimes be considered a personality defect, if it’s different from what’s typical in your own culture.  When people do not understand the approach or the underlying reason for the approach (i.e. cultural), instead of people thinking, ‘that’s the way language is used in that particular country’ people will associate language style with negative characteristics such as rudeness or evasiveness.  


Use of language

 

Non-native speakers are at a huge disadvantage in all international communication scenarios, because even if they are “good” in a second language, they are rarely as fluent as they are in their native language, or a fluent as Native speakers.  This can lead to a few issues; for example, non-native speakers sometimes may be unable to express themselves as intended. For example, words might be misused and given the wrong emphasis, or the sentence structure might be incorrect, and as a result statements can come across as being rude.

 

Furthermore, Non-native speakers may be more reluctant to express themselves freely due to shyness or lack of confidence in their English. Such reluctance could interfere with the ability of team members to offer their maximum contribution, or to bring up issues or important points in a discussion or other collaborative scenario. 

 

Another issue is that the ‘same’ language might be spoken differently in different regions of the world. For example, UK English differs significantly from US English, as well as Mexico Spanish from Spain Spanish. 

 

 

Communication Tools

 

In global/virtual project teams, some forms of communication naturally take precedence over others, for example emails, conference calls and video conference calls are more much more prevalent than face-to-face communication.  Various communication mediums can be an integral and vital part of international communication, but they need to be carefully managed in order to avoid issues common in non face-to-face communication.  As described previously in High/Low Context Cultures, some cultures rely heavily on the use of body language and non-verbal cues. This is especially important to consider when deciding how to best communicate in a CCVC team, for example in virtual communication a certain culture’s communication style may be inhibited (i.e. non-verbal cues).  So, It is important to select the best communication medium for each situation, and for the entire CCVC team.

 

 

Behavioral Differences

 

In business, local face to face meetings are often seen as unproductive, confusing and/or a waste of time.  This is no different in CCVC, however due to cultural differences planning and approach of such meetings is even more complex.  So, to better prepare for CCVC meetings behavioral differences should be taken into consideration.  Cultural behavioral differences can cause many misunderstandings, but what this section will focus on how these differences can create issues in business meetings. So, to best explain how these differences create meeting planning issues below is a comparison of behavioral differences amongst the US, Mexico, Spain and China.

 

US:  Meeting agendas and punctuality is important. Americans are known for being outspoken and good communicators.  They tend to debate issues directly and openly with quantitative and qualitative arguments, however such behavior could be seen in other cultures as too aggressive or rude.  Such debate can also be viewed by more harmony/quiet cultures as a breakdown in communication, and could potentially signal to such cultures to abandon the interaction.  However, in the US, debate is seen positively and as a sign of progress. Furthermore, when debating with the US, other cultures need to be prepared to counter ideas/proposals/issues with quantitative and qualitative counter-arguments. In the US, decision making is distributed amongst teams and organizations. Such decision distribution might seem like there’s a lack of hierarchy within US organizations, however the boss is still the boss and is expected to make final decisions and is held accountable for those decisions.

 

Mexico:  Meeting punctuality is flexible and agendas are optional, and when agendas are produced they are not strictly followed.  Meetings start and finish times are only estimates. Emotion is shown in business discussions; such behavior can appear heated to cultures that do not support showing of emotion during business situations. In Mexico though, showing emotion is seen as a positive, as it implies engagement.  Generally, in Mexico, personal relationships are at the heart of business decisions.  Unlike the US, key decision making is much more hierarchical and less distributed, as decisions are made by a small number of individuals at the top of the hierarchy. It’s important for other cultures, like the US to understand this, to ensure the right people (manager, or above) are in the right meetings when decision making is needed.

 

Spain:  Similar to Mexico, agendas are optional and not necessarily followed. Punctuality is important, but it’s more important emphasis relationship building, so if the relationship is strong punctuality is not very important.  Spanish verbal communication can often be viewed from other cultures as over emotional, which could be a negative. Communication within Spanish organization is very often limited and on a 'need to know' basis. This is not necessarily defined by rank or position, but more by who you know; In other words, dissemination of information flows by strength of personal relationships. Departments do not, necessarily, freely communicate across departmental lines, as any such communication is more likely to be at a more senior level.  Similar to Mexico, decision making also comes from the top, and unlike the US, meetings are more for distributing of information rather than for open debate or decision making.

 

China:  Punctuality is important. Meeting agendas are necessary but not followed, they serve more as a starting point and a “jump off” for other topics and agendas. Chinese are quiet and reserved communicators, and follow a Confucian philosophy that considers all relationships to be unequal. So, ethical behavior demands that these inequalities be respected. Thus, the older person should automatically receive respect from the younger, the senior from the subordinate, etc. So in business meetings, respect is necessary. It is also common to be involved in a series of meetings rather than one big meeting at which all major issues are disclosed and assessed. Much like Mexico, Meetings are about building relationships and like spain they are for exchanging information, rarely are decisions made within a meeting. Decisions are typically made elsewhere in consensus-style discussions, which involve all the relevant people.  Unless you speak Chinese it can be difficult to do business in many parts of China without the aid of a translator. English language levels are low, there are fluent English speakers but there aren’t many and levels fall off very quickly. With that in mind there are constant dangers in terms of misunderstanding and mistranslation. One of the reasons that communication can be such a problem in China is that Chinese find it extremely difficult to say 'no'. Saying 'no' causes embarrassment (lose face) and it is therefore better to agree with things in a less than direct manner (like being silent). Thus anything other than an actual 'yes' probably means 'no'.

 

 

Team Dynamics

 

In CCVC, team chemistry issues can arise from the following:

 

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Basically, how a team operates, how a team ‘gels’ and what is expected of a team varies significantly from culture to culture. The following is a comparison of norms in team collaboration between the US, Mexico, Spain and China.

 

US:  In the US, teams are groups of individuals temporarily brought together to complete a given task or project. At the conclusion of the task/project, the team breaks up and rapidly moves on to the next task/project. Team breakups in the US are less traumatic than in other group-oriented cultures where identity is attached to the group. In the US, teams are transitory in nature.

 

Mexico:  Mexico on the other hand is a relationship driven culture; Mexicans will work extremely well in a team situation so long as the team members get along with one another. However, it may take a while for people to form these solid relationships if they are new to each other. In Mexico relationship building can be a lengthy process and teams can take a while to bond. But once teams have bonded/gelled, they tend to leave the group intact and move them together on to the next project.

 

Spain:  The Spanish are Individualistic, so they often find it difficult to be in a team role.   Teams, where they do exist, are more likely to consist of a group of individuals reporting to a strong leader and acting on his instructions. Communication between team members might even be through the boss to avoid confusion or duplication of activities, meaning inter-group communication can be limited.

 

China:  The Chinese are consensus-oriented, so as a result make good team members. The whole cultural emphasis is on group orientation (group being a general term for work team, or family, or some other group) with individual needs and desires being suppressed for the greater good of the whole group (or as Americans like to say “taking one for the team”). One of the downsides (from a Western perspective) of this strong group orientation is a perceived lack of individual initiative. It’s unusual for an individual to act on their own without involving other members of the group. Within their own culture, Standing out from the crowd can be viewed as very negative.

 

 

Leadership & Management

 

Different countries tend to develop different approaches to management and corporate structure.  As I mentioned earlier, some people are comfortable with the concept of hierarchy (i.e Spain and Mexico); others are not.  Some people see managers as mentors who are there to encourage and coach (i.e. US); others expect a more instructional approach from the boss (i.e Spain).  So when working in a Cross Cultural team, there are issues that can arise if the management styles are different. For example, you might need to come to a consensus with the team how decisions will be arrived at within your team?  I mean, will the boss/team leader make the decisions and then issue instructions? or will there be a more consensus-style in which all group members are encouraged to participate in the process? What management style does the team feel comfortable with? Let’s take a look at a few of the differences in Leadership and Management Style between the US, Mexico, Spain and China.

 

US:  American management style is often described as individualistic in approach, mainly because managers are accountable for the decisions made within their areas of responsibility. Although important decisions might be discussed in open forum, the ultimate responsibility for the consequences of the decision lies with the boss — support/backing will evaporate when things go wrong. The up side of this accountability is, of course, the ‘American dream’, as success brings rewards/opportunities.  Therefore, American managers are more likely to disregard the opinions of subordinates because at the end of the day, the reputation and job on the line is that of the manager.  Clear and precise instructions are not always provided to subordinates, subordinates have a longer leash on decision making. Subordinates do not typically answer well to authoritarian.

 

Mexico: Management style tends to be somewhat paternal and very similar to Spain’s Management Style. Good managers combine an authoritative approach with a concern for the well-being and dignity of employee; they provide and expect loyalty in return. In return for this loyalty the boss will look after the interests of subordinates. The bonds are deep, manager-subordinate relationship is viewed as a beneficial two-way relationship, meaning they treat each other the same, with loyalty and respect. As a result, Managers are authoritative but never authoritarian. It is important to show that you are in control but at the same time have a warm, human touch.  But much like spain, instructions should be given clearly and precisely and subordinates will be expected to follow those instructions with little or no discussion.

 

Spain: The style of a manager is extremely important. In Spain personal attributes are actually valued more than technical expertise. Managers tend to earn their respect from subordinates based on their personality. Key personal attributes often admired are honor, courage, seriousness, trustworthiness and the acceptance of being a leader. The boss in general is expected to be courageous, decisive and consultation is often perceived as weakness - 'doesn't he know the answer?‘ is the attitude subordinates might have. This doesn’t mean that the law is the law and that debate is forbidden, that’s not the case. Challenges, debates, questioning is accepted, as long as everybody is aware of who is ultimately in charge and who will make the final decision.   Furthermore, instructions tend to be specific and task-oriented with detailed explanations of how to achieve the end result.

 

China: Hierarchy and Confucian philosophy is at the cornerstone of all management philosophy, so ideas such as empowerment and open access to all information are viewed by the Chinese as weird Western notions. Thus, in China, management style tends towards the directive, with the senior manager giving instructions to their direct reports who in turn passes instructions down the line. It is not expected that subordinates will question the decisions of superiors - that would be considered showing disrespect and the direct result would be loss of prestige (face).  The manager should be seen as a type of father figure who expects and receives loyalty and obedience from colleagues. Same as Mexico, Manager and Subordinates have a beneficial two-way relationship.  Furthermore, senior managers will often have close relations to the Communist Party and many business decisions are likely to be scrutinized by the party which is often the unseen force behind many situations/decisions.

 

 

Cross-Cultural Virtual Collaboration Techniques

 

Build effective lines of communication

 

Communications are the lifeblood of any successful project. With global collaboration,

project teams need to be much more integrated and communicate much more frequently than in traditional outsourcing. We found several practices that enhanced communications with global collaboration partners. Direct contact between project team members in different locations works better than having a single point of contact on each side. The latter approach is time consuming and results in miscommunication during information handoffs. Projects that chose a single point of contact approach found that developers created an underground communication network providing direct team member to team member communication.

 

 

Communication norms should be explicitly established at the start of the project and should take into consideration the culture of both organizations.

 

For example, in some companies interaction is encouraged on an ad hoc basis as questions arise, while other companies prefer “visiting hours” – hours during which interruptions are acceptable as compared to other times that are dedicated to uninterrupted, heads-down work. The appropriate communications infrastructure and processes should support these norms. Email is the most common communication technology used in cultures that have “visiting hours”; instant messaging is the most common multi-site communication technology in organizations with a “drop in” culture. Interestingly, phone calls, though used when needed, are usually not the preferred ad hoc communication mechanism, due to time zone differences and sometimes language difficulties.

 

 

Complexity of Language Skills.

 

Our findings show that English language capability is rather a complex issue with multiple perspectives instead of a simple issue of knowing vs. not knowing, or good vs. poor proficiency. First, there are discrepancies regarding the proficiency level of different linguistic skills, with spoken English being the most challenging one. Participants in a study of global teams stressed that among Chinese IT professionals in general, the reading capability is better than listening comprehension and the listening comprehension capability is better than speaking. Therefore in globally distributed IT work, some communication technologies, such as email which is asynchronous and concerned with reading and writing capabilities, may be more preferred than other communication technologies, such as a teleconference which is synchronous and concerned with listening comprehension and speaking capabilities.

 

The second perspective related to English language capabilities is that the language barrier is more pronounced in confrontational situations than in routine work. The practitioners in a study felt that it was easier to handle routine, day-by-day work. However, in situations where conflicts are involved, the proficiency of language skills, especially the listening comprehension and speaking skills, becomes a challenge. One of the managers articulated a confrontational scenario in detail.

 

 

Extend development methodologies to include multisite and collaboration processes

 

Most methodologies assume single-site development. Global, collaborative, multi-site development requires augmented processes, communications, and technologies. Considerable thought should be put into building collaboration and communications processes that span continents, time zones, and cultures. Business processes, development methodology, and company culture all need to be considered. Globalized product development requires additional activities related to sharing artifacts, synchronization, handoffs, etc. Integration processes must be carefully designed and tested. Global partners often have significant expertise in these areas and should be asked to contribute their insights. That does not mean the two organizations have to perform each activity identically. Decide how much variation is allowed in the same activities performed in different sites. Successful methodology extensions and improvements should be codified and shared across the company, especially with other global collaboration projects.

 

It is noteworthy that the high teams were quite effective in the absence of any technological support designed to aid knowledge management, and that the rather simple act of summarizing appeared quite reviewing the knowledge repository created as a result of their electronic communication, and summarizing content. Indeed, others have found that, when provided with tools such as powerful navigation and search functionalities, virtual teams did not make use of them (Malhortra et al.,2 001). This suggests that  actively attending to the management of knowledge, perhaps by designating the role of knowledge manager within the team, may be a simple means of reaping the benefits of knowledge management without increasing the complexities of the communication technology. Future research should be explicitly directed at exploring the role of a knowledge manager within a virtual team.

 

 

Vision: Clarity of Team Objectives

 

Team members must be clear about objectives and obtain feedback on the achievement of these objectives. Conflicting goals and lack of leadership will impede integrated work, because team members are likely to be distracted by conflict and unclear about objectives.

 

A supportive team climate leads to increased communication, as group members are more likely to risk proposing new ideas when they do not feel threatened. This amplified information sharing increases members’ knowledge bases due to the cross-fertilization of ideas from other team members, which heightens the likelihood of creative achievements (Mumford & Gustafson, 1988).

 

 

Cultural Sensitivity

 

Select team members carefully and try to screen for intercultural competence; that is, look for people who are curious about other cultures, sensitive to cultural differences and also willing to modify their behavior out of respect for other cultures. You will build a foundation for success by choosing people who are open-minded team players.

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Some things team leaders or team members can do to improve this are:

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Conflict Resolution

 

Different cultures approach conflict in sometimes very contrasting ways. Some cultures accept that conflict occurs in the natural order of things and that when it does; it needs to be addressed in a direct and upfront manner. Other cultures however are uncomfortable with open disagreement and will do their best to avoid it in order to save face and not put people in uncomfortable positions. They may withdraw or withhold their opinion if someone strongly disagrees rather that confront another person.

 

It is important for a team to define the way it wishes to handle conflict and disagreement. However, even after a process has been defined for managing conflict, it is important to bear in mind that cultural values are difficult to change. People from cultures where harmony is more important will still not be totally comfortable dealing with conflict and confrontation. What is key is that all parties are aware of such differences and sensitive to ways of dealing with conflict.

 

 

Gender

 

Every culture or society has its own understanding of gender relations and acts according to them. What is acceptable in one culture may offend in the other. This may play a role on a team to some degree, especially when two ends of the spectrum are represented in a team.

 

The way men and women in a team interact, the way authority is allocated, assumed or perceived, and the way roles and responsibilities are distributed can all be impacted by different viewpoints on gender. As and where issues arrive it is best to tackle the subject head on and agree that within the company or team there are specific protocols when it comes to gender interaction.

 

 

Decision-making

 

Different cultures have different ways of making and expecting decisions to be made. Some expect that consensus is the only way to go, i.e. that all team members should be approached for their points of view and using rational debate come to an agreement. Others believe that the majority rules and debate is a waste of time. Then here are others who believe that decisions are made by the leader or most senior person and not the team.

 

A global team will have to agree on the way in which decisions will be made. When you consider the decision making process, it is not just the end result that you need to discuss. It is the process you undergo as you make the decision. For example:

  • Is it all right for juniors in a team to disagree with more senior people?
  • Are discussions limited or open-ended?
  • Is it typical for decisions to come about through a step-by-step process or is it more organic in nature?
  • Is consensus necessary or will majority-rule suffice?
  • How supportive are people expected to be to decisions in spite of their original objections?

In conclusion, for cross-cultural teams to succeed, managers and team members need to be attuned to cultural differences. Companies must be supportive, proactive and innovative if they wish to reap the potential benefits such global teams can offer. This goes beyond financing and creating technological links to bring people together at surface level and going back to basics by fostering better interpersonal communication.

 

 

Cross-Cultural Virtual Collaboration Critical Success Factors

 

The term “critical success factor” is used to denote a specific condition that must be present to achieve a particular mission or objective.  The presence of a critical success factor, or multiple factors, ensures that a project has a higher probability of success.  According to Duarte and Snyder, authors of Mastering Virtual Teams: Strategies, Tools, and Techniques that Succeed, critical success factors do not have to be in place in order to for virtual teams to begin collaborations and succeed; rather, a virtual team’s demand for certain conditions will help, over time, create specific critical success factors that make that particular team successful.  As members from various organizations, time zones, national cultures, languages, and corporate cultures join a virtual team the complexity of that team increases drastically.  To arrive to a determination of which critical success factors will best work for that particular virtual team it takes both cooperation and input from team leaders and team members.  The most commonly cited critical success factors for virtual teams and cross-cultural virtual teams are: cultural research, communication technology, policies, standardized processes, organizational structures, training and education development, and leadership and support.  With such critical success factors in place it becomes less challenging to overcome the cross-cultural differences that affect virtual teams. 

 

 

Cultural Research 

 

In today’s business world, working with people from other cultures is nearly unavoidable.  Most businesses today have one or more connections to other cultures.  There are various types of cross-cultural collaborations: between businesses in one country and another, between businesses in the same country and/or city, and between employees of the same business.  In the United States, for example, any given business is likely to have employees from several cultural backgrounds.  In this example, businesses must be aware of the needs and customs of these employees.  When working with individuals from a variety of cultural backgrounds or when working in foreign countries it is important to recognize the importance of culture as a strong driver of behavior.  (Beardsell, 21)  A business must allow for a certain degree of flexibility in their ways of doing business to accommodate to, and work through, cultural differences.  In the case of multiple businesses, whether they are located within the same city or country, or a business from a different country, cultural research on both ends brings awareness to any potential barriers.  Preparation for cross-cultural collaborations is vital.  Many multi-national companies see the importance of offering cultural training courses for employees who work overseas.  Additionally, a substantial amount of reading material can be found on cultural research and cultural diversity.  Thorough cultural research before collaboration negotiations begin ensures that an organization has a strong understanding of that particular culture’s behaviors, language, and most importantly their way doing business.  With this initial understanding, both culture’s decision-makers are able to come to the negotiation table and have an open discussion on items they may be wary of.  These discussions can lead to further analysis and adaptation additional critical success factors that deal directly with cultural differences. 

 

 

Communication Technology

 

Of the critical success factors delineated in the chapter, consider communication technology as the “core” of the seven listed critical success factors.  A virtual team that does not have an effective communication tool will experience great difficulties.  In order to make any sort of project gains, a virtual team must choose a technology that will best allow for effective communication throughout the life of the project.  This becomes especially important when virtual team members from various cultural backgrounds meet “live” to discuss a project.  Although it is difficult to pinpoint all of the potential needs of a virtual team, an assessment of key needs will serve as a guide when researching technologies available.  And while no tool is 100% exempt from experiencing glitches, thorough research into communication technologies is key to the success of virtual teaming as it allows a leeway of time to test the tool.  By testing the tool, the virtual team can determine whether identified key needs can be successfully met.  It also allows team members time to gain working experience with the particular tool chosen, particularly if they had not previously used it.  This is known as the “usability factor”.  If virtual team members are unable to use the communication tool chosen for the project, then the value of the tool begins to decrease and the overall negative impact on the virtual collaboration begins to increase.  The chosen communication tool’s functionality should, for the most part, align with the execution of the identified key needs of the project.

 

 

Policies

 

Organization policies should be designed to recognize the importance of working virtually.  Policies must also be designed to recognize the value of each virtual member, both team leaders and team members.  By creating policies that support and reward virtual teaming, members are more likely to respond in a positive manner to the idea of working virtually, particularly when working on a cross-cultural virtual team.  Overall, policies that are designed to value and support virtual collaborations foster a sense of “belonging” and a sense of feeling valued.  This in turn increases the probabilities of a successful project.

 

 

Standardized Processes

 

The initial development of standardized processes, or team charter, reduces a team’s project startup time.  The team charter also creates a common understanding for all virtual members involved.  Because of this common understanding, the probability of interventions and reinventions of protocol throughout the life of the project are significantly reduced.  However, standardized processes must have a certain measure of flexibility to allow for, and adapt to, cultural differences, changes in a project’s needs, and various other situations.  Common processes in a team charter usually include: defined project requirements, defined team leader and team member expectations, procurement protocol, communication protocol, documentation protocol, reporting protocol, and controlling protocol.  The common processes can then lead to more specific protocols based on a virtual team’s needs.

 

 

Organizational Structure

 

Defining roles of team leaders and team members in the first stage of a project provides a clear organizational structure that reduces tensions due to culture shock, power struggles, and role conflicts.  A poorly delineated organizational structure also fosters a sense of aimlessness amongst team members.  This can potentially lead to the failure of the project if not corrected in time.  A clear organizational structure, with defined roles, creates a heightened level of trust amongst a virtual team, particularly in cross-cultural collaborations.

 

 

Training and Education Development

 

Virtual teams that are not properly trained in a project or a chosen communication technology are potential contributing factors to a project’s failure.  Often times this occurs due to little importance placed on training and education, lack of funding and other resources, or lack of technical support.  The lack of resources and lack of importance can often be attributed back to a lack of stakeholder, organization, and management buy-in on a project.  Continual and updated training resources for team leaders and team members increases adaptability, if a project or cross-cultural differences call for it, and probabilities of success for a project.  Due to increased cross-cultural collaborations, more and more organizations are providing training and consulting support that enhances skills in cross-cultural interactions.

 

 

Leadership and Support

 

It is key that stakeholders and members in management and leadership positions buy-in to projects executed by virtual teams.  A lack of supportive behavior is detrimental to a project’s success.  The leadership culture must demonstrate that it values virtual teams, values virtual communication, values virtual collaboration training, and values diversity.  Effective leaders will demonstrate the behavior that they in turn expect from their team members.  An effective leader of a virtual team will also need to have an understanding of cultures and human dynamics.  Keeping a cultural understanding in mind, management can then articulate the benefits of virtual teams, including diversity in skills, diversity in knowledge, and diversity in ways of doing business.  It is also the responsibility of virtual team leaders and team members to suggest leadership behaviors and leadership support that enhance performance of virtual teams.

 

 

CC Virtual Collaboration Best-Practices

 

This part will not be ready for the initial rough draft.  I currently only have a list but I’d like to go more in depth in this section for the final version.

 

 

Cultural Dimensions

 

Several studies have been performed to analyze cultures in which a variety of models have been developed in order to help understand differences between cultures and intercultural relationships.  Edward Hall, Geert Hofstede, Shalom Schwartz, and Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner have all done research on cultural dimensions.   The various models which were developed help in understanding cultural differences which can then be accounted for when building or working with cross-cultural virtual teams.  Having an understanding of these models can also help reduce the level of conflict and frustrations within teams.

 

 

Hall

           

Anthropologist Edward Hall (1966) conducted a cultural study and developed a model based on three dimensions; high vs. low context, mono-chronic vs. poly-chronic time, and high vs. low territoriality.

 

In a high context culture, people assume they have a great deal of common understanding.  In a low context culture, people tend to have little shared experience.  Table 1 is a comparison of various factors between high and low context cultures.  (http://changingminds.org/explanations/culture/hall_culture.htm)

 

 
 

Table 1

 

 

 
 
 

 

 

 

 

Monochronic time focuses on people do one thing at a time, using linear processing and depending on a schedule.  Polychronic time focuses on multitasking in which time is fluid and deadlines are less important than relationships.  Table 2 is a comparison of various factors between monochronic and polychronic actions in cultures.

 

 

 
 
 

 

 

 
 

Table 2

 

 

 

 

 

Lastly, with the third dimension of territoriality, people of cultures with high territoriality want physical boundaries and need their own space with a distinction between intimate space, personal space, social space and public space.  Low territoriality cultures are more relaxed about boundaries and space.

 

 

Hofstede

 

Geert Hofstede, a Dutch social psychologist and professor, conducted a pioneering study of cultures across nations.  From 1967 to 1973 while working at IBM, Hofstede analyzed employee data from more than 70 countries.  Although the data maybe dated, there have been subsequent studies that validate these earlier results.  Based on the data gathered, Hofstede developed a model that identifies five dimensions to assist in differentiating cultures.  The five dimensions include the Power Distance Index (PDI), Individualism (IDV), Masculinity (MAS), Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI), and Long-Term Orientation (LTO). 

 

  • Power Distance Index

 

  • Individualism

 

  • Masculinity

 

  • Uncertainty Avoidance

 

  • Long-Term Orientation

 

The following graphs were generated from Hofstede’s website (www.geert-hofstede.com) and show each of the dimensions for the United States and China respectively.  This allows for analyzing a particular country’s culture and the ability to compare countries.

 

 

 
 
 

 

 

 
 
 
 
 

Figure 1

 
 

Figure 2

 

 

 
 
 
 
 

Figure 1

 
 

Figure 2

 

 

 

 

 

The United States has a low PDI so less powerful members expect power to be distributed more equally.   China on the other hand has a high PDI so the Chinese expect the power to be unequal.  The US is also very individualistic and into individual rewards, whereas China has a more collective culture for groups and group rewards.  The MAS score is relatively close for both countries and value the masculine values more than the female values.  The UAI is under 50 for each so both US and China tends to be more tolerant to change, with China being more tolerant than the US.  Finally the LTO is extremely high for China as compared to the US which means their culture values thrift and perseverance and long-term outcomes.

 

 

Schwartz

 

Another study was performed by Shalom Schwartz (1992, 1994) which analyzed individual and cultural values. Using his “SVI” (Schwartz Value Inventory), Schwartz asked respondents to assess 57 values as to how important they felt these values are as “guiding principles of one’s life”.

 

Schwartz collected data in 63 countries, with more than 60,000 participants.  From the results, Schwartz derived 10 distinct value types; Universalism, Benevolence, Tradition, Conformity, Security, Power, Achievement, Hedonism, Stimulation, and Self-Direction.   As seen in Figure 3, these value types can be represented in pie-chart form in order to see relationships between the value types.  Individual value types can also be grouped into 4 higher level value principles of Self-Transcendence, Conservation, Self-Enhancement, and Openness to Change.

 

Values play a guiding part in individual decision-making which may lead to conflicts with other values when trying to reach goals.  Figure 3 illustrates adjacent value types are most compatible (ex: Achievement and Power).  The further the distance between the values, the less compatible the values become (ex: Achievement and Conformity).   Values that are directly across from each other have the greatest conflict.  For example, personal success (Achievement) is a contradiction to promoting the welfare of others (Benevolence), although both values can be realized. 

 

http://www.acrwebsite.org/volumes/display.asp?id=11313

 

 

Figure 3

 

 

 

Self-Transcendence

  • Universalism - preference for social justice and tolerance
  • Benevolence - values promoting the welfare of others

Conservation

  • Tradition
  • Conformity - represents obedience
  • Security

Self-Enhancement

 

  • Power - values social status and prestige or control and dominance over people and resources
  • Achievement

 

Openness to Change

 

  • Hedonism - preference is given to pleasure and self-gratification
  • Stimulation - express a preference for an exciting life
  • Self-Direction - value independence, creativity and freedom

 

 

Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner

 

Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner (1993; 1998) conducted a study of business executive’s behavior and value patterns and analyzed how groups of people solve problems and reconcile dilemmas.  Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner identified seven value orientations.

 

 (http://www.sanjeevhimachali.com/?p= 4 – Understanding Cultural Dynamics and Cross-Cultural Communication)

 

  •  

 

Universalistic cultures believe the way they do business and manage people is the universal way and all countries should follow suit.  In Particularistic cultures, they look at the peculiarity and distinctiveness between cultures.  Particularistic cultures also value long-term relationships and the unique circumstances within those relationships.

 

  •  

 

Individualism has an emphasis on self-interest and individual rights.  On the other hand, collectivism emphasizes group interests before individual rights.

 

  •  

 

People in neutral cultures tend to control their emotions and composure.  Emotional cultures are more open with their emotions and feelings.  Conflicts can arise in interactions between these two cultures due to neutral cultures viewing emotional cultures as immature and emotional cultures viewing neutral cultures as insincere.

 

  •  

 

Specific cultures have clearly defined public and private spaces.  Their public spaces are larger in comparison to their private spaces and will let people into their public spaces but with limited personal commitment.  Diffuse cultures do not have a clear distinction between public and private spaces.  Public relationships, like business relationships, and private relationships typically overlap each other.

 

  •  

 

Achievement cultures value individual competency and individual achievement.  In ascription cultures, individual achievement and qualifications are less important than the person’s status based on title, position, family background, and the like. 

 

  •  

 

A culture having clock time means people use time linearly, where punctuality and schedules are very important.  There is also a clear distinction between work-life and personal-life.  Following cyclical time means people are more flexible with time and engage in multitasking.  Cyclical time does not have a clear division of work and family but relationships are more important than keeping a schedule.

 

  •  

 

Inner-directed cultures think that the person’s ability to think is the most powerful tool as well as having ideas and intuitive approaches.  This type of culture also believes personal actions and ideas can improve their own future personal situation.  Outer-directed cultures are data-oriented and believe in existing information and decisions.  They do not believe individual actions and ideas will change the future.

 

 

 

Conclusion

 

 

Future of Cross-Cultural Virtual Collaboration

 

Overcoming cultural obstacles can be one of the leading roadblocks to success for team projects. Whether you are working in a small team or large group setting, cross-cultural collaboration presents challenges. However, those challenges pale in comparison to overcoming cultural challenges in a virtual environment.

Currently, there are a variety of tools for virtual collaboration, ranging from GoTo Meeting to Wimba and Google Wave. Each of the technologies currently being used in today’s society offer solutions to a multitude of problems. However, cross-cultural virtual collaboration is far from perfected.

 

The main issue that has not been addressed in mainstream cross-cultural virtual collaboration technologies is crossing the language barrier. For example, current technologies rely on the individual user’s knowledge of a secondary language to increase communication. For example, if your boss asks you to join a virtual meeting with members from your corporate headquarters in Japan, the user would have to speak Japanese, or the other counterpart would need to speak English to make the virtual meeting work effectively.

 

One tool that would improve cross-cultural virtual collaboration would be a language translation tool, capable of translating text in real time. However, in a survey distributed by the CCVC group to seven working professionals, the most common issue with current cross-cultural virtual collaboration was regarding software not being “user-friendly” enough. (Appendix 1)

 

“You can make document sharing more user friendly so even beginners can figure out and contribute,”Survey Respondent #1.

 

Additionally, when asked the question “What do you think the future holds for Cross-Cultural Virtual Collaboration,” respondents nearly unanimously suggested that CCVC would play an increasingly large part of society in years to come.

 

“I am without a doubt convinced that it would catch on and become the next wave of communication,” Survey Respondent #6.

 

“With the huge flux of internet social networking tools, I think the future is bright. Visual net-conferencing may just become a norm since it can be done on an individual basis,”Survey Respondent #2.

 

“The rapid advancement of communications technology and associated decreased costs foretell a future where this type of interaction is destined to become commonplace,”Survey Respondent #4.

 

As with any evolving technology, improvements will be made over time. Just in the past five years, developers have made the largest strides in cross-cultural virtual collaboration since the concept was first originated. And in the future, regardless of what specific changes need to be made, one thing is for certain: cross-cultural environments will continue to be improved until they are as close to working in person as possible.

 

 

Evolving Technology

 

Technology is evolving at such a rapid pace, it may be hard to keep up. The rapid change in devices with such multi-functionality can be expected to drive up demand for increased production of newer and newer models. For Information and Digital Technology Research, our project situates itself within new research in digital technologies for cross-cultural communication and relations. Current work in intercultural theory, transnational studies, and global rhetoric, all point to the need for new practices and methods for developing solutions for how best to use information and communication technologies offered.

 

The methodology and outcomes of cross cultural collaboration through Persuasive Technology, for example, shows that for cross cultural communication and digital technology, a protocol was developed for employing the collaborative use of digital technologies – including webcam-enabled Marratech video conferencing among users, along with collaborative blogs and a project wiki for rhetorical analysis; web forums for employee review of research on rhetorical texts of cultural significance; and Google documents for collaborative writing concerning the development of intercultural competencies.

 

 

Bibliography

 

Adams, R. J., & Sockalingam, S. (1999, September 31). Multicultural Toolkit (Toolkit for cross-cultural collaboration). Retrieved July 7, 2010, from Awesome Library:http://www.awesomelibrary.org/multiculturaltoolkit.html

Hofstede, G. (n.d.). Geert Hofstede™ Cultural Dimensions. Retrieved July 6, 2010, from http://www.geert-hofstede.com

Intercultural Research. (n.d.). Retrieved July 7, 2010, from chairt.com: http://www.chairt.com

Issues in Cross Cultural Teams . (2009). Retrieved July 7, 2010, from Team Building:http://www.teambuildingportal.com/articles/team-failure/cross-cultural-team

Neyer, A.-K., & Brandl, J. (2009). Applying Cognitive Adjustment Theory to Cross-Cultural Training for Global Virtual Teams. Human Resource Management , 341–353.

Stahl, G. K., Maznevski, M. L., Voigt, A., & Jonsen, K. (2010). Unraveling the effects of cultural diversity in teams: A meta-analysis of research on multicultural work groups. Journal of International Business Studies , 690–709.

Vinaja, R. (2003). Major Challenges in Multi-Cultural Virtual Teams. American Institute for Decision Sciences, Southwest Region (pp. 341 - 346 ). San Antonio, Tex: American Institute for Decision Sciences.

Anawati, Danielle, and Annemieke Craig. "Behavioral Adaptation Within Cross-Cultural Virtual Teams." IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication 49.1 (2006): 44-56. Ieeexplore.ieee.org. IEEE Professional Communication Society, Feb. 2006. Web. 10 Oct. 2010.

Beardsell, Julie.  "Managing Culture as Critical Success Factor in Outsourcing."  SMC Working Paper Series.  SMC University, Sept.  2009.  Web.  12 Oct. 2010.

Cogburn, Derrick L., and Nanette S. Levinson. "U.S.-Africa Virtual Collaboration in Globalization Studies: Success Factors for Complex, Cross-National Learning Teams." International Studies Perspectivees 4 (2003): 34-51. Blackwell Publishing. Web. 10 Oct. 2010.

Duarte, Deborah L. and Nancy Tennant Snyder.  Mastering Virtual Teams: Strategies, Tools, and Techniques that Succeed.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001.  Print.

Kayworth, Timothy, and Dorothy Leidner. "The Global Virtual Mananger: A Prescription for Success." European Management Journal 18.2 (2000): 183-94. Print.

Kirkman, Bradley L., Benson Rosen, Cristina B. Gibson, Paul E. Tesluk, and Simon O. McPherson. "Five Challenges to Virtual Team Success: Lessons from Sabre, Inc." The Academy of Management Executive 16.3 (2002): 67-79. Www.jstor.org. Academy of Management, Aug. 2002. Web. 10 Oct. 2010.

Rosen, Benson, Stacie Furst, and Richard Blackburn. "Training for Virtual Teams, an Investigation of Current Practices and Future Needs." Human Resources Management 45.2 (2006): 229-47. Wiley InterScience. Web. 10 Oct. 2010.

 

 

Appendix 1

 

Cross-Cultural Virtual Collaboration Survey

 

Q:         What is your definition of Cross-Cultural Virtual Collaboration?

A:

 

Q:         Have you ever found yourself working in a Cross-Cultural Virtual environment?

A:

 

Q:         What obstacles did you encounter?

A:

 

Q:         What tools or software did you use?

A:

 

Q:         Was it helpful?

A:

 

Q:         What changes would you make to improve that software?

A: 

 

Q:         What do you think the future holds for Cross-Culture Virtual Collaboration?

A:

 

 
 
 

 

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