Work-Life Strategies & Solutions

On the Evolution of Work Systems in the Digital Economy

Virtual Teams and the Challenge of Cross-Cultural Differences

Cover of "The Handbook of Culture and Psy...

Cover of The Handbook of Culture and Psychology

From David Matsumoto’s The Handbook of Culture and Psychology:

The next two decades promise to be even more exciting for research on culture and emotion. Interesting programs have sprung up all around the world and in all disciplines of psychology. New technologies for mapping culture as a psychological construct on the individual level are being developed, as well as ways to measure precisely moment-to-moment changes in our brains and bodies when we feel or judge emotion. Collectively, these endeavors will tell us more in the future about the relationship between culture and the physiology of emotion, the representation of display and decoding rules, emotion perception, and culture itself in the brain (p. 161)

Having written a couple of posts (here and here) on the difficulties of cross-cultural communication and misunderstanding, the quote above provides hope that advancing technology and emphasis on cross-cultural research may help promote improved cross-cultural understanding in the future. Indeed, at the time that The Handbook of Culture and Psychology was published (in 2001), academics acknowledged that, even though contact and communication via computer-mediated technologies across different cultures around the world would increase dramatically (especially for work-related reasons), we are a step behind as far as cross-cultural communication research in this realm goes. Up through this point in time, cross-cultural researchers had focused on cross-cultural face-to-face communication and had largely neglected cross-cultural communication via technology. Just as we don’t want to assume that our understanding of people from the standpoint of Western psychology applies to everyone around the world, it’s also vital that we don’t assume that communicating via technology is identical to communicating face-to-face.

However, what can organizational leaders and managers do at this point in time to assure that their virtual team members around the world collaborate effectively? As I mentioned in this post, expecting to become an expert on another person by picking up and reading a book about that person’s culture isn’t reasonable. It’s unlikely that a summary of a culture will describe all the components of that given culture. Additionally, people in any specific region will differ from each other culturally due to many other factors – e.g., socioeconomic status, education level, life experiences, gender, age, etc. Comparisons of culture on a large-scale can tell you something about group-level differences, but knowing these averages will not help when dealing with individuals from a given culture as they can fall anywhere along the group distribution representing the whole group’s characteristics.

When cross-cultural miscommunication occurs however, it would be helpful to understand the way in which the other person views the situation. To this end, some steps that organizational leaders and managers can take include employing the services of culturally knowledgeable mediators or arbitrators and using behaviorally-based culture learning programs (Matsumoto, D., p. 427). The latter includes the following programs:

  • Information giving
  • Cultural sensitization
  • Simulations
  • Critical incident techniques
  • Culture assimilators
  • Experiential learning

Finally, in this video, Geert Hofstede compares and contrasts the acquisition of culture within societies and organizations, explains the introduction and impact of people’s native (i.e., acquired within society) culture on relational dynamics within organizations, and much more!

Want to learn about other aspects of innovating and improving collaboration of dispersed teams?

Don’t miss Better Collaboration’s upcoming videoconference! These events are specifically geared towards organizational leaders and this next one, on April 24th 1:00-2:30PM EST (10:00-11:30AM PST), will feature Matt Boyd, Co-Founder at Sqwiggle. Sqwiggle is an always on online workplace for your remote team to work together throughout the day. Their slogan: Remote Working, Made Awesome.

Register at the Better Collaboration Meetup site and check out services offered through Better Collaboration.

One response to “Virtual Teams and the Challenge of Cross-Cultural Differences

  1. Pingback: Avoiding Cross-Cultural Faux Pas – Career Skills From | Anne Egros, Intercultural Executive Coach

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