EFFECTIVE COLLABORATION OF GLOBAL TEAMS

EFFECTIVE COLLABORATION OF GLOBAL TEAMS

 

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Effective Collaboration of Global Teams

Introduction

The onset of globalization revolutionized the way companies conducted their business. The phenomenon forced organizations to expand their reach beyond their host nations as they sought to exploit new markets. This means that modern firms need to be capable of coordinating activities that go beyond the traditional geographical and organizational boundaries. Following these changes, companies are increasingly utilizing global teams as a way of coordinating employees who are in different geographical regions. Additionally, the use of virtual teams lowers a company’s costs while simultaneously increasing the speed of the organization’s operations. Global teams refer to a type of work group where the members come from diverse backgrounds such as different cultures or nations. The fact that the members of the team come from different backgrounds does not necessarily mean that they are geographically separated (Lee-Kelley & Sankey, 2008, p. 53). However, most of the modern global teams operate remotely (virtually) as they coordinate their efforts using communication systems and devices such as video conferences, chat rooms and conference calls. Because of the diverse backgrounds of the employees, there is a need for organizations to handle global teams with care. Firms need to find a way to make the workers cooperate without letting their cultural differences get in the way. To make global teams efficient in their work, companies should factor in the various cultural issues concerning the teams when creating tasks and processes for the members.

Cultural Differences in Global Teams

Cultural diversity is one of the key issues that revolve around global teams. Advances in information technology have made it possible for people to overcome physical barriers with relative ease. This means that the global teams that companies use are more likely to be spread out over a large geographical area. The advantage of having such teams is that it allows organizations to bring together experts from different fields and form strong panels that are suited for the task. By utilizing information technology, companies can have access to the input of specialists from various ends of the world, without having to inconvenience the experts or spend money on their travel and accommodation expenses. The resulting diversity affects these teams in different ways influencing the way that they work with each other, their productivity and cohesiveness.

According to Stahl et al. (2009, p. 692) diversity within teams does not occur through ethnic background alone, but also through professional customs, organizational practices and religion. This means that two people in the same country could have cultural differences with each other. Research has established that diversity can affect a team in three different ways. Firstly, based on the similarity-attraction theory, people are likely to be attracted to the idea of working with colleagues with similar backgrounds to theirs. This could involve religious, racial, ethnic or national backgrounds (Stahl et al., 2009, p. 692). Secondly, the social identity and categorization theory states that most people classify themselves into certain groups and then sort some of their colleagues as the ‘others’. Following this sorting, the team members are then likely to treat some of their colleagues better than others. Lastly, the information processing theory states that diversity can help a team by seeing members bring in different contributions. This helps the team widen its range of information and widen its networks and perspectives (Stahl et al., 2009, p. 692).

Communication within Culturally Diverse Teams

Communication is one of the main aspects of global teams that are affected by cultural diversity. Effective communication is an important prerequisite for the success of any team. Gluesing and Gibson (2003, p. 41) argue that communication at the beginning of a diverse team is vital to the establishment of mutual trust within the team. However, seamless communication is difficult to achieve within such teams. Communication barriers within global teams arise from geographic, ethnic and cultural differences. If an organization fails to tackle these barriers, it is likely that the team will fail to bond and work cohesively, meaning that they will be unable to perform their task satisfactorily (Gluesing & Gibson, 2003, p. 41).

Geographical barriers affect communication because of the physical separation between members. If the team has people living in distant locations it is likely that the members will be located in different time zones making it difficult to schedule meetings where all players are available. Even though technology can help the group overcome such obstacles, it is important for the company to understand that interfacing through communication devices should be a compliment to the actual process rather than a substitute.

Intercultural communication within a global team is also likely to encounter barriers created by language differences. Shachaf’s (2008, p. 137) study into the effects of cultural diversity on team effectiveness outlined that differences in the language spoken created problems that required “team members to invest more time and effort in encoding and decoding messages”. This means that the cost of interaction is increased on both the part of the sender and the recipient. This was even worse when the communication involved a native and non-native speaker of a specific language because it forced the former to spend time simplifying his or her messages to enhance the level of understanding (Schachaf, 2008, p. 137).

Similarly, cultural differences create problems for global teams by making it difficult to disseminate information within the group. In his research, Schachaf (2008, p. 138) discovered that there are cultural barriers to communication whenever the people involved come from the East and West. For instance, Americans often state that group members from the Orient were not direct in their communications, creating unnecessary delays in the way that information was passed. For this reason, some members of a global team are likely to become frustrated when interfacing with their colleagues. Another cultural barrier could arise from the way that people from different ethnicities prefer to use their words. Again, Schachaf’s (2008, p. 138) study revealed that there was a distinct difference in cultural communication practices from people in the East and West. He noted that Westerners are elaborate, preferring to give more than enough information for the purposes of clarity. Alternatively, people from the Orient favored the use of just the required amount of words (Schachaf, 2008, p. 138).

For any team to work effectively, it is important to have the members communicate in a way that allows all of them to understand each other. The ideal situation for global teams with regard to communication barriers is to have all of the members convene at least once and have a face-to-face meeting. Such sessions can help foster sentiments of familiarity and trust within the team, which would otherwise be impossible to achieve in virtual assemblies. This trust is built when the team members learn about each other’s “backgrounds, skills, experiences and areas of expertise” from the social presence and visual cues in the meeting (Heller et al., 2010, p 9). However, face-to-face meetings are difficult and expensive to convene.

Even though face-to-face meetings help to solve many of the problems that surround communication in global teams, the utilization of information technology could help a company in many ways. Heller et al. (2010, p. 10) use the term computer-mediated communication (CMC) to refer to any form of interfacing that requires the use of a computing device. CMC presents international organizations with a myriad of advantages especially when global teams are involved. Firstly, CMC is the most cost-effective way of disseminating information to people who are geographically separated. Using CMC, team members can pass information to each other rapidly without the need for travelling, which can cost a lot of time and money. Additionally, the use CMC makes it likely that team members will overcome any inhibitions that they have regarding power relations with their colleagues. Heller et al. (2010, p. 10) argue that the levels of participation are more proportional if a heterogeneous group interfaces using CMC. This is because the use of CMC “enables greater freedom of thought, in turn improving the dialogue” (Heller et al., 2010, p. 10). Lastly, the researchers have also found that CMCs work best when companies combine them with face-to-face meetings. The face-to-face meetings are a good way of creating a sense of familiarity within a team and helping the members create a rapport with each other. After the face-to-face meeting, there would be a greater sense of understanding between the members making the team a more cohesive unit (Heller et al., 2010, p. 10).

Understanding of Time across Different Cultures

Another issue that often comes up in global teams pertains to time orientation across different cultures. Time is critical issue within global teams because they often have to coordinate activities across different time zones. This makes it difficult to schedule meetings and sessions. The fact that different cultures have varying practices pertaining to time worsens this situation. The differences between polychronic and monochronic cultures are good examples of the varying time customs. Polychronic cultures tend to be very flexible in their timings, meaning that it is normal for people from such backgrounds to be late for meetings. Alternatively, monochronic cultures are rigid in their scheduling and always emphasize punctuality. Schachaf research found that such differences created friction within global teams when some members were frequently late for meetings (2008, p. 139). This is especially the case when the team has scheduled a face-to-face meeting.

The management of time is a very important facet of managing a global team. The different perceptions of time, combined with geographic separation, pose a serious challenge for global teams, especially when it comes to the scheduling and coordination of meetings (both virtual and face-to-face). Saunders, Van Slyke and Vogel (2004, p. 24) state that global teams often face three problems concerning time. Firstly, it is difficult for the group to synchronize and schedule its time around the geographical location of each member. Secondly, there is always a sense of temporal uncertainty, arising from the different time orientations of the members and the possibility of unexpected incidents and emergencies occurring. The third problem relating to time and culture concerns time allocation. It is important for the team to consider certain priorities whenever it is planning tasks and assigning duties to the different players (Saunders, van Slyke & Vogel, 2004, p. 24).

Management is the best way to overcome the problems posed by time within a global team. One thing that companies should do to increase time efficiency within global teams, is create awareness of the cultural differences that exist. This can help all of the members understand why they need to be punctual and reduce the possibility of there being tension between them (Saunders, van Slyke & Vogel, 2004, p. 25). Secondly, global teams should always use language that is precise and clear when they are talking about time. This eliminates the possibility that a misunderstanding will occur within the team about a planned meeting or task (Saunders, van Slyke & Vogel, 2004, p. 25).

Trust Building in Global Teams

Trust is perhaps the most important variable within global teams. McKnight (cited in Jarvenpaa, Shaw & Staples, 2004, p. 251) states that trust is the willingness that a person has to rely on somebody else. According to conventional understanding of the concept, trust in a relationship between people starts low and increases steadily with ongoing interaction. However, trust within the auspices of global teams does not always conform to this conventional understanding. Jarvenpaa, Shaw and Staples (2004, p. 252) argue that there are instances where a team starts with high levels of trust that appear to have been acquired even before the members first met.

The formation of trust within a global team is perhaps the most imperative element with regard to competence. Basing their assumption on the attribution theory, Dirks and Ferrin (cited in Jarvenpaa, Shaw & Staples, 2004, p. 253) argue, “trust reduces ambiguity and uncertainty in social perceptions so cooperative or productive activity can take place”. Alternatively, the lack of trust within a global team may make the members behave in a reserved way and hide their true abilities and qualities. This will make it difficult for the team to achieve its highest possible level of production, while also increasing the likelihood of tension forming between the players (Stan & Alecsandri, 2010, p. 475). For this reason, it is important for the members within the team to gain trust in each other as soon as possible.

According to Gibson and Manuel (2003, p. 69), the key to the formation of trust within a team is communication. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, interfacing makes it possible for a team to create cooperative relationships within the members. Secondly, through communication, the players within the group are able to gain insightful information about each other. This information can help create a sense of familiarity and make it easier for the people within the group to approach each other. When building trust within a team, analysts encourage the management to encourage the people to engage in open and prompt communication (Gibson & Manuel, 2003, p. 69). This kind of interaction will give the subjects a chance to sort out their differences understand each other. Communication also helps build trust in a team by making it possible for members to gather information on the reliability and competence of their colleagues. Without constant communication between team players, it would take a long time for the people involved to know each other thus elongating the process through which the team builds trust (Gibson & Manuel, 2003, p. 70).

Creating Tasks and Processes in a Team

The creation and assignment of tasks and processes within a global team is vital to the success of the team. The management should center the group’s tasks and processes on the desired outcomes. Team processes are integral to the outcome of a global team’s entire work. Martins, Gilson and Maynard (2004, p. 812) define the processes as the manner in which teams attain their final product. Scholars sort the procedures into planning, action and interpersonal processes. The planning processes are the key sections of the work that the global team is carrying out. Action processes are those that happen within the team’s main work. They include communication and coordination processes. Lastly, interpersonal processes mainly entail the interaction between different members of the team (Martins, Gilson & Maynard, 2004, p. 812).

When coming up with the tasks and processes for the team, companies should always factor in different issues concerning cultural diversity. Since global teams rely more on CMC than face-to-face meetings, time is one of the most important factors in the planning and scheduling of tasks and processes (Oguntebi, 2009, p. 35). Firstly, planning within a global team has to be a collaborative process to make sure that tasks are arranged in a way that all of the members can participate without major inconveniences because of their geographic location. For instance, meetings arranged with all members having been considered are more likely to be successful. Similarly, communication is an important aspect of planning tasks and processes. Groups can use accurate communication to ensure that planning is accurate and specific. If communication is adequate, members of the group are less likely to fail to complete tasks on time or carry out the wrong work.  One way of using communication to make sure that members complete tasks is by creating a sense of urgency. Gluesing and Gibson (2003, p. 25) argue that managers can ensure that team members remain focused by creating a sense of urgency within the team. Communication is the best way to emphasis the urgency. For instance, administrators can make team members focus by making them understand that they have to adhere to certain deadlines (Gluesing & Gibson, 2003, p. 25).

Conclusion

Through globalization, people and companies have been able to access different parts of the world and work there. This has forced companies to come up with new ways of completing tasks and carrying out certain projects. Global teams are a good example of the techniques that companies now use to complete their work. Global teams are fast becoming a constant fixture within the operations of international companies. Sometimes these teams involve the cooperation of different players over great physical distances or the coordination of people from diverse backgrounds who are working together to achieve a single goal. The diversity found in the teams gives them advantages and disadvantages. Most of the disadvantages revolve around communication problems, trust issues and time coordination. If these obstacles are overcome, then it can be possible for a company to turn these challenges and use them to make a global team a formidable force within the corporate world.

 

 

References

Gibson, CB & Manuel, JA 2003, ‘Building trust: Effective multicultural communication processes in virtual teams’ In Virtual teams that work: Creating conditions for virtual team effectiveness, eds CB Gibson & SG Cohen, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, pp. 59-86.

Gluesing, JC & Gibson, CB 2003, ‘Designing and forming global teams’ in Handbook for cross-cultural management, eds JC Gluesing & CB Gibson, CEO Publication, Los Angeles, pp. 2-49.

Heller, R, Laurito, A, Johnson, K, Martin, M, Fitzpartrick, R & Sundin, K 2010, Global teams: Trends, challenges and solutions, Cornell Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies, Cornell University, viewed 03 February 2014, <https://est05.esalestrack.com/eSalesTrack/Content/Content.ashx?file=981a8f37-c9af-4547-b96a-ad622a55a50b.pdf>

Jarvenpaa, SL, Shaw, TR & Staples, DS 2004, ‘Toward contextualized theories of trust: The role of trust in global virtual teams’, Information Systems Research, Vol. 15, No. 3, pp. 250-267.

Lee-Kelley, L & Sankey, T 2008, ‘Global virtual teams for value creation and project success: A case study’, International Journal of Project Management, Vol. 26, pp. 51-62.

Martins, LL, Gilson, LL & Maynard, MT 2004, ‘Virtual teams: What do we know and where do we go from here’, Journal of Management, Vol. 30, pp. 805-835.

Oguntebi, JO 2009, ‘Creating effective global virtual teams: A transactive memory perspective’ doctoral dissertation, University of Michigan.

Saunders, C, Van Slyke, C & Vogel, DR 2004, ‘My time or yours? Managing time visions in global virtual teams,’ Academy of Management Executive, Vol. 18, No. 1, pp. 19-31.

Schachaf, P 2008, ‘Cultural diversity and information communication technology impacts on global virtual teams: An exploratory study’, Information and Management, Vol. 45, No. 2, pp. 131-142.

Stahl, GK, Maznevski, ML, Voigt, A & Jonsen, K 2009, ‘Unraveling the effects of cultural diversity in teams: A meta-analysis of research on multicultural work groups’, Journal of International Business Studies, Vol. 41, pp. 690-709

Stan, AS & Alecsandri, V 2010, ‘Managing global teams’, Studies and Scientific Researches – Economic Edition, No. 15, pp. 473-479.

 

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