Cultural Differences & Virtual Teams

Accommodating cultural differences in virtual teams can feel a bit like walking a tightrope.  Having faced this problem more than once I’d like to offer the following for your consideration.

The definition of cultural intelligence is “the ability to display intercultural competence within a given group through adaptability and knowledge.  Studying the components of culture, the theories pertaining to cultural dimensions and competencies, and the current initiatives in promoting these concepts are all powerful resources for managers involved in foreign assignments” (Saylor Academy, n.d.)  Faced with the situation of multiple team members of different cultural backgrounds and scattered across the earth the first thing I would do is start gathering information on the team members.  Culture is a generalization and can be useful in developing expectations, but it is not a single reference for some of the decisions that will affect the team.  I’d likely begin by creating a questionnaire to send to the group members that could be studied and shared among the group so we can get to know one another.  These mini-biographies would help me understand the actual diversity within the group.  I would compare the information received from their responses and re-read chapters 4-9 of Adler’s International Dimensions of Organizational Behavior.  Among the questions I would ask would be the following:

  • Describe a project you worked on as part of a team and how you contributed?

    • This question provides a history to their perspectives on teamwork as well as their historical roles in contributing to a team.  This will provide the context needed to set boundaries on expectations among group members.

  • Describe a mentor in your life and one of the lessons they taught you?

    • This question can provide insight as to the character of the individual through the selection of the lesson they share as well as how they prefer to be taught.

Any communication at the outset chart the course to any of the five options identified by Adler (right) (Adler, 2007). Based upon the urgency of the project moving forward synergy will be required in order to ensure the project moves forward efficiently and can achieve its goals on schedule.

When it’s time to move the conversation towards the project then I would do so leveraging the storytelling aspects of each culture to create our own project story (Saylor Academy, n.d.).  While the questions above may be useful for identifying individual traits the real meat will come from leverage a common storytelling technique.  Burke’s redemption theory (Samra, n.d.) is great among western cultures, but doesn’t necessarily work as a model across other cultures.  There are a few different ways to analyze the stories of other cultures.  The most thorough would be to consume content from those cultures, the other would be to identify the themes that resonate from a single story as perceived by members of other cultures.  Due to time choosing the later would be the most efficient, and the artifact of choice would need to be respected and consumed by all the cultures to serve as a denominator.  I’d probably use Star Wars as this artifact and then build upon themes across all cultures to help create our project’s story.

 References

Adler, N. J., & Gundersen, A. (2007). International dimensions of organizational behavior. Princeton, NJ: Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic.

Samra, R. J. (n.d.). SAMRA. Retrieved from http://ac-journal.org/journal/vol1/iss3/burke/samra.html

Saylor Academy. (n.d.). Working with People on Projects. Retrieved from https://saylordotorg.github.io/text_project-management-from-simple-to-complex-v1.1/s07-working-with-people-on-project.html