Intercultural Competences as a Trust Factor in Virtual Team Work

Intercultural Competences as a Trust Factor in Virtual Team Work

Maria Assumpta Aneas (Universitat de Barcelona, Spain)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-883-3.ch082
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Abstract

Globalization is increasingly having a visible impact on the importance attached to interculturality in organizations, an impact which is even clearer in the context of virtual teamwork. Virtual teamwork is defined by Simsarian (2006) as a process whereby a group of people with a common purpose carry out interdependent tasks using technology as the key communicational interface. This phenomenon has both positive and negative aspects in that, on the one hand, it can produce a significant increase in the productivity, value added, and profitability associated with the deployment of organizational resources, whilst on the other it can lead to growing uncertainty, tension, and a feeling of failure among team members if they are not adequately prepared and trained. Just one illustration of the costs to organizations of ignoring the growing importance of intercultural communication is offered by Wederspalhn (2002) who highlights the conclusion reached in 2000 by the American Society for Training and Development that “American companies suffer losses of over $2.5 billion annually as a result of the inadequate training and preparation of employees sent overseas.”
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Background

Virtual Teamwork

The first references to virtual teamwork began to appear in the literature in the mid-1990s. Kristof, Brown, Sims, and Smith (1995), Jin and Levitt (1996), and Wellman, Salaff, Dimitrova, Garton, Gulia, and Haythornthwaite (1996) are examples of some of the earliest work where the phenomenon is mentioned.

Virtual teamwork may be defined as “groups of people who work interdependently with a shared purpose across space, time, and organizational boundaries using technology to communicate and collaborate” (Kirkman, Rosen, Gibson, Tesluk, McPherson, 2002). Such virtual teams are increasingly used by companies and other organizations in a continuous effort to reduce travel, relocation, real estate, and other business costs. This process is particularly evident in the case of businesses that make use of virtual organizations to build their global presence, to outsource their operations, or who need specialist expertise or skills from people who are reluctant to travel or relocate from their home locations.

The organizational, technological, personal, and cultural complexes which constitute the frontiers and structures for working at a distance directly affect the productivity and efficiency of virtual teamwork when compared with that of more traditional work groups (Simsarian, 2006). Given some of the inherent limitations of the new channels of communication, the success and effectiveness of virtual teams is much more sensitive to the type of project the group works on, who is selected, and how the team is managed. Virtual organization is not appropriate for all classes of project. A particularly challenging case is offered by projects which rely heavily on sequential or integrated work, as is often the case in manufacturing industry. In particular, when the work of one person depends to a great extent on what someone else is doing at the same moment in time (as, for example, in a sports team), there is both a substantial ongoing exchange of information in real time, and/or when the work task needs to follow a strict sequence of workers within a limited time frame.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Individualism: The concept of individualism has been employed by such authors as Hosfstede (1991 AU25: The in-text citation "Hosfstede (1991" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ) or Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner (1998) to define those cultures which value individual independence and priorities individual objectives.

Competency: “The degree of training, knowledge, and expertise needed to carry out the tasks and functions of a job” (Levy Leboyer, 1996 AU23: The in-text citation "Levy Leboyer, 1996" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ).

Collectivism: Some authors as Hosfstede (1991 AU22: The in-text citation "Hosfstede (1991" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ) or Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner (1998) have defined collective cultures value relationships of interdependence between members of a cultural group and priorities collective objectives over individual ones.

Intercultural Communication: Intercultural communication is the discipline that studies communication from the perspective of the culture of those involved. The discipline analyzes affective, psychological, and social factors, and describes the communication process from cognitive, behavioral, and affective perspectives.

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