It Is Certainly a Different Manner!: Working in Global Virtual Teams With Divergent Intercultural Communication Styles

It Is Certainly a Different Manner!: Working in Global Virtual Teams With Divergent Intercultural Communication Styles

Norhayati Zakaria (University of Wollongong in Dubai, UAE), Shafiz Affendi Mohd Yusof (University of Wollongong in Dubai, UAE) and Nursakirah Ab Rahman Muton (UOW Malaysia KDU Penang University College, Malaysia)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 22
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3744-2.ch004

Abstract

The present study seeks to understand intercultural communication patterns, characteristics, and styles of team members that engage in virtual collaboration with people from diverse backgrounds known as global virtual team (GVT). Twenty respondents were interviewed in order to develop a rich understanding of the intercultural communication and styles within a GVT, based on Edward Hall's cultural dimensions. The results reveal that GVT members from high context cultures demonstrate indirect communication styles, use non-verbal approaches, and employ silence and polite gestures in certain situations, while low context GVT members are more prone to direct and straightforward communication styles with many verbal responses in online team discussion. In essence, the findings provide key implication to global managers: be prepared to work with cultural diversity in terms of being open-minded, develop a high level of tolerance, and become culturally sensitive to different approaches and preferences of communication styles as employed by team members when working at a distance.
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Introduction

In the 21st century, the influence of culture on global business and multicultural team collaboration has ostensibly become less challenging, because technology now allows people to connect easily regardless of geographical distance or time zone. Globalization is now omnipresent, and people across the globe can collaborate anytime, anywhere, and with anyone. However, globalization has not erased cultural difference. In the field of intercultural communication, scholars have long explored the impact of culture on communication patterns and styles, as well as the way a message is delivered and comprehended when people of diverse cultures work together (Chen & Starosta, 2003; Gudykunst & Kim, 2002; Hooker, 2012; Ting-toomey, 2006). For example, how people communicate, when they communicate, and why they say things as they do—these are questions that arise whenever team members with different cultural backgrounds must collaborate and work at a distance.

It is an emerging trend among multinational corporations (MNCs) to introduce a new work structure to their employees: virtual teamwork, or “global virtual teams” (GVTs). Organizations can benefit from the synergistic “teamwork” that a GVT offers due to its lower cost; travelling is not required and is often eliminated (Asplund, 2019; Shachaf, 2008; Zakaria & Mohd Yusof, 2018). Yet, in seeking to make collaboration effective, people in a GVT are continually challenged by diversity in intercultural communication styles, patterns, and mannerisms (Byron, 2008; Goettsch, 2016; Holtbrugge et al., 2012). A key question here is whether, with the emergence of GVTs and their heavy reliance on technologically mediated communication, people of different cultures continue to encounter cultural diversity at a distance. If cultural impacts persist, how do MNCs manage their GVTs’ intercultural collaborations?

When collaborating across the globe via communication technologies, members of GVTs must quickly learn to communicate effectively with members from different cultural backgrounds, although they are strangers. GVTs also require a heightened use of computer-mediated communication and social media technology to be a feasible. Team members may have no historical background of working with each other, and they may not have the opportunity to meet in person. They tend to engage in temporal or ad-hoc projects, and members are located remotely (Hajro, Gibson, & Pudelko, 2015; Zakaria, 2017). Once employees are assigned to a GVT, they often encounter people who speak differently, think differently, and feel differently when they communicate (Cleary, Slattery, Flammia, & Minacori, 2018; Dibble et al., 2019; Lucani, Cataldo, Cruz, Villegas, & Wong, 2006). According to Edward Hall, founder of the field of intercultural communication, “Culture is communication and communication is culture” (Hall, 1976, p. 143). Frequently, what makes effective communication among team members difficult are the cultural values held by them. An additional challenge is that the team members must use computer-mediated communication for their virtual collaboration; the adoption of technological tools itself presents resistance and inconveniences in certain cultures (Glikson & Erez, 2019; Kenon & Palsole, 2019). Many MNCs now ask their employees to engage in this type of virtual teamwork.

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