Promoting Global Virtual Teams across the Globe: Cross-Cultural Challenges and Synergies

Promoting Global Virtual Teams across the Globe: Cross-Cultural Challenges and Synergies

Norhayati Zakaria (University of Wollongong in Dubai, UAE) and Ghadeer Al Safi (University of Wollongong in Dubai, UAE)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4979-8.ch033
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Abstract

This chapter presents a preliminary understanding of cross-cultural challenges and synergistic experiences of multicultural students engaged in Global Virtual Teams (GVTs). In this case study, we introduce the GVT structure as a novel learning platform which utilizes Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) tools as part of its virtual-based learning. We administer the case study with 30 students (n=30) in the United of Emirates (UAE) who engage in GVTs across the globe—encompassing 26 universities and 22 countries. Qualitative data is collected in the form of documents—reflective reports of the students’ experiential learning over a 10-week period. We content analyse the reports based on the thematic analysis with two distinctive categories—cultural challenges and cultural synergies based on the first seven weeks of the experiential learning process. In this study, we find that students experienced challenges such as managing technical difficulty, language barriers, deteriorating motivations, geographical distance, time differences, and non-committed and unresponsive attitude. However, students also experience synergies from the GVTs such as strong relationships and continued friendships, formation of emergent leadership, learned diverse managerial styles and competencies skills, varied use of varied CMC tools, and international exposure to diverse cultures without the need to travel abroad.
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Introduction

Global Virtual Teams (GVTs) are becoming the most widespread and innovative working structure in Multinational Corporations (MNCs). GVTs are composed of people from different cultural backgrounds, working at a distance, collaborating using varied communication technologies to achieve their goals, and who often have no historical work relationship (Mohd Yusof & Zakaria, 2012). The availability of new information and communication technologies combined with increasing pressure for globalization is driving the growth of GVTs. In addition, a new social context also arises in GVTs, since the ability to share knowledge is no longer constrained by geographical distance and time.

When considering GVTs, one must recognize such teams differ in many aspects from traditional teams. GVTs fundamentally diverge on two distinct dimensions – the sophistication of their communication tools, and the time spent working apart (Griffith & Neale, 2001; Powell et al., 2004; Fuller, Hardin, & Davison, 2006; O’Leary & Cummings, 2007). The purest GVT is the one which collaborates while team members are situated in different locales, totally working apart, and depending entirely on computer-mediated communication tools. Thus, there are some inevitable challenges in building a sustainable learning and knowledge-sharing base between diverse members of GVTs. For instance, it is clearly noted in several studies that this type of virtual collaboration results in heightened challenges for organizations to manage due to cross-cultural differences and such teams also differ on managerial requirements and strategies from the onset and throughout the team’s life cycle (Maznevski & Chudoba, 2000; Furst, Reeves, Rosen & Blackburn, 2004; Montoya, Massey, & Lockwood, 2011). Yet the advantages of such teamwork continue to be promoted in multinational organizations because of its significant work structure (Araujo & Chidambaram, 2008; David, Newell, & Resende-Santos, 2008; Griffith & Neale, 2001).

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