Using Computer Mediated Communication as a Tool to Facilitate Intercultural Collaboration of Global Virtual Teams

Using Computer Mediated Communication as a Tool to Facilitate Intercultural Collaboration of Global Virtual Teams

Norhayati Zakaria
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-014-1.ch202
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Many multinational companies (MNCs) have inevitably assembled and employed global virtual teams (GVTs) to leverage their work performance. GVTs are considered as an innovative and flexible work structure to achieve competitiveness in the era of globalization. The emergence of this structure is also due to the heavy reliance on computer-mediated communication technology and, as such, geographical boundaries and time zones are no longer considered as a hindrance to collaboration and communication. Yet, cultural differences remain challenging when team members work together in a non-collocated environment when they are engaged in managerial tasks such as problem-solving, negotiations, decision-making, and coordination. Thus, this new distributed collaborative phenomenon suggests that one of the key challenges in working together apart is the ability to adapt and acculturate to different cultural values that exist among team members. People need to be fully aware, understand, and be sensitive to the impact of cultural differences by exploiting appropriate online behaviors in order to reduce its detrimental influence on work performance. The purpose of this article is to present and understand the dynamics of intercultural collaboration within global virtual teams and how culture impacts their work performance in MNCs. Individuals from all over the world with diverse cultural backgrounds are increasingly collaborating using computer-mediated communication (CMC) technologies such as e-mail, Web, chat and videoconferencing, and others. Existing literature shows that when people with different cultural values communicate, it is not unusual for miscommunication, misunderstanding, and misinterpretations to occur (Chen, 2001; Gudykunst, 2003). Problems are intensified in CMC environment because of its limitation such as the absence of body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, and many others (Sproull & Kiesler, 1986; Walther, 1996). However, little research has been conducted on the ways in which different intercultural communication styles and cultural values affect people working in a distributed or virtual environment, particularly on team members’ performance. Thus, in this article, first, I will introduce the phenomenon of GVTs and its crucial function in MNCs. Second, I will present the background of the phenomenon by highlighting the gaps as identified between two research fields--crosscultural management and computer-mediated communication. Next, the main focus of the article will be a discussion of the issue of intercultural collaboration. In this section, I will first provide a definition of GVTs, followed by several arguments on cultural challenges of GVTs. In the subsequent section, I will discuss the different types of CMC that are available to GVTs and the impact of culture on its utilization. Then, I will provide a brief direction of the future research agenda comprising of both the practical as well as theoretical perspectives. In conclusion, the article will highlight the significance of using GVTs in MNCs when people engage more prominently in intercultural collaboration, using CMC in order to promote and expand international business.
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Without a doubt, GVTs have become the prevalent work structure for many MNCs. In a report by Gartner Group Survey, it was projected that 60% of the professional and management tasks at Global 2000 companies would be done via virtual teams by 2004 (Biggs, 2000). Unfortunately, the same survey projected that 50% of virtual teams would fail to meet either strategic or operational objectives due to an inability to manage the distributed workforce implementation risks. To be effective, GVTs require innovative communication and learning capabilities among different team members across organizational and geographical boundaries. As a result, the intra- and inter-team social interactions and work processes of GVTs cannot be compared to collocated team structures or treated as such by global managers.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Folksonomy: Folksonomies are user-generated taxonomies of all kinds of Web content. Users are allowed to index Web content with tags generated by themselves.

AJAX: AJAX stands for asynchronous JavaScript and XML and is a concept for asynchronous data transfer between a Web browser and a server. It is used to improve the speed of the Web sites since it enables partial site updates and also changes the look and feel of Web sites towards native applications.

RSS: RSS stands for really simple syndication. It is an XML-based standard and enables Web feeds for the purpose of simple and fast syndication of digital content.

Social Software: The term “social software” comprises all Web-based applications and services through which people can socially interact with each other.

Wiki: Wikis are site conglomerations on the Web which cannot just be read, but also directly edited online by its users over their browsers. This concept enables collaboratively compiled content

Podcast: A podcast consists of Web-published audio data which are usually syndicated by means of RSS. The term “podcast” refers to a combination of the name of Apple’s famous portable music player “iPod” and “to broadcast,” so “podcasting” describes the process of broadcasting digital content to a digital repository.

API: Application programming interfaces (API) enable connections between different systems.

Web 2.0: Web 2.0 is an abstract concept which tries to grasp a recently evolving new kind of Web culture of communication, interaction, and participation. It comes along with a minor technical evolution leading to an easier Web access

Social Bookmark: Social bookmarks are, like private bookmarks as well, personal collections of links. Since they are publicly available and tagged by users, they are called “social” bookmarks

Mashup: Mashups combine content of different Web services over open APIs to build a value-added service and generate benefits on the basis of this integration.

Weblog: The term “Weblog” is a combination of “Web” and “log” and describes a user-generated website on which the blogger can add entries in journal style.

Web Service: Defined by the W3C as a software system, it is designed to support interoperable machine-to-machine interaction over the Internet. Thus, a Web service is a self-contained, encapsulated software functionality provided to be used on-demand through standardized interfaces

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