Managing Communication Virtual Teams

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Managing Communication within Virtual Intercultural Teams Christine Uber Grosse Thunderbird, The American Graduate School of International Management Abstract As global companies rely more on virtual teams to conduct short and longterm projects, business students need to be prepared to manage the communication of intercultural teams. Communicating across cultures using technology can be a difficult task. Best practices in managing the communication of virtual intercultural teams are identified from interviews with four executives and feedback from 90 graduate business students. This information will help business communication faculty to prepare students for the complex job of communicating across languages and cultures on virtual teams. Keywords: global teams, virtual teams, intercultural teams, team communication

Many companies use virtual teams comprising geographically dispersed people to work on short and long-term projects. “Virtual” refers to the electronic communication of team members. Technology-enabled communication allows the team to function, even when physically separated by distance and time zones. Global trade and technology have changed the work environment for organizations of all sizes. With recent technological developments in communications and logistics, smaller companies can now compete in the international marketplace (Townsend, DeMarie, & Hendrickson, 1998). Net collaboration technologies let companies work with partners to bring new products to market with significant savings in time and money. Yet, this Internetbased collaboration is still in its infant stage. Dealing with different cultures and learning how to handle the technology pose the biggest challenges for

collaborative ventures (Keenan & Ante, 2002). Indeed, the two greatest barriers to effective team communication are technology and cultural differences. This study examines how to help business students manage virtual intercultural team communication. Given globalization and corporate reliance on technology for communication, business students today are likely to participate in virtual intercultural teams in their careers. Business communication faculty can use the strategies presented here to teach students to manage the challenges of communicating in virtual teams. Today’s business students need to be prepared to work effectively on multicultural teams in order to compete in the global market, (McCain, 1996).

In spite of the prevalence and potential of multicultural teams, a review of research shows that “in practice, global teams do not often create the value expected” (DiStefano & Maznevski, 2000; Daly, 1996). Language and cultural barriers, technology, distance and time zone differences add complexity to communication in global intercultural teams, and underline the need to prepare business students to function in intercultural virtual teams. This aspect of business communication merits special attention in the curriculum. To help business communication faculty prepare students in this area, the research here addresses two key questions. How can managers use technology to communicate effectively with team members across cultures and borders? How can managers overcome cultural differences in teams comprising members from diverse cultures?

Methodology The research reported in this paper comes from two primary sources: 1) 90 graduate business students enrolled in three business communication classes and 2) interviews with four global executives based in France, the United Kingdom, and the U.S. The graduate business students reported on the outcome of an intercultural team project involving the use of technology and face-to-face communication. Their assignment is described in Figure 1. The assignment involved student reflection on how technology and intercultural differences impacted team communication. The teams wrote up their reflections as part of their final project. For the project, students were instructed to form...
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