Key Challenges in Cross Cultural Management

12 December 2016

The topic of cross-cultural management is becoming increasingly popular. As more and more organizations expand globally, people from culturally diverse backgrounds have recognized the need to work together effectively by learning to be culturally sensitive. Although it appears that managing virtual teams is more complex than managing traditionally aligned teams, success of virtual teams in software fields would suggest otherwise. This paper focuses on the interactions of people in virtual teams trying to understand its challenges as well as its advantages.

It also highlights the importance of managing virtual teams in view of its advantages. Whereas it appears that cross cultural issues in teams arise primarily due to miscommunication, successfully performing virtual teams cite communication as their key enabler. By looking deeply into the success factors behind virtual teams, we try to derive key learnings in the area of cross cultural management. Content In the recent past, strategic business plans have failed due to cultural mismatches.

Until recently, systematic attention has rarely been directed towards cross cultural dimensions risk-assessment of outsourcing arrangements. Nowadays, increasingly, organizations are addressing the fact that cultural risk assessment was neglected in the past in favour of financial and legal factors. Therefore, today, companies willing to enter the world of opportunities in Chinese markets first adapt their organizational culture and functioning style to suit the Chinese culture, values, and consumers.

Communication, in addition to cultural sensitivity, is one of the key challenges faced by cross-cultural teams. However, virtual teams functioning in the area of outsourced services and software product development have been quite successful due to certain unique advantages. Surely, then, there is a lot to learn in the area of cross cultural management by observing professionals managing successful virtual teams. Let us first understand how virtual teams function and why they are needed. Virtual team ” What is it nd why is it needed? Virtual team, as the name suggests, is comprised of a group of individuals who act from geographically different locations, and therefore different time zones, but within organizational boundaries while always committed to a common purpose. This mode of working is most commonly seen in product development teams where different sites have unique expertise to handle specific requirements. It is also common among support teams located across the world to keep up global round-the-clock support activities.

In today’s business scenario, there is an increasing need for having the best people working on projects within organizations, no matter where they may be located. Today, technological advances make it possible for organizations to bring together best employees from different parts of the world. Communication technology helps strengthen the links and the result is a flexible organization with increased business hours. In the times of increasing globalization, the existence of virtual teams, if managed well, presents a huge business expansion opportunity to Multi-National Corporations.

But what is it about such a globally dispersed team that makes it so difficult for people to function in unison – communication or complexity? Communication or complexity: Which is the challenge for Virtual teams? For example, when Alcatel (now Alcatel-Lucent), established an offshore office in India in 2003 to handle project activities for their Mobility product line offerings, it was able to start operations after just four months with 25 employees.

Even after six months in operation, there was no major catastrophe in terms of missed deadlines, botched up projects or information security breaches. Alcatel proceeded with their plan to increase the team size to about 500 in the next year. However, after two years in operation, Alcatel was struggling to keep up quality and schedule of their operations because activities had just gotten too complex to handle. Indeed, it is the complexity of operations that is the cause for concern while working in virtual teams.

Interestingly in successful virtual teams, communication, which appears to be a challenge, is actually the key enabler (maybe because it is stressed upon). Virtual teams ” Learnings for cross cultural management Cultural sensitivity of team members appears to be a lot higher because of inter-group competition, higher percentage of e-mail communication and sensitivity analysis made by every virtual team when they get more time to understand and remind themselves that they are communicating with individuals from a different cultural background.

Clearly there are key learnings that cross-cultural managers may derive from above success factors of virtual teams. However, virtual teams run into problems when insensitive leaders try to impose company behaviour over local team culture during intercultural interactions, when there are gaps in communication or lack of clarity about timelines or when there are local team members form a political allegiance who overlook the sense of belonging to the global group. As a leader it is important to cultivate critical skills for effective virtual interactions amongst virtual teams.

This will help to minimize mistakes and delays as well as to increase productivity and trust within the team. It would also be useful to have established guidelines for e-communication culture to ensure team success. In today’s global world, managers need rhetorical skills, not for making fine speeches, but to know how to use their voice ” even in a foreign language ” to convey sweetness and confidence. The skilful use of the human voice, which can float across any language barrier, is the secret weapon for intercultural business communication.

The big challenge for companies ” and for cross-cultural trainers ” is to unearth and understand the nature of knowledge that is built into specific cultural contexts, languages and communication behaviour ” and then apply it. Conclusion Today’s manager is expected to be able to create condition for various social groups that are potentially in contest, to hold them together in an integrated rather than fragmented social system. Managing virtual teams, which are bound to be cross-cultural by nature, requires deep cultural sensitivity combined with excellent organizational and management skills.

As role models for good practice, the management systems that tend to be non-judgemental, low-key and reflective are likely to be successful in carrying out strategies with geographically dispersed teams since the resulting style is one that does not communicate cultural superiority. Nothing alienates a culture faster than the perception that it is being looked down upon everyone. Therefore, people in cross-cultural teams need to remember the serviceable formulation by German company Henkel ‘global when necessary, local where possible’ to be successful in a cross cultural framework.

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