Document Type

Closed Project

Publication Date

Winter 2004


Dragan Milosevic

Course Title

Communication and Team Building

Course Number

ETM 522/622


Teams in the workplace -- Analysis, Communication in small groups, Teams in the workplace -- Case studies, Virtual work teams, Globalization


Globalization has had a significant impact on the way people work, bringing them into more frequent contact with pe ople from different countries. In today's environment, we are all required to understand and work with cultures different from our own. Because these cultures have their own assumptions and norms, each individual in a cross-cultural team comes to the group with very different preconceived views about how to go about things. Therefore, conflict and miscommunication are inevitable. (For an alternate view, see Ghosn [1], who argues that "…looking to national culture for an explanation of a company's success or failure almost always means you are missing the point.")

This phenomenon has been studied intensively since the 1970's, often as the result of companies' bad experiences in new markets. Fortunately, the research is more than anecdotal. During the '70's, IBM started collecting well over 100,000 questionnaires from its employees around the world. These data formed the basis of Hofstede's research, and the field would be difficult to imagine without him. [2-4] Further fundamental work in this field, similarly based on large volumes of self-report data, has been done by Hofstede's student Trompenaars and others[5, 6] and is cited widely. Earlier anthropological work in the area of cultural difference was done by Kluckhohn and partners, see [7].

The key contribution of these researchers is the creation and delineation of the various dimens ions (differing from four to six) along which cultures may be differentiated. Unfortunately, while the general thrust of the research is comparable, there is not an obvious way to map the dimensions to see if the works concur. Our reading suggests that Hofstede's work is highly regarded—his dimensions were originally given as hierarchical or power distance, control of uncertainty or uncertainty avoidance, individualism—collectivism and masculinity—femininity. [2] For a suggested alteration to this last, see also [8]

It is important to point out he re that this original work was not done in the context of teams or workgroups. Rather, it is usually couched as a question of management methods in general. However, the highly international nature of the samples is free of suggestions that Americans or Western Europeans would be the only managers, with other nationalities their direct reports, and thus the findings generalize to multi-cultural groups, where any or all nationalities "lead," pretty readily. Furthermore, the need for cross-functional groups to mimic, in miniature, a wide selection of general corporate tasks, suggests that much of the broader research is applicable in the smaller context, as well.


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