Companies are progressively turning to global virtual management teams as a way of attaining strategic advantage. As more teams continue to be recruited, it becomes paramount for these organizations to understand what makes them become successful. Recognition of cultural diversity within the workplace is an important step towards effective team management. Creation and development of an effective team is a critical thing to do to achieve success in any given project. Most of the time, successful implementation of a project will depend on the team’s initiative to maintain a team spirit all through to the end (Andrews & Mead 2009).
Advancement in technology during this period of the global age has allowed people from diverse cultural backgrounds to work together. Cultural diversity within an organization will entail creating good relationships among people from different cultural values and beliefs (Andrews & Mead 2009). Nevertheless, adoption of diversity within the workplace can result to disagreements or misunderstanding thereby hindering optimal performance. More caution ought to be applied in maintaining a healthy relationship amongst employees from varied cultural settings.
It is important to understand that organizational procedures that work in one area may not necessary apply in another. As a result, there have been models developed to analyze the application of cultural diversity in organizations with a multicultural setting. Dr. Geert Hofstede developed a theory of cultural dimensions that has become an internationally recognized standard (Rizzo, Mero, & Tosi 2000). This paper focuses on expounding ways in which cultural factors can hinder successful team management within an organization. It further uses a model as well as a case study to present the idea of cultural dimensions in corporate team management.
Critical review of the theory
International business leaders agree beyond doubt that the success of any given industry in the current business world depends on its international growth. Over a long period of time, these companies are run from centralized offices in the overseas, always trying to retain the spirit of the country of origin. Nevertheless, in the present age, multinational companies shun the risk of overwhelming the local practices. Firms that experience market and population expansion have a high rate of product movement (Maud 1997). Campaign programs for marketing of products have now been designed to encourage figures that are massive with no regard to a particular nationality.
In addition, a collaborative team spirit can only be achieved when team leaders are supportive, friendly and social with the team members in order to motivate everyone towards success of the project. An excellent team will usually show credible performance and efficiency while requiring minimal supervision. The best teams are nurtured in places where individual members are recognized to have important roles to play towards overall success (Andrews & Mead 2009). Effective communication is a vital key of concern in cross cultural teams. However, there are likely hindrances towards building effective cross-cultural teams, some of which include the following:
Language and effective communication
Language forms one of the major hindrances towards building an all inclusive multicultural team. In order to have clarity in communication and avoid misinterpretations, a standard language should be used as a tool of communication. In addition, team members should request for clarifications through paraphrasing and asking questions to prevent misunderstandings. Teamwork involves collective efforts from all participants and therefore, everyone should be fully included in the process.
Most of international businesses involve virtual leadership and most of the meetings are held through either videoconferencing or telecommuting facilities to manage and coordinate project progress (Andrews & Mead 2009). Since there is hardly any face-to- face communication, any written or verbal communication should be made as plain as possible. Furthermore, everyone has to resonate at the same level during discussions and exchange of information among the involved parties. This will filter out differences that might rise during decision making process. Nevertheless, if there are disagreements on the best alternative to be adopted, explicit emails and telephone calls should be made before coming into a conclusive agreement.
Dominating cultural influences
Besides, there are other concerns from some cultures that have dominating influences and usually try to take over progressive team process. This occurs when a principal group within a team influences others to divert decisions towards a direction they feel contented with. Such a practice is very detrimental towards effective team management. It fosters creation of a situation that is frustrating for rest of the team members.
This is a very important tool for any team to be successful. However, it usually takes time to build and develop thereby hampering the effectiveness of the team progress. For instance people from countries such as China first build their trust at a personal level before extending to business matters. On the other hand, people in the United States are reluctant to enter into personal matters in order to develop trust. This difference in cultural beliefs results to lack of harmony thereby interfering with team building processes. In case of a situation that requires collaborative effort between employees whose background is at both extremes, proper and detailed negotiations are important to avoid subsequent misunderstandings.
Geert Hofstede model of cultural dimension
Hofstede explained his theory along five cultural dimensions which allowed him to feature observable patterns to variations in culture thereby getting rid of the issues of differences in culture within teamwork in an organization. They include;
Power Distance Index (PDI)
This is a measure that indicates the extent to which less influential members of a given organization recognize that power is distributed unequally. It suggests that power is a basic aspect of any community and at the same time, the level of inequality within a society being approved by the followers as much as by the people in leadership position. A high value of PD level exists in a society that accepts unequal allocation of power (Andrews & Mead 2009). Normally, there are strong hierarchies with major breaks in authority. Members of such a society recognize the powerful role of their leaders and they usually refer to top management for answers. On the contrary, a low value of PD level translates to a societal setting whereby the power is well disbanded. This is a scenario where managers and employees have almost the same authority (Rizzo, Mero, & Tosi 2000). Teamwork is applied in almost all processes and making of decisions involves almost everyone in the group.
This is a term that refers to the level of attachment individual people have to other members of their community. It is the level to which people are integrated into social groups. A high value of individualism shows absence of interpersonal connection and very little distribution of duties. Such a societal setting is characterized by high recognition of people’s time and freedom (Boyd n.d). There is also respect for people’s privacy. Consequently, leaders should aim to encourage free expression of ideas and recognize individual accomplishments. On the other hand, a community where the level of IDV is low, strong group structure is expected and people usually take great care and concern for everyone’s wellbeing. Harmony within the group is usually valued more than honesty.
This is a basic issue of concern for any society referring to how roles are allocated between the genders. According to Hofstede, women values in most communities are less regarded than men’s. In societies that have high MAS values, men’s roles have been associated with aggressiveness, violence and assertiveness whereas women’s roles are regarded as being modest and caring. A clear distinction exists between men and women roles. The same idea is replicated even at the workplace such that some responsibilities are allocated to men and others to women. In countries with low values of MAS, gender roles are usually distorted such that both men and women work together across many lines of work (Rizzo, Mero, & Tosi 2000). Powerful women are usually highly regarded since they are able to do what men can do. People in such societies ensure that jobs requirements are not prejudiced to either of the two genders.
Uncertainty/ Avoidance Index (UAI)
It is a measure of the degree of forbearance and uncertainty in a society. In entails the level of insecurity that members of a given community feel when in uncertain situations. High values of UAI index is found among communities that avoid uncertain situations as much as possible. They have strict laws that define a particular truth guided by security measures which relate to one religious or philosophical belief that is taken to be the total truth. Similarly, businesses have very formal behavior with strict rules and policies (Rizzo, Mero, & Tosi 2000). Alternatively, cultures that have a low value of UAI index allow relativity in opinions and usually have fewer laws. People from these societies are used to show mediocrity in most of the ideas. They usually display much interest when differences arise and they are very much willing to take up risk as well as welcome change.
Long Term Orientation (LTO)
This term refers to the level at which a community regards long-standing principles as opposed to short term ones. Communities with high values of LTO demonstrate powerful work ethic. The family forms the elementary unit of the society. Education is also highly regarded with people who exhibit perseverance and commitment being rewarded. On the other hand, communities with low LTO index encourage creativity as well as individualism (Rizzo, Mero, & Tosi 2000). Members of society normally expect to live by the same values they create for others. Hofstede’s theory on cultural dimension is a good starting point to understand the expected reactions from people in foreign cultures.
Case study: A hotel industry
This study will involve the evaluation of the Estonian culture in the context of Hofstede’s model. Cultural diversity poses a question of abnormality of human behavior such that the possibility of applying one cultural conduct in another is sought to be established. During the eighties, a number of Japanese firms became very successful and well established in the United States as a result of effective management of cultural variations (Vadi & Meri 2005). Research has shown that the host culture plays a vital role in successful establishment of a company in a foreign land.
Comparative research on cultural dimensions
A questionnaire based on the five dimensions of Hofstede model was developed in order to determine the correlation between general culture and human conduct in a firm. It was done in both English and Estonian languages. Questions from the questionnaire required the respondents to select reaction types that they thought was most appropriate. Every solution corresponded to a given cultural dimension. The results were approximated on a calibrated scale with values ranging from the weakest (1) to the strongest (5). There were nine cases in the questionnaire with the first three cases measuring power distance dimension (Vadi & Meri 2005). The fourth and fifth cases were used to determine uncertainty avoidance dimension of culture. Individualism and collectivism dimensions of culture were determined through the sixth and seventh cases respectively. Finally, masculinity- femininity dimension of culture was measured by the eighth and ninth cases in the questionnaire.
One hundred and twenty questionnaires were issued to prospective respondents out of which, two thirds of them replied. The sample comprised of twenty five Estonians, twenty seven Italians and twenty eight Egyptians, all summing up to eighty. Forty nine of them were men while the rest of the sample was made up of women. The average age of the populace was 23.2 years with a standard deviation value of 3.07. One of the common characteristic of this group was that the respondents must be serving as an attendant in the direct customer service (Vadi & Meri 2005). Therefore, the sampled test comprised people from similar job positions but from diverse nationalities.
Analysis between the case study and the theory
Findings from the results obtained were tabulated as shown below. The table below displays the power distance values for the nationalities recorded based the first case in the questionnaire.
According to the tabulation above, a high level of weak assessment among the Estonians translates to a low PDI value. In this type of societal setting, managers and employees are regarded as the same. On the other hand, Egypt nationalities recorded a high value of power distance. This is where gaps between authorities are very evident and people have high regard for those in power.
The following figure again presents the results of both power distance and uncertainty avoidance. The result shows that the Estonians were found to be more independent in their decisions than the Italians and Egyptians.
In communities that have low values of UA indices, rules can be easily violated upon and disagreements are taken as normal life processes. However, areas that experience high values of uncertainty avoidance indices, people follow rules to the latter, open demonstrations and protests are not allowed. The best examples of countries that have high levels of uncertainty avoidance include Uruguay, Belgium and Guatemala and Greece (Vadi & Meri 2005).
The following figure displays the results of the level of collectivism among the studied groups. Collectivistic communities are associated with strong groups of people that provide the needed protection to individuals as they grow up. The findings from the study show that most of the Italians are collectivistic whereas Egyptians are individualistic. The most individualistic nation is the United States of America (Vadi & Meri 2005). On the other hand, collectivistic countries include Guatemala, Ecuador, and Columbia among others. People in these nations identify themselves more with a group than other personality defining characteristic.
The following graph illustrates the comparison of the degree of masculinity among the employees from different nationalities. Masculine communities are usually controlled by masculine values whereas feminine ones experience lesser of these values. Most of the Scandinavian countries are feminine nationalities.
Hofstede explains that his theory allows people to consider dimensions independently or alternatively, they group them into two or more dimensions. Grouping them in this manner allows for a better analysis along several dimensions hence an enhanced understanding. When people in a given company behave in a certain manner and exhibit certain attitudes towards specific issues, they normally act as a sample that represents a bigger population not included in the study (Vadi & Meri 2005). Therefore, the findings that have been obtained through the study are a representation of the characteristics of the general population at large. However, it is important to understand that the figures are a representation of the average values.
It can be clearly stated that biggest variation observed between the countries that were involved in the study was aligned to the aspect of power. While describing the effect of culture on the performance of an institution, different nationalities have different beliefs as far as work ethic is concerned. Therefore, among the five dimensions of culture, power distance and uncertainty avoidance indices turns out to be the most important of all. This is because they directly reflect the personal opinion of an institution (Rizzo, Mero, & Tosi 2000). Firms that are usually characterized by high values of power distance and uncertainty avoidance imply that they are associated with bureaucratic structures with hierarchy in power being a vital role in them.
The study has clearly shown that cultural underpinnings have a lot of influence on the performance of international businesses. This mainly owes to the fact that people from diverse cultures are included in the entire progress of these organizations. The best way forward should be aimed at recognizing and understanding the cultural dimensions so as to know the best way to have everyone feel appreciated and included in the organizational growth processes.