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Communication Challenges in Global Virtual Teams

Communication Challenges in Building Successful Global Virtual Teams Due to Diversity and Cultural Differences Abstract This paper introduces an approach to effectively communicate within a global virtual team by discussing the challenges faced by them, understanding cultural differences in communicating, diversity within a team, building trust in virtual communication, and communicating across different regions and time zones.

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This approach appears in many discussions surrounding the difficulties managers and team members have in communicating effectively in global virtual teams.

Specifically, this paper evaluates how the diversity of a global virtual team makes it challenging to communicate when members are not present face to face and adhering to the different regions and time zones these members are located.

It will also examine the challenges in understanding the different cultures amongst a team and how to effectively build trust by researching, acknowledging, and understanding these cultural differences and communicating them to the team in a virtual environment.

Communicating Challenges in Building Successful Global Virtual Teams Due to Diversity and Cultural Differences In today’s economy, many organizations must expand their operations globally in order to remain competitive and to stay afloat.

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With this business model companies have to develop teams across all functions of the organization and in all regions of the globe in which the company operates. For these companies, many have set up global virtual teams to manage processes and implement any projects or company initiatives with other employees of the organization.

However with these teams come many obstacles and challenges definitely in communicating across cultural differences, understanding the diversity of the team and communication management within the different regions and time zones. Various authors (Danielle, 2006; Kayworth, 2000; Lee-Kelley, 2008 to name a few) have noted that these groups consisting of dispersed members across the globe and accumulated from various cultural backgrounds have an impact on how effective global virtual teams can be.

Kayworth determines that there are four main challenges that global virtual teams face; which are communication, culture, technology, and project management. This paper observes the difficulties that virtual teams face within their communication efforts, analyzing the diversity of team members and the obstacles of communicating across different regions and times zones.

As well as it takes an extensive look at the cultural differences that consists of these virtual teams and the challenge of building trust amongst a dispersed group. And in order for a global virtual team to operate effectively, managers and the members must research the different cultural backgrounds of its members, understand the communication challenges they face, and utilize them accordingly in order to build trust amongst the team to fulfill their goals that they place ahead of them. Defining Global Virtual Teams

There are many authors that have provided definitions of global virtual teams, Lee-Kelley (2008) mentions that Towsend along with Lipnack and Stamps define a virtual team as a group that is geographically dispersed and utilize telecommunication and information technology as forms to communicate and perform. Lee-Kelley also refers to Alge, Balosky, Christensen, and Davis’ definition that virtual teams are typically a group that are dispersed who use various sources of information technology to communicate.

In the case of these definitions, there is a lack of emphasis on the concept of team, but further definitions tie in this concept and place more value on the aspect of team. Cascio’s and Shurygailo’s mentioning of multiple-relationships in global virtual teams, by referring to the number of manager’s involved, number of team members, and number of locations. Many researchers in this field do not reference a specified distance in which team members must be apart to classify as virtual team, but as Lee-Kelley stated it is a psychological reality versus sociological that team members conceptually define themselves in a virtual team.

In sum, there are many definitions that agree on the structure, form and characteristics of a virtual team and the members it consist of, but there is a lack of consensus amongst them. This lack of consensus on the definition of a global virtual team has also brought up the discussions of the challenges in communication that these virtual teams face, thus prompting this research. Time Zones and Work Schedules One of the initial challenges of global virtual teams is the complicated work schedules of its team members in their respective regions.

Settle-Murphy (2006) notes when working in a synchronous mode (Instant Message, telephone, video conference), some remote team members are forced to work at awkward times. This alone is one the most consistent challenges that managers and teams have to overcome. When is the optimal time for virtual teams that span across various time zones to meet? A manager and its team have to take in consideration the different work weeks as well as the time difference.

Consistently in many western civilizations, the standard work week is predominately Monday through Friday, utilizing Saturday and Sunday as business days off in order to tend to personal matters and observance of the religious day that is most affluent in that region and culture. Where in many eastern civilizations the work week is Sunday through Thursday, and they utilize Friday and Saturday as their days off. This difference is not only restricted to western/eastern civilization, but ultimately applies to the different cultures that make up the team, the different religions, and time of year.

Being cognitive of this challenge and addressing it in an applicable manner is crucial to the effectiveness of a global virtual team. It is an evident obstacle in scheduling team meetings via information technology applications (i. e. teleconferencing, video-conferencing, etc). This is one challenge that can easily be addressed by the manager’s and team’s awareness of these work week schedule differences along with the cultural and religious difference of its team members. Another issue that global virtual teams encounter is conducting meetings across the various time zones of its members.

There is no exact corporate standard or guidelines on how and when meetings should be conducted in order to accommodate all members of the virtual team. Settle-Murphy states that in order to reduce this challenge as an obstacle to building trust and team success, a team should agree when same time meetings are necessary, and consider rotating the times to share the burden of working during normal sleep time. The managers and team members should also consider which work can be done asynchronously (e. g. via email or a shared workplace) to allow all team members to work at the most convenient times.

This approach can be highly effective because it is apparent that the manager and other team members have taken into consideration each other’s differences of location, culture, and business practices, and simultaneously addressing the challenge of building trust. By researching, understanding, and being respectful of the team members and their time, the cohesiveness of the group is established quickly and strengthened, which is also a challenge to overcome in global virtual teams. Communication and Behavioral Differences

In the article “Working Together Apart,” Zakaria, Almelinckx, and Wilemon (2004) state that, “managers have often under-valued the profound influence of culture on knowledge conceptualization and transfer. Suggesting that knowledge sharing is often facilitated by communication that involves the exchange of meaning and that the process of communicating is dynamic, multifaceted and complex” (p. 17). Zakaria et al. , also suggest that cultural conditioning has a major affect on the evaluation of experience as well as how information and knowledge in global virtual teams is conveyed and learned.

In short, cultural influences play a major role in communication and behavioral differences. This concept is another major challenge that global virtual teams face when striving to reach their end goal. Conveying a clear message is only one challenge, the difficult part is conveying that message so that it reaches each individual affectively according to their unique cultural and behavioral background and how to convey organizational messages across global virtual teams has consensually been done through technology.

Global virtual teams that use information and communication technologies and exclude social or physical presence and rely on depersonalized forms of communications between its team members (Zakaria et al. ,2007). One can argue that this hinders the creation of a knowledge-sharing culture, yet over time, the exclusion of social and physical presence can possibly strengthen working relationships that normally would not form in a more traditional work setting. Utilizing technology as the form of communication takes out a lot of subtle communication aspects that are experienced when working within a team in a more traditional framework.

An example of this is the use of non-verbal communication or cues. The absence of non-verbal communication may cause difficulties for those global virtual team members’ cultures that rely on body language, gestures and facial expressions for vital communication. For example, in high-context cultures, people value these subtle and indirect communications. Visual communication like a nod, smile, posture, voice and eye contact provide important indications and meanings to establish understanding of what is trying to be communicated. The usage of verbal and non-verbal communication is important when working together in a team.

Global virtual teams usually lack the ability to rely on these communication manners because of their reliability on technology in order to communicate and therefore it is difficult to build cohesiveness and trust within the team. Zakaria et al. , states that: “Technology is simply a tool that needs human operations, no matter how sophisticated the technology can be, the implementation of technology has the potential to fail if insufficient considerations are given from the user perspectives” (p. 19). This brings up the topic of what is appropriate and what is not when communicating to and within global virtual teams.

In the majority of information and communicated technology-mediated environments where team members are dispersed geographically and are culturally diverse, the usual form of communication is electronically, and the preferred language of use is English. Studies have shown that native and non-native English speakers exhibit culture-based differences in meanings of terminology, structure and format. A key example of this is the usage of terms and slang. When members use terms and slang words, the intended meaning can be obscured due to cultural differences and can hinder knowledge management and effectiveness.

Another area for potential conflict in information communication is the actual language itself. For those teams that use English, individuals need to be aware of the English language variation in intra-team electronic communication. This particularly pertains to the tone, style, formality, salutations and closings and that they need to be aware that there are substantial sociolinguistic and grammatical variations within the global English-speaking community and will have a significant impact on intra-team communications.

In order to successfully facilitate the cross-cultural collaboration and communication, the team members must be aware of these subtle differences and acknowledge them when relaying organizational messages. Since the use of electronic communication technology has the capacity to reduce or overcome certain cultural challenges within a global virtual team, these forms of technologies can facilitate intra-team interaction. It also introduces a shared-framework, a virtual work setting that can build intra-team respect, trust, reciprocity and positive individual and group relationships.

Therefore, understanding the communication and behavioral differences when communicating electronically to the team members can put the team in the position to work through the challenges that lie within a global virtual team. The Importance of Developing Trust For global virtual teams, building trust is one of the essential factors in developing a successful team. Since global virtual teams consist of many cultures that make up the entity as well as a geographically dispersed entity, there is a high risk of potential misunderstandings and mistrust.

So the question that many virtual teams face is how to develop trust. Many researchers contend that in order to develop trust, a group must facilitate face to face interactions in order to build trust. These face to face interactions allow people to relate to each other or “click” as many of the new generation say. However, this may not have enough grounds to develop strong trust within a team if the members do not understand each other and/or the nature of the team itself.

As Roberts observed, “the development of trust, whether on a local or international basis, requires more than face to face contact or its technological and spatially indifferent substitute video-conferencing ellipses, trust depends on the sharing of a set of socially embedded values, cultural institutions and expectations” (Roberts, 2000, p. 6). In order for global virtual teams to be effective, there must be intra-group trust as well as trust between management and team members and vice versa. Jarvenpaa, S. L. , and Leidner, D. E. 1999) infer that virtual teams have no time to gradually develop trust and therefore require a high degree of “swift trust” to be demonstrated by enthusiastic and proactive team members’ behaviors. So how do cross-cultural members form swift trust? Jarvenpaa and Leidner suggest that the virtual team members would import the expectations of trust from other settings that they are familiar with. It is also important to note that if an individual team member’s cultural stereotypes are flawed, biased or incomplete, this technique may be problematic.

Once communication is developed between members, trust could be maintained by actions that are highly dynamic, proactive and enthusiastic. Such active communication must be premised on accurate cultural knowledge to be effective. Therefore swift trust is made possible because when cross-cultural teams work in a virtual environment, they bring their knowledge, competence and expertise not only to meet the goals that are set but also about the other team members’ and their cultures in order to ensure the success of the team.

Not only is this necessary for the members of the team but it also necessary for the leaders of the team to establish this swift trust. As noted from Zakaria and Leidner, there are two behavioral categories that form cross-cultural trust. First, credibility where one individual believes that the other individual has the capabilities, competence, expertise and resources to make a successful exchange that meets expectations. Note that when working in cross-cultural teams, the work expectation of a person in culture A is different from the expectations of a person in culture B.

This can be challenging in implementing swift trust in global virtual teams, but it can be overcome if the expectations are set by the managers or leaders and are clearly communicated to all team members. The second factor that Zakaria and Leidner discuss is benevolence, the beliefs about the emotional aspects of the referent’s behavior like positive intention to exchange. These beliefs include a referent’s good will so that they would participate in the better good of the team rather than jeopardize the exchange outcome. This may result in some challenges to the team because swift trust does not focus a lot on interpersonal relationships.

Rather it places more emphasis on the initial broad social structures. Therefore in order for swift trust to be implemented successfully, team members must maintain a high level of actions, regardless of their cultural preferences and differences. But team members should also appreciate, understand and respect the cultural differences that make up the team in order to truly succeed in a global virtual team. Conclusion Through research of many articles and publishing’s regarding the topic of communication in global virtual, building trust has been the one subject that has been consistently addressed. Mockaitis, A. I. , Rose, E. L. nd Zetting, P. (2009) suggest that the development of trust in the context of multicultural global virtual teams is related to aspects of culture, conflict, task interdependence and communication. A team whose members are more collective in nature rather than distant tend to report more positive results of developing trust within the group, this implies that culture matters. It is important for all team members to understand and respect the cultures of the other individuals. Although team members’ personal cultural values have consistent predictive power it is suggested that it displays very little value in developing trust within the group.

Initially since communication amongst the team is done virtually and not face to face, it is important to establish trust among the group. But as the team develops the factors for cultural differences and diversity tend to become less important to the success of the group. The findings of Mockaitis et al. , show that cultural diversity does not appear to serve as a barrier to trust, even as differences become apparent through communication, but it can play a crucial role in developing that trust. Therefore along with cultural differences, communication is extremely important for the development of trust within a global virtual team.

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Communication Challenges in Global Virtual Teams. (2018, Oct 08). Retrieved from

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