Leading Intercultural Teams

Potentials and Risks of Intercultural Teams

Seminar Paper, 2008

18 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents


1. Teams and team characteristics
1.1 Definition and key characteristics of teams
1.2 Types of teams

2. Internationalisation of Human Resource Management
2.1 Forms of international cooperations
2.2 Leading intercultural teams

3. Cultural influences on intercultural teams - Definition of Culture
3.1 Culture dimensions according to Hofstede
3.1.1 Power distance
3.1.2 Individualism versus collectivism
3.1.3 Masculinity versus femininity
3.1.4 Uncertainty avoidance
3.2 Culture dimensions according to Hall
3.2.1 Context
3.2.2 Time
3.2.3 Space

4. Success metrics of intercultural teams
4.1 Advantages of intercultural teams
4.1.1 Advantages for the corporation
4.1.2 Advantages for the individual member of staff
4.2 Reasons for inefficient collaboration
4.3 Misunderstandings due to electronic communication

5. Strategies to increase efficiency of intercultural teams
5.1 Necessity of intercultural trainings
5.2 Objectives of intercultural trainings
5.3 Dimensions of intercultural trainings
5.4 Efficiency analysis of intercultural trainings

6. Conclusion

7. References


In the past two decades, the world has gone through the process of globalisation and witnessed dramatic changes in the international and global marketplace. Liberalisation of world trade and capital markets led by globalisation has created a new and challenging competitive arena for all firms1. The growing trade and investment liberalisation caused by the progress in transportation and communication technologies has resulted in larger volumes of international business transactions2.

In comparison with the past, today's and tomorrow's challenges for each internationally operating organisation are the focus on the more intense levels of national, regional, and global competition, projected demographic and workforce figures, just as significant technological developments. These environmental forces generate the need for understanding and utilising knowledge in International Human Resource Management3, particularly with regard to globalisation- performance relationships between firms performing internationally and the emerging formation of international projects and intercultural project teams within this new environment4.

1. Teams and team characteristics

1.1 Definition and key characteristics of teams

According to Katzenbach and Smith, a team is “a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they are mutually accountable5." A collection of people can therefore be defined as a team if it shows most the following characteristics: the members are a collection of three or more people identifiable by name or type who think of themselves as a group. Furthermore they live a group consciousness or identity together with an ability to act together as one, and a sense of shared purpose of common task or goals or interests. Also, the members need the help of one another to accomplish the purpose for which they joined the group and communicate with one another, influence one another, react to one another just as periodically review the team's effectiveness.6

Usually, the tasks and goals set by teams cannot be achieved by individuals working alone because of constraints on time and resources, and because few individuals possess all the relevant competences and expertise. Sports teams or orchestras clearly fit these criteria.

1.2 Types of teams

Different organisations or organisational settings lead to different types of team. The type of team affects how that team is managed, what the communication needs of the team are and, where appropriate, what aspects of the project the project manager needs to emphasise. Teams differ in two major dimensions: the complexity of the task and the fluidity of their membership. There are four commonly accepted types of teams7:

Functional teams in which work is carried out within such a functionally organised group such as project work; in organisations in which the functional divisions are relatively rigid, project work can be handed from one functional team to another in order to complete the work.

Project teams consist of a group of people who come together as a distinct organisational unit in order to work on a project or projects; the team is often led by a project manager, though self-managing and self-organising arrangements are also found. Quite often, a team that has been successful on one project will stay together to work on subsequent projects.

In a matrix team, staff report to different managers for different aspects of their work. Matrix structures are often, but not exclusively, found in projects. Staff will be responsible to the project manager for their work on the project while their functional line manager will be responsible for other aspects of their work such as appraisal, training and career development, and ‘routine’ tasks. It is important to overcome the problems staff might have with the dual reporting lines (the ‘two-boss’ problem). This requires building good interpersonal relationships with the team members and regular, effective communication.

The contract team is brought in from outside in order to do the project work. Here, the responsibility to deliver the project rests very firmly with the project manager. The client will find such a team harder to control directly. On the other hand, it is the client who will judge the success of the project, so the project manager has to keep an eye constantly on the physical outcomes of the project. A variant of this is the so-called ‘outsourced supply team’, which simply means that the team is physically situated remotely from the project manager, who then encounters the additional problem of ‘managing at a distance’.

2. Internationalisation of Human Resource Management

The world has become more competitive, dynamic, uncertain, and volatile than ever before8. To be successful, many firms have to compete on the global playing field because the costs associated with the development and marketing of new products are too great to be amortised only over one market9. Yet there are some products and services that demand accommodation to location customs, tastes, habits, and regulations. Thus, for many multinational enterprises the likelihood of operating in diverse environments has never been greater. While these scenarios suggest paths that multinational enterprises have indeed taken to being internationally competitive, they are being superseded by the need both to manage globally, as if the world were one vast market, and simultaneously to manage locally, as if the world were a vast number of separate and loosely connected markets10. The trend is creating a great deal of challenge and opportunity in understanding and conceptualising exactly how multinational companies can compete effectively. Knowledge of conditions in a variety of countries and knowledge of how to manage both within and across them is the essence of international Human Resource Management. The complexity of operating in different countries and employing different national categories of workers is a key variable that differentiates domestic and international Human Resource Management11.

2.1 Forms of international cooperations

Markets and customers are changing rapidly. Currently corporations are not only competing locally and regionally, but also worldwide. More and more companies are looking abroad for acquisition targets or merger partners to help them meet their growth aspirations12. Different production and infrastructure costs in widely diverging investment environments and contexts enable businesses to gain cost advantages. Whether it be in production, sales, marketing or Human Resources, corporations are increasingly being forced to act and think globally. Customers as well as staff are becoming more internationally, interculturally and biographically diverse, which increasingly stimulates considerable interest in projects as central organisational form. In addition to this information and communication technologies create the ideal opportunities for the performance of physical and virtual project teams13.

2.2 Leading intercultural teams

As organisations become more global and begin to do business in greater numbers of areas, the number and variety of cultures represented in their workforce also changes. As this number increases and as organisations attempt to treat each different culture with respect, practical issues can arise that may make doing business increasingly more difficult. For example, which religious and secular holidays need to be honoured based on the cultures represented in the workforce?

Similarly, questions may arise regarding what the official language of the workplace will be and whether the speaking of other languages to co-workers will be accepted14. Many project managers may feel that they are treading new territory as they lead project teams made of individuals from different cultures, heterogeneous mixes, and differing demographics. This signals a lack of understanding of the techniques required to manage diverse teams which can lead to project managers being less efficient and effective. This in turn can cause the team member motivation, satisfaction levels and productivity to drop due to the lack of knowledge and skills needed to lead diverse teams15.

3.Cultural influences on intercultural teams - Definition of Culture

In order to understand the difficulties and challenges of multicultural teams, it is necessary to define and understand culture and the influence of culture on teams. According to Kroeber and Kluckhohn culture consists of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behaviour acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievement of human groups, constituting the including their embodiments, in artefacts; the essential core of culture consists of traditional (i.e. historically derived and selected) ideas and especially their attached values; culture systems may, on the one hand, be considered as products of action, on the other as conditioning elements of further action.16

3.1 Culture dimensions according to Hofstede

3.1.1 Power distance

This dimension relates to the degree of equality/inequality between people in a particular society. A country with a high power distance score both accepts and perpetuates inequalities between people. An example of such a society would be one that follows a caste system and in which upward mobility is very limited. A low power distance indicates that a society does not emphasise differences in people’s status, power or wealth. Equality is seen as the collective aim of society and upward mobility is common.17


1 Nolan, P. and Zhang, J., 2002

2 Deardorff et al., 2002; Fawcett, Calantone, & Smith, 1997; Fawcett & Closs,1993

3 Schuler, Randall S., 2002

4 Thoumrungroje, Amonrat, Tansuhaj, Patriya, 2007

5 Katzenbach and Smith, 1993

6 Santon, A., 1992

7 Makin, P., Cooper, C. and Cox, C., 1989

8 Kanter, 1991; Dowling et al., 1999

9 Bartlett and Ghoshal, 1990

10 Bartlett and Ghoshal, 1990

11 Dowling et al., 1999

12 Firstbrook, Caroline, 2006

13 Arthur, M. & DeFillippi, R., 1998

14 Schuler, Randall S., 2000

15 Bird, 2002

16 Kroeber, A.L., Kluckhohn, C., 1954

17 Hofstede, Geert, 2001, Hofstede, Geert and Hofstede, Gert-Jan, 2004.

Excerpt out of 18 pages


Leading Intercultural Teams
Potentials and Risks of Intercultural Teams
University of Applied Sciences Essen
International Management
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
468 KB
International Management, Intercultural Teams
Quote paper
Natasha Sloma (Author), 2008, Leading Intercultural Teams, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/152178


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