Success Factors of Virtual Teams in the Conflict of Cross-Cultural Team Structures

Diplomarbeit, 2010

159 Seiten, Note: 1,3


Table of contents

List of figures

List of tables

List of abbreviations

List of symbols

1 Introduction
1.1 Central issue and problem
1.2 Objective
1.3 Progress of research work and analyses

2 Group, work group and team
2.1 Historical review
2.2 Group
2.2.1 Definition
2.2.2 Significance
2.3 Work group
2.3.1 Definition
2.3.2 Significance
2.3.3 Group work vs. team work
2.4 Team
2.4.1 Definition
2.4.2 Significance
2.4.3 Work group vs. team
2.5 Virtual team
2.5.1 Definition: virtual
2.5.2 Definition: virtual team
2.5.3 Characteristics of a virtual team Space distances Time boundaries Organisational boundaries Communication technologies
2.5.4 Siginificance
2.5.5 Team vs. virtual team

3 Culture
3.1 Preliminary remark
3.2 Traditional concept of culture
3.2.1 Overview
3.2.2 Anthropological concept of culture
3.2.3 Iceberg model
3.2.4 Cultural elements
3.2.5 Cultural standards Definition Central cultural standards The five-dimensions model based on Hofstede Power distance Uncertainty avoidance Individualism vs. Collectivism Masculinity vs. Femininity Long- vs. Short-term orientation
3.3 Modern concept of culture
3.3.1 Multiculturalism
3.3.2 Concepts of multiculturalism Interculturality Multiculturality Transculturality

4 Success factors
4.1 Preliminary remark
4.2 Models for team effectiveness / team performance
4.2.1 Performance based on Lersch
4.2.2 Effectiveness based on Hackman
4.2.3 Effectiveness based on Campion et al
4.2.4 Summary
4.3 Influencing factors for success
4.3.1 Communication Preliminary remark Definition Levels of communication Communication media Strategies of successful communication Significance
4.3.2 Competence Definition Significance
4.3.3 Coordination Definition Significance
4.3.4 Motivation Definition Significance
4.3.5 Trust Definition Significance
4.3.6 Conflicts Definition Significance
4.3.7 Rules Definition Significance
4.3.8 Team head vs. team member Requirements on the team head Requirements on the team member
4.4 Intercultural context
4.4.1 Intercultural communication Definition Intercultural communication problems Significance
4.4.2 Intercultural competence Definition Intercultural competence models Significance
4.4.3 Intercultural team structures Definition Significance

5 Research
5.1 Progress of research work and analyses
5.1.1 Problem-oriented interview
5.1.2 Interview guide and relevant categories
5.1.3 Selection of experts
5.1.4 Interviews
5.1.5 Transcription
5.1.6 Qualitative analysis of contents
5.2 Analyses of the interviews
5.2.1 Category 1: Communication
5.2.2 Category 2: Requirements on the team
5.2.3 Category 3: Intercultural competence
5.2.4 Category 4: Rules
5.2.5 Category 5: Motivation, trust or reliance
5.2.6 Category 6: Conflicts
5.2.7 Category 7: Benefits from virtual teams
5.3 General statements from the interviews
5.4 Limits and weaknesses

6 Summary and recommendation

7 Appendix
7.1 Appendix 1: Interview guide
7.2 Appendix 2: Transcription of Expert 1
7.3 Appendix 3: Transcription of Expert 2
7.4 Appendix 4: Transcription of Expert 3

8 Bibliography
8.1 Literature
8.2 Thesis
8.3 Specialised magazines
8.4 Internet / e-journals
8.5 Data files

List of figures

Figure 1 - Characteristics of group work

Figure 2 - From society to the team

Figure 3 - Distance perception / virtual distances

Figure 4 - Process of virtualisation

Figure 5 - Double team structure cube

Figure 6 - Three levels of uniqueness in human mental programming

Figure 7 - The cultural iceberg model

Figure 8 - Acquisition of values and practices

Figure 9 - Onion diagram: Manifestation of culture at different levels of depth

Figure 10 - Concepts of multiculturalism

Figure 11 - Team performance based on Lersch

Figure 12 - Themes and characteristics related to work group effectiveness

Figure 13 - Absorption of the elements of communication

Figure 14 - Elements of communication

Figure 15 - Competence as a relation between individuals and environment

Figure 16 - Sources that influence motivation

Figure 17 - Conflict area of the team head

Figure 18 - Model of intercultural competence based on Chen and Starosta

Figure 19 - Types of cultural diversity

List of tables

Table 1 - Commonalties and differences between work groups and teams

Table 2 - Differentiation of conventional teams and virtual teams

Table 3 - Basic definitions of culture

Table 4 - Examples of different values for power distance

Table 5 - Examples of different values for uncertainty avoidance

Table 6 - Examples of different values for individualism and collectivism

Table 7 - Examples of different values for masculinity and femininity

Table 8 - Examples of different values for long- and short-term orientation

Table 9 - Communication media

Table 10 - Pros and cons of electronic communication media

Table 11 - Requirements on the team head

Table 12 - Requirements on the team member

Table 13 - Pros and cons of cultural diversity in teams

Table 14 - Categories from the interview guide

Table 15 - Presentation of the experts

Table 16 - Details of the interviews

Table 17 - Analysis of category 1: Communication

Table 18 - Analysis of category 2: Requirements on the team

Table 19 - Analysis of category 3: Intercultural competence

Table 20 - Analysis of category 4: Rules

Table 21 - Analysis of category 5: Motivation, trust or reliance

Table 22 - Analysis of category 6: Conflicts

Table 23 - Analysis of category 7: Benefits from virtual teams

List of abbreviations

illustration not visible in this excerpt

1 Introduction

1.1 Central issue and problem

Due to strong competition and to the most recent market requirements, more and more enterprises or organisations (in the following organisation only) have to rea- lign their business activities in a new way to cope with the current economic situa- tion. Also in the respective organisational structures, specific changes have to be made to manufacture the products and to provide relevant services more effective- ly. Moreover, services are often provided increasingly no longer from a centralised location. For this reason, decentralised teams in various locations have developed, working together to jointly reach the targets. The services are either provided inde- pendently and on a full service basis, or such services are also provided in various parts and are then joined together or combined in other locations.

So overall, organisations are facing new challenges to a growing extent. On the one hand, they have to cope with customers from different cultural areas, and on the other hand, the structure of the employees is changing simultaneously. Wheth- er these organisations have international departments or not, the trend is now clearly towards heterogeneous team structures. Consequently, it is crucial for the organisations to be successful in spite of generally tougher market conditions. And this operational success will not come about automatically but will require well- functioning, efficient teams.

As the author works in an international team with intercultural structures, there has been from the very start a particular interest in the findings and insights to be obtained in the framework of the work for this thesis.

1.2 Objective

For the reasons given above, the objective is to identify and define the factors which are principally necessary for effective and successful team work. To adjust to and cope with the particular relationships within the organisations, the focus will be on considering and analysing virtual teams in an international and intercultural business environment.

1.3 Progress of research work and analyses

Before starting with the proper analysis of the success factors for team building; first of all, the theoretical basis will be provided. So a general overview will be given on the central subject matter, and simultaneously, basic concepts will be initially presented.

The second chapter deals with the topic of team and team work. Starting with the central topic’s partial aspect ‘virtual team’, the term ‘team’ will be defined and ex- amined more in detail. In this context, first a historical review and the development of the term will be provided. And hereby a distinct differentiation is made between the individual terms. Additionally, the transition from the (customary) team to the virtual team and its particular characteristics will also be emphasised.

A further relevant aspect of the central subject matter is in particular the term ‘cross-cultural’. It refers above of all to the general topic of culture, and this will be in the focus of the third chapter. The goal here is to describe the fundamentals of culture, and the factors on which culture is built on. Another emphasis is on the models explained in the specialised, or trade, literature. These explanations are necessary for analysing the two terms of intercultural competence and intercultural communication more precisely.

The fourth chapter deals with the central topic of success factors. They are to be described and analysed here which contribute significantly to the success of a vir- tual team. For this purpose, for each success factor a definition is to be provided and the respective importance and significance will be emphasised. So the intercul- tural context is also a major focus. In the specialised literature, a wide range of fac- tors have been described. The selection of such factors, which are to be considered, result from the findings of research work in the area of specialised literature and are at the same time closely linked to the author’s previous job experiences. Consequently, the work in relation to this thesis and the findings are of particular importance for the author.

Chapter five is to meet the requirements regarding the evaluation of the theoretical findings based on practical experience. As the factors to be analysed have not yet been finally determined, a quantitative analysis cannot be made here. This would require a more comprehensive analysis or survey with a corresponding time frame, with the aim to get complex data material and figures serving as a basis for empiri- cal analysis and evaluation. The basis for the analysis will be the practice-oriented experiences of experts which have been gained through interviews. The questions necessary for achieving this goal result from the factors that have been elaborated in chapter four. At the end of chapter five, general statements from experts will be the basis for the final evaluation.

In chapter six, major results from the chapters two to three will be given. Further- more, the findings of chapter four will be contrasted with the general statements obtained from the interviews listed in chapter five. Based on the hereof resulting final consequences, recommendations for further focal areas of research and anal- yses will also be given.

2 Group, work group and team

Terms such as ‘group’, ‘team’, ‘group work’ or ‘team work’ are often mentioned, however the users of these items are often not really aware of the exact definition of the respective terms, or they do not know how to differentiate between them in detail. Everyone who uses the terms or items has an individual view and understanding and / or often uses them as synonyms.

The next section with bullets in this chapter will provide a clearer overview and a more distinct classification of the terms mentioned, starting with a short historical review at the industrial development and its view or perspective regarding the hu- man factor in organisation. This part is followed by definitions for the terms as men- tioned above, also showing that it is possible to differentiate between them. The last section of this chapter is about ‘virtual teams’ which will be particularly in the focus of this thesis.

2.1 Historical review

The current discussions on group work in Germany essentially result from the pub- lication of the MIT study of 1991 (Antoni 1994 p. 19). In the beginning of the Nine- ties, this study had the effects of a catalyser and contributed to positioning the group work topic to the foreground, making it a subject of intense discussion. Al- ready since the beginning of the 20th century, team and group work had been in the focus of interest and resulted from discussions about the concept of scientific business administration according to Taylor, which was applied at that time. In line with Taylor’s ideas, the organisations should prefer activities based on division of labour, on precise regulations, rules and controls; and the organisations should also implement the principle of the individual, or single, work place and should make a clear distinction between intellectual and manual work (Feigl 2000, p. 77). Since that time, Taylor along with Gilbreth (and his wife) have been considered as the “fathers of the work or occupational science” as with their concepts they scien- tifically accompanied industrialisation and the related division of labour (Winterhoff- Sprunk 2002, p. 91).

Group or group work concepts could hardly be connected with Taylor’s ideas and thus did not get much attention initially. So it took decades until they were implemented in the business world and in practice.

In the context of the Hawthorne studies conducted in the 1930ies as well as of the research programmes commissioned by the Federal Republic of Germany in the mid of the 1970ies relevant aspects of group dynamics in teams and the hereof arising questions and issues of labour organisation and structure (partially autono- mous work groups) were discussed. The pilot projects that were started at that time were mostly not implemented after their completion (Hackert 1999, p. 54). Only in the beginning of the 1980ies, owing to the much stronger global competition, group concepts gained more attention again in the form of quality circles. Generally, the industrialised countries of the Western hemisphere considered them as the key to the Japanese business success. The goal of the quality circles was to achieve co- determination of employees at the respective work place and to have them solve their work place-related problems independently. These quality circles were estab- lished especially in big industrial organisations, but were not of particular im- portance and were not a topic of discussions at the management level (Antoni 1994, p. 20). But they pave]d the way for the publication of the MIT study with the title “The machine that changed the world” which was soon in “a broad focus of public discussions” and found many readers (Feigl 2000, p. 79). Following Feigl (ibid.), the superiority of lean production in comparison to manufacturing and organisation according to Taylor and Ford was emphasised in this extensive study.

Current discussions are not only based on rational factors but also on responses to the respective public discussions. Group work has become a term that is en vogue and trendy and has been implemented as a result of competitors’ information and upon request of customers in the respective organisation’s own organisational schemes (Antoni 1994, p. 21). In addition there have also been the effects of structural causes and conditions such as the change or shift in the market and the competitive situation, the development of new technologies and a society-related change that have contributed to the willingness to challenge the previous system and to look for new impetus (Feigl 2000, pp. 80).

Currently, the discussions focusing on team and group work concepts develop on the basis of practice and do not result from science. It cannot be established if the high expectations as regards profitability, competitivity and simultaneously work conditions adjusted to individuals can be met as, according to Feigl (2000, p. 81) “an empirical and theoretical research deficit“ can be observed. In this context, also Hackert (1999, p. 49) states that “group work in corporate, or operational, practice is less in the focus than it may be assumed when looking at the intensity of discus- sions about it”.

In the following, this thesis shortly deals with the individual terms as they are partly used and defined very differently in practice, for instance in the areas of psycholo- gy, business administration and sociology. The goal is to achieve an easier differ- entiation.

2.2 Group

2.2.1 Definition

Two definitions will be provided here which refer to the essential or decisive characteristics or features of a group.

According to Gabler (2010a), a group has to be seen and understood as a social entity, in particular the small group which includes an entity or unit of three to twenty-five members. Furthermore, the following characteristic features exist. There is a definite or specific number of members who ƒ“pursue a goal jointly during a longer period, ƒare in a continuous communication and interaction context (‘we experience’; or sense of working together in a group), and ƒdevelop group-specific roles, norms and values”.

Staehle (1999, p. 267), following Cartwright and Zander 1968, Schneider 1975, Forster 1978, describes and defines the characteristics of a group in a more pre- cise way:

ƒ“Relatively long duration of collaboration / working together as a group, ƒ Direct interaction between the members (face-to-face), ƒ Physical proximity, ƒMembers perceive themselves as a group (‘we experience’, sense of working together in a group, perception of gestalt), ƒIndependent acting and behaviour / attitude will be influenced by others, ƒ Joint goals, values and norms, ƒRole differentiation, status distribution”.

2.2.2 Significance

In most organisations, groups have an important function because those who are in charge of staff matters expect increased efficiency on the part of the individual person working in the group.

A generally applicable and accepted definition does not exist. The definitions may differ or vary and depend on the respective author and which properties or features of the group are emphasised, for instance the size of the group. Some authors pro- vide the definition “any number of human beings / individuals“ (Schein 1980, p. 108); for others at least a dyad or the pair / couple are considered and defined as a group. The latter definitions have been criticised because the departure of merely one person already brings about the “collapse“ of this group (Staehle 1999, pp. 267). Thus the ideal group size would be a group with at least three to five per- sons as a minimum, or with twenty to twenty-five persons as a maximum. Accord- ing to Winterhoff-Spurk (2002, p. 96), bigger groups may involve the risk that with the increasing size of the group the number of persons would increase as well who would no longer be actively involved in discussions or who would not express their ideas any longer. And in this context, there would also be the danger of sub-group formation.

In addition, in the specialised literature, different types of groups have been outlined. A description will not be provided as the focus is predominantly on teams and especially on virtual teams.

2.3 Work group

2.3.1 Definition

Following Alioth and Ulich 1983, Antoni (1994, p. 24) states that the joint task and assignment is an additional main feature for describing a work group. In contrast to a group that sets its goals itself, Prechtl (1999 p. 31) points out that “as a rule, the work group receives its task / assignment from an external source“, and that, for this reason, the scope for setting the goals independently is limited.

Hackman (1987, p. 322) extends the features for defining a work group by the aspect of integration into an organisational framework or context, and thus he describes work groups as

”(1) real groups (that is, intact social systems complete with boundaries and differentiated roles among members);
(2) groups that have one or more tasks to perform, resulting in discernible and potentially measurable group products; and
(3) groups that operate within an organizational context“.

The most significant feature of all types of group works is that there has to be a joint task. Hereby one has to differentiate between the work order (i.e. objective goal set by management) and the work task (joint subjective interpretation of the work order). An additional important feature is communication within the group so that the work order and assignment will be interpreted as joint task and will be assumed and performed by the group members. Following Weinert (2004, p. 440), there is group work only involved if the individuals that are part of the group develop and pursue joint goals and if the respective work performance and the behaviour are mutually dependent (interdependency).

Figure 1 illustrates the priority and importance of the joint task in the context of group work, along with the already mentioned characteristics of group work.

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Figure 1 - Characteristics of group work Source: adopted from Antoni 1994, p. 25

2.3.2 Significance

Not every organisation-related uniting of employees is group work. The characteris- tics or features that have been provided so far for a group would also be appropri- ate for describing, for instance, a school class. To be able to use the term ‘group work’ in the context of organisations it was necessary to define further characteris- tics to specify a group more adequately. This has been done in the chapter refer- ring to the definition.

In particular, work groups can be found above all in large or big organisations, es- pecially in the areas which allow individual responsibilities. In the work groups, de- cisions are made that help the individual member in the group to improve the re- spective work or to mutually foster and enhance the performance of all members in the group. Katzenbach and Smith (2003, p. 123) clearly specify that “the emphasis is always on individual performance-focused goals and responsibilities“ and not on further joint work results.

In organisations and in the business practice, there are quite frequently types of work which are considered as group work, but which, in terms of their scope or extent, and with regard to possibilities of cooperating within a work group, cannot be considered as such. Consequently, Nerdinger et al. (2008, p. 403) do not consider such work performed in crews (so-called “Kolonnenarbeit“, i.e. work performed by several persons simultaneously; and they perform various tasks in the same room) as well as tasks performed successively (so-called “Sukzessivverband“, i.e. de- pending on the task, several persons process the same item successively) as group work. Here, cooperation possibilities within the group are too much restricted or limited; and this is different from the integration of tasks. Here direct or immedi- ate collaboration is possible and therefore coordination is required.

2.3.3 Group work vs. team work

In the specialised literature, the terms ‘group work’ or ‘team work’ are often used synonymously or also have contradictory or conflicting meanings. Already Antoni (1996, p. 7) describes the confusion as to the terms used and warns accordingly because they rather veil the underlying concepts instead of making them much clearer. Especially nowadays, and in particular in the management literature, fashionable and trendy key words can be found, such as customer- or client-focused teams, power teams or service teams (Feigl 2000, p. 81).

Both terms are viewed and discussed in a differentiated way by various authors, and it is striking in this context that often two aspects are outlined, on the one hand, the work-coordinative factor, and on the other hand, the social-integrative factor (Wiendieck 1994, p. 232). According to Foster (1978, p. 20), team work is a specific form of group work which is distinguished by more intensive group processes. Weinert (2004, p. 440) distinguishes between the terms ‘work group’ and ‘work teams’ as well, because especially the latter are shaped by positive synergies, shared management roles and a joint subject matter. In contrast, work groups are clearly shaped by focussed leadership or management structures and individual responsibilities.

Tolksdorf (1994, pp. 236) defines the terms in a completely different way. While work groups are distinguished by a joint overall task (operative and dispositive) and by shared responsibilities, work teams are shaped by, or have, separate task structures (operative tasks of the group, dispositive tasks of the team head).

For the purpose of this thesis, the two terms will not be discussed separately, but seen and understood as synonyms because an exact distinction in terms of content does not seem to be appropriate or useful owing to the lacking basis with distinct and theoretically founded characteristics or features.

2.4 Team

2.4.1 Definition

Keiser (2002, p. 45) specifies as one of the most frequent characteristics of a team, a higher identification with the goal on the part of individual team members. Simultaneously, he explains that individual performance cannot be assigned to individual team members any longer. With regard to the objective set, a team is “more than the sum of its components“ (Wilmes 1995, p. 51). According to the statements provided and following Sulzbacher (2003, pp. 65) and von Rosenstiel (2003, pp. 274), the definition the term ‘team’ is as follows:

ƒ- “Strong and intense connection (or ties) to the joint goal,
ƒ- Joint goal in terms of performance beyond the overall goal,
ƒ- Strong group cohesion with mutual responsibility of members,
ƒ- Strong team spirit based on abilities and skills complementing one another, ƒ Increase of performance potential by using synergies”.

Based on the following definition provided by Mohrman et al. (1995, p. 39): “A team is a group of individuals who work together to produce products or deliver services for which they are mutually accountable. Team members share goals and are mu- tually held accountable for meeting them, they are independent in their accom- plishment, and they affect the results through their interactions with one another. Because the team is held collectively accountable, the work of integrating with one another is included among the responsibilities of each member.” Keiser (2002, p. 46) defines the term ‘team’ as a kind or type of specialisation of work groups, including and classifying it in the area of small group research. In this context, Guzzo (1996, p. 9) states “that all teams are groups but that not all groups are teams”. Based on this statement, Frech (1996, p. 296) views the term ‘group’ as the always larger framework, or universal basic structure, including the term ‘team’ as well. With the following figure, the attempt is made to achieve a distinction or differentiation with regard to other majorities of individuals. The latter will not be further discussed here. The target is to describe the small group and its manifesta- tion in a larger or overall context.

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Figure 2 - From society to the team

Source: adopted from Keiser 2000, p. 42 and Gemünden and Högl 2001, p. 11

2.4.2 Significance

In a lot of organisations, the term ‘team’ has become a popular key word, which is often somewhat vague in terms of as each entity resembling a group is designed and labelled as team. Whether the respective specific characteristics actually exist or not, is often not relevant to some authors. The term ‘team’ which has been taken from the sports science sector (Comelli and von Rosenstiel 2008, p. 154) is often found today especially in the management literature. As already mentioned in a preceding chapter, new definitions of the term ‘team’ are considered, according to Antoni (1994, p. 21), as fashionable and trendy terms. So in this context the dif- ferentiated evaluation of the group and team is challenged. Nevertheless, Antoni (ibid.) has to admit that independency of some analytical characteristics of teams or their respective manifestation in contrast to groups cannot be denied or doubted.

Also Katzenbach and Smith (2003, p. 68) discuss the term of team and also become aware that different approaches are available. Whereas some exclusively think of the sports sector, where the individual’s best performance may well lead to victory, others associate, when thinking of working in a team, values such as cooperating, sharing and helping one another. Thus various views regarding costs and benefits of teams have been mentioned also their risk-carrying ability or potential that is connected with the loss of hierarchical control. All this shows that a differentiation to the term of work group would be helpful.

2.4.3 Work group vs. team

The term ‘team’ prevails not only in the organisation-focused science compared with the term ‘work group’, above all also in practice. The often heard opinion is that teams are more than work groups; in particular the teams’ ways of working would contribute clearly to differentiating them from work groups.

For this reason, using a term in a concise way is strongly recommended because such terms are always connected with specific images influencing the thinking and acting of the parties involved. The following Table aims to give an overview of the common items (commonalities) and the essential differences between work groups and teams.

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Table 1 - Commonalties and differences between work groups and teams

Source: adopted from Keiser 2002, p. 46 (based on Katzenbach and Smith 1993) and Beisheim and Frech 1999, p. 288

2.5 Virtual team

2.5.1 Definition: virtual

The terms of virtual or virtuality can be traced back to the same Latin word ‘virtus’, and they mean (inherent) power or possibility as well as capability (Duden 2006, p. 1851). While with the term of virtuality “inherent” (or intrinsic) power is assumed, in case of virtual it implies that ”it is actually available in terms of power or of possi- bility” (Senst 2001, p. 14). In this context, available does have the meaning of it exists only in the mind or thoughts, but is not real. Consequently, a virtual team would merely be a make-belief, an apparent and not really existing team (ibid.).

This is not the case. Instead it can be assumed indeed that virtual teams exist, hence they are not merely an apparently existing, or make-belief item. Longman (1995, p. 1596) describes the term of virtual as ”something that is so nearly complete ... than any difference is unimportant”. From this it can be derived that using the term ‘virtual’ in contemporary everyday life has led to a shift in meaning (Lipnack and Stamps 1997, p. 5):

ƒ“Virtual as in ‘not in actual fact’ but ‘in essence,’ ‘almost like’; and ƒ Virtual as in ‘virtual reality’”.

The term ‘virtual’ which originally stems from Anglo-American language use (”they act virtually as a team”) would then be translated as follows: “They act almost as / practically as a team” (Senst 2001, p. 14). The interpretation in German rather conveys the impression of ”apparently” or artificiality because the translation would be: ”They apparently act like a team” (ibid.).

2.5.2 Definition: virtual team

For Lipnack and Stamps (1997, pp. 6), a “virtual team, like every team, is a group of people who interact through interdependent tasks guided by common purpose. Unlike conventional teams, a virtual team works across space, time, and organiza- tional boundaries with links strengthened by webs of communication technologies”.

But this definition also clearly shows that virtual teams are no new type of team work, but merely have to be seen or understood as an extension of conventional team work. Konradt and Hertel (2002, pp. 17) confirm this view and give three essential characteristics or features:

ƒ“Virtual teams have characteristics of conventional work groups. ƒ Virtual teams work at decentralised and delocalised work places. ƒ Predominant use of electronic communication media.”

2.5.3 Characteristics of a virtual team Space distances

As a rule, members of a virtual team work at such a distance (in terms of space) from one another that they do not cooperate on a direct, face-to-face basis.

Figure 3 describes the distances where the individuals, on the one hand, are close enough (15-metre rule) in order cooperate in person and in reality, and on the other hand, the distances which are larger and beyond the rule, so that specific measures are required enabling communication between the team members. In this context, the authors mention and specify virtual teams (Allen 1997, cited in Lipnack and Stamps 1997, p. 8).

The distance ranges of the above-mentioned model refer to the American percep- tion of distance and are well worth-while to be discussed. A distance of 15 metres is, according to Sulzbacher (2003, pp. 87), very short as regular personal interac- tion in the conventional sense is still possible, and this would then contradict and be in contrast with the definition of virtual teams. However, the definition for virtual teams does not request explicitly that personal contacts should be excluded or avoided. In this context, reference should be made to the above-mentioned ‘almost like’ because it leaves open which characters or features do not occur in their pure form. Furthermore, it should be considered that a lasting personal interactive, face- to-face interaction across a distance of 15 metres requires a lot of effort or can be perceived as disturbing on the part of adjoining team members. Therefore, it can be assumed that quite rapidly communication-facilitating technologies will be used. Also here it is evident that the separation line between team and virtual team can- not be precisely drawn and that also various manifestations are possible, from the pure form to the mixed form.

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Figure 3 - Distance perception / virtual distances

Source: adopted from Lipnack and Stamps 1997, p. 9 and Lipnack and Stamps 1998, p. 33 Time boundaries

Virtual teams or their members exceed very easily time-specific boundaries. On the one hand, this is often the result of increasing distances, for instance, due to internationalisation; here, with increasing distance, the time frame for the joint work gets increasingly smaller. But on the other hand, it may be necessary that time-related boundaries have to be mastered at the same place, for instance if members are rarely or never available, or present, at the same time. Organisational boundaries

Based on the problem, co-acting of several organisational areas or, more farreaching, the collaboration with other organisations may be required. Communication technologies

Nowadays, virtual teams have a broad range of communication technologies at their disposal, which are required for compensating the disadvantages or bottle necks of the above-mentioned characteristics. Thus communication technologies are a major part and significant component of virtual coordination.

2.5.4 Significance

The innovations of the information and communication technologies of the past few years have also led to new opportunities in the area of collaboration. Among these is the possibility to distribute work in such a way that individuals can work together and perform a joint task without having to be at one specific place. In many areas of business and administration, people collaborate at different places in order to be independent from space and time, in teams, namely in virtual teams.

Especially today, in the digital era, the term ‘virtual’ has a further meaning. Through the use of computers and networks, rooms or living spaces are created that are real for those groups using them or staying in them. As to these spaces or spheres, physical equivalents do not always exist. Although in this context, often in everyday language virtual realities are mentioned, they are in reality digital realities (Lipnack and Stamps 1997, p. 6). The following Figure is to show that, as a rule, each digital image has its origin in the real world. It can be changed through abstracting and modelling processes in very different, varying ways in order to create the desired new digital reality.

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Figure 4 - Process of virtualisation

Source: Konradt and Hertel 2002, p. 13 (based on Encarnacao et al. 1997)

Virtual teams do not have intensive mutual, personal relations or they do not exist at all. Face-to-face contacts exist among conventional teams and thus are listed as an essential characteristic property. So the question may be posed whether a vir- tual team can really be seen as a team. Sulzbacher (2003, p. 82) would answer to the corresponding question with no. Here, it has to be noted that the technological progress has brought about changes. So members of virtual teams have to com- municate and interact but the respective communication and interaction is different. This leads to the conclusion whether this fact nevertheless qualifies the virtual teams as teams, in particular as the term is largely used in the business language. With regard to this thesis, it has to be assumed that virtual teams can be consid- ered as teams.

2.5.5 Team vs. virtual team

As has been shown in the preceding chapter, virtual teams are denoted or qualified as teams. Nevertheless there are differences in comparison to the teams which are defined and denoted as conventional team. The differences will be dealt with in the following.

The most essential difference lies, according to Lipnack and Stamps (1997, pp. 47), in the mutual interactions and relations. These are described as links based on the “people, purpose and links” model being the characteristics or es- sence of virtual teams (ibid.). While in conventional teams, the contacts are pre- dominantly of a personal nature, virtual teams are shaped by more diverse and varied contacts. This does not just refer to physical connections, such as mains, devices or systems etc., but also involves contacts and connections between indi- viduals, such as trust, serving as invisible ties or connection. In virtual teams, par- ticularly the last type of relations, or connections, is of high relevance as this serves as a compensation or balance in terms of personal contacts. Here it is evident that communication in virtual teams is of extremely high priority.

Moreover, there are further major differences between the two types of teams. The following Table gives an overview in this regard. The criteria which will be consid- ered are simultaneously an important basis for the success-building factors listed lateron.

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Table 2 - Differentiation of conventional teams and virtual teams Source: adopted from Hertel et al. 2001, p. 29

Figure 5 serves as a transition to the next chapter, preparing the focus on culture. In a so-called double-team structure cube, Senst (2001, p. 72) combines parts of the characteristics (language, place, time) of a virtual team, combining them also with the factor of culture. This enables differentiation between the individual team structures. Virtual teams represent through an entirely heterogeneous structure (varying levels / degrees as to all characteristics) one extreme of the cube (red cu- be). The counterpart (dark green cube) refers to conventional teams that have a homogeneous structure (same levels / degrees as to all characteristics). The light green cubes in-between are mixed types, thus variations of the respective extreme types.

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Figure 5 - Double team structure cube Source: adopted from Senst 2001, p. 72

As already mentioned, the aspect of culture can be considered as a characteristic as well for virtual teams. Thus it will be more closely looked at in the next chapter.

3 Culture

3.1 Preliminary remark

The labour environment of today increasingly has to deal with the varying mental states, conditions of the organisations’ customers and also with those of the re- spective employees. Due to internationally liberal trading terms ensuring free trade, freedom in regard to investments as well as, among other things, freedom to choose the site or location of one’s business, also global interconnection and crosslinking (networking) is increasing continually. In this context, globalisation is often mentioned. On the basis of technological progress, it has become possible to conclude transactions across large distances. Communities and organisations have fostered this process through treaties and laws additionally. The fact of grow- ing interdependencies is also associated with an increasingly larger number of in- dividuals who are involved in global economy. Markets can be developed which are beyond the own cultural sphere or area. Organsiations send their employees abroad in order to have their strategies implemented on location. This also includes that the respective organisations have to deal with and to respond to other cultures in order to be able to survive in highly competitive markets. The entire process is additionally linked with an internationalisation in terms of the structure of employ- ees in the organisations. Consequently, the latter have to deal increasingly with topics such as interculturality, intercultural communication or intercultural compe- tence. The following chapters are aimed at providing an insight into the very com- plex and extensive subject matter.

The terms ‘intercultural communication’ and ‘intercultural competence’ are as regards their meaning quite complex and will not be examined more closely in this chapter. Both terms will appear again in the chapter on success factors. Nevertheless, due to their complexity, already here some elements will be discussed that are linked to such success factors.

In this context, it has to be noted that, in contrast to the central issue and problem, the term of cross-cultural is not used. According to Litters (1995, p. 21), the use of the term ‘cross-cultural’ is limited to the “area of analyses relating to cul- tures .., which are compared by particular aspects“. The members of the particular culture do not enter into mutual relationships. As this thesis is based on inter- actions between team members, the term ‘intercultural’ is made use of in the fol- lowing. For this reason, the definition is also used in the following sections. Straub’s (2007a, p. 7) approach is very accurate; and he starts his analysis as fol- lows: to him, intercultural is “the adjective determinative compound which consists of the two elements ‘inter’ (serving as determinatum) and ‘cultural’ (serving as determinans)”. In the Duden (2006, p. 890), the word ‘inter’ which is of Latin origin means translated into German “zwischen“, i.e. between in English, and points out that in case of composite words, together with adjectives and nouns, correlations or interdependencies between two or more items are being shaped and denoted. As to further clarifying and explaining the meaning of the composite adjective, Straub (2007a, p. 7) also states that it would be necessary to deal with the noun culture. Thus the term or concept of culture will be in the focus of the next section.

3.2 Traditional concept of culture

3.2.1 Overview

Cultural studies, in the framework of interdisciplinary theory discussions, deal intensively with the term or concept of culture. According to Lüsebrink (2008, p. 10), three basic or fundamental concepts of culture are differentiated which are provided in Table 3 and are briefly described.

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Table 3 - Basic definitions of culture

Source: adopted from Lüsebrink 2008, p. 10

In the course, the anthropological term or concept of culture will be in the focus and basic scientific research referring to this term will be provided and discussed in many ways. Anthropology is the science centered on human beings and their development (Duden 2006, p. 159).

3.2.2 Anthropological concept of culture

Labour and leadership behaviour are influenced by the prevailing cultural norms of a country. Having grown up in a specific country and cultural space and having had both education and further training or occupational training there, also implies hav- ing been intellectually and mentally influenced, or programmed, by the respective culture. Also if the individual is not aware of this, this influence will be evident as soon as the respective individual establishes closer contacts with people of other cultures (Weinert 2004, pp. 85). Based on this fact, Weinert (ibid.) defines culture as the “merging of profound, deeply anchored personality-specific characteristics, habits, value patterns and traditions. It is society’s, or societal, heritage, which is shared among the members of a group; and this heritage is then passed on from one generation to the next and forms and shapes the behaviour and perception of the respective members”.

With regard to the aspect of intercultural competence, Baumer (2002, p. 77) perceives and understands culture as “collective awareness or consciousness programming that distinguishes the members of a group from those of another group”; but to him, it is also a term used for “explicit and implicit patterns of a community and for behaviour patterns of a community”.

Based on the aspect that culture is something which helps to unify, Spencer-Oatey (2004, p. 4) defines culture as “a fuzzy set of attitudes, beliefs, behavioural conventions, and basic assumptions and values that are shared by a group of people, and that influence each member's behaviour and each member’s interpretations of the ‘meaning’ of other people's behaviour”.

These coherence-oriented approaches appear initially quite acceptable, but along with increasing globalisation and specific differentiation of societies, the notion of the cultural term can hardly be maintained in line with what has been provided (Rathje 2006, p. 12). Rathje (ibid.) mentions that, those who are opposing the structural uniformity or unity and homogenity of culture, tend to prefer more “difference diagnosis” (difference orientation). Hereby existing norms are not denied but in the focus is that differences within a culture develop solely by the varying interpretation and internalisation of cultural standards.

Dahl (2004, p. 7) seems to understand why in practice the limiting, or containment, of the term of culture to geographical or political boundaries is preferred. The cor- responding definitions can be applied both to large as well as to small cultural units. Furthermore, allocation using nationality is rapidly possible as it can be iden- tified easily. Allocations to a culture or to subculture are more difficult as not every individual may be part of a subculture. Furthermore, it is argued that individuals with the same nationality are largely, or for the most part, shaped by the same and identical values and norms.

As shown above, the term of culture allows a multitude of definitions and interpretations. Thus Soraya (1996, p. 16) understands why this chaos relating to terms, has resulted in a certain number of anthropologists’ avoidance of the term ‘culture’. The term or notion associated with culture in anthropology cannot be unified. In spite of the general dislike concerning the term of culture and unsolved problems as to its definition, some anthropologists deal with and discuss these rather conventional cultural concept and notions from an entirely different perspective.

In this context, Geert Hofstede can be mentioned, who, in the area of cultural re- search, has identified scientific evidence through his extensive reasearch work, and these findings prove the existence of cultural differences. In the area of culture- comparing management research, and especially in the area of culture-comparing management research, he has investigated the dimensions of culture and how they affect the success of leading / managing intercultural teams. On the basis of or- ganisational theories, he provided a further definition, namely culture as the “collec- tive programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of a group or cat- egory from those belonging to another group or category (Hofstede 2009, p. 4).

Hofstede (2001, p. 2) divides the above-mentioned mental programming into the three levels of uniqueness of the human being. This implies that culture is not something innate but that it has been acquired or learnt. Thus culture does not result or emerge from genes but from the social environment of the respective individual, “because human programming is the truly unique part: No two people are programmed exactly alike, not even identical twins reared together” (ibid.). The individual is shaped by values as well as by behaviour, thinking and perception patterns on the levels shown in Figure 6.

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Figure 6 - Three levels of uniqueness in human mental programming Source: adopted from Hofstede 2001, p. 3 and Hofstede 2009, p. 4

3.2.3 Iceberg model

With this model, the attempt is made in a simple manner to provide the viewer with an approximate understanding in terms of culture. The model (Fig. 7) shows that essentially there are two parts. There is the top section of the iceberg which is visible. This part represents things such as music, language, speech, clothing, food, etc. Furthermore, this part of the iceberg includes behaviour patterns such as smoking in public, the way how people are waiting in front of a bus, or also spitting on the floor. All these things are visible.

But there is yet a second part of the iceberg which is initially hidden to the viewer. This far larger part of the iceberg comprises, for instance, things such as religious belief, religion, “Weltanschauung” (philosophy of life), motivation, tolerance as re- gards changes, communicative behaviour patterns, readiness to take risks, etc. Although these things cannot be seen (i.e. are invisible), they are required in order to understand the visible part as they are the triggering agent or the motive in this context (Rothlauf 2009, p. 25).

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Figure 7 - The cultural iceberg model

Source: adopted from Duarte and Snyder 2006, p. 56 and Rothlauf 2009, p. 25

To understand and grasp the invisible part, core of the iceberg, specific systematics, i.e. the cultural elements, are required. So the next chapter will focus on this particular aspect.

3.2.4 Cultural elements

A human being first has to acquire basic values because after the birth he or she is not yet prepared properly for life. Information required is taken largely unconscious- ly from the environment. This information includes symbols, heroes and rituals but above all the basic values. Only at the end of the so-called absorption period (ten to twelve years), the human being takes on a perceiving or perceptive attitude of learning and thus is focused on new practises. This process is illustrated by Figure 8.

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Figure 8 - Acquisition of values and practices Source: adopted from Hofstede 2009, p. 10

Through cultural elements, differences in terms of cultural units can be identified and specified. The large number of cultural elements can be divided essentially into four categories.


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Success Factors of Virtual Teams in the Conflict of Cross-Cultural Team Structures
FOM Essen, Hochschule für Oekonomie & Management gemeinnützige GmbH, Hochschulleitung Essen früher Fachhochschule
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Success, Factors, Virtual, Teams, Conflict, Cross-Cultural, Team, Structures
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Stephan Sembdner (Autor:in), 2010, Success Factors of Virtual Teams in the Conflict of Cross-Cultural Team Structures, München, GRIN Verlag,


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