Background of the Study
In today’s global economy, interpersonal interactions between people of different places and cultures are inevitable. Moreover, advances in technology enable people of different cultures to communicate and interact in a virtual environment.
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Although globalisation and technology have improved communication, cultural differences and language barriers hamper interpersonal interaction within multicultural organisations. Cultural differences affect communication and collaboration among team members involved in transnational projects.
In this regard, transnational project managers must learn how to manage cultural diversity to ensure that the project is successful. The differences between the major global cultures cause divergences between foreign and domestic management approaches1.
To overcome logistical challenges and reduce costs, multinational organisations create global virtual teams to work on transnational projects.
However, the use of virtual teams comes with challenges, including varying cultures, language, values, and notions of cooperation.
In this regard, firms investing in transnational projects must first seek to understand national and regional cultures, as they influence a project’s success2. Cultural differences, if not well managed, can cause misunderstandings, which may lead to project failure.
The proposed research will explore the impact of culture on the success of a transnational project. It will focus on the cultural differences within a multinational corporation that define a project’s success or failure.
The aim of the research is to help project managers understand how cultural differences affect communication and collaboration among team members. It will also offer suggestions to improve cross-cultural cooperation and eliminate misunderstandings in a given case company (Son Group).
In multicultural corporations, communication must be tailor-made for the cultural diversity within the organisation. The employees must receive and interpret both the verbal and non-verbal messages correctly.
According to Thill and Bovee (2002), a person’s background influences how he or she understands the message contained in a communication3.
Thus, in a multicultural organisation, messages are understood differently, which implies that the management should express an idea or information in a language that everyone understands.
This would foster a spirit of cooperation among members involved in a transnational project. Thus, even when communication involves the use of technologies such as video conferencing, communicators should express their ideas in a direct and culturally appropriate manner.
Bloch and Whiteley (2009) suggest that a team leader or project manager in a transnational project should value and appreciate the skills, cultural differences, and ideas of the team members4.
They must also seek to understand the team members’ cultures to create an environment that nurtures cultural diversity and collaboration.
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On the contrary, the failure to recognise cultural differences creates a ‘toxic’ cultural environment that hampers intercultural cooperation5. Such a cultural environment stifles innovation and participation because it makes members of a minority culture to feel sidelined by their dominant culture counterparts.
High and Low Context Cultures
In their study, Samovar and Porter (2001) distinguish between ‘low’ and ‘high’ culture depending on whether an individual interprets the conveyed message based on the communication context or its subject matter6. The study highlights some of the aspects of intercultural communication.
It underscores the fact that people’s cultures determine how they receive and interpret the messages contained in a communication7.
In ‘high’ cultures, the interpretation of information depends on nonverbal cues and context of the communication. In contrast, Guirdham (2005) writes that in ‘low’ cultures, interpretation depends on the message expressed verbally8.
Thus, cultural differences can hamper communication within a multicultural organization. A team member of the low culture may become exasperated with the inquisitiveness of a member of the high culture leading to misunderstandings.
Implied meanings and symbols can also cause misunderstandings between persons of different cultural backgrounds. Before performing a task, members of the ‘high’ culture first require more details regarding their roles and the objectives of the project, among others, before executing it.
In contrast, according to Solomon and Schell (2009), a ‘low’ culture person only needs the information necessary to do the task9.
Besides, communication styles differ among different cultures. In some cultures, especially Western cultures, people are often candid and open in their communication. In comparison, in Eastern cultures such as the Japanese culture, people tend to communicate indirectly10.
Thus, a Japanese person may perceive Western directness as dishonourable and unintelligible. According to Gesteland (2002), the indirect communicators tend to avoid embarrassment at all times and thus, they choose their words carefully to avoid hurting other people11.
They focus on building positive interpersonal relations and thus, often consider it rude to reject a proposal directly. Instead, they use subtle gestures or silence to register their disapproval.
Gesteland (2002) found that, in some cultures, people say “no” by remaining silent (Asians), smiling (Japanese) or raising their eyebrows (Arabs)12. In this regard, it is evident that culture has a huge impact on people’s communication styles.
Conveying sad news tends to be a problem in some cultures. Gesteland (2002) observed that some people, particularly Asians, often fear delivering the sad news directly13. Thus, a team leader from an Asian culture may delay or refuse to report problems to the project manager.
On the other hand, a project manager from the West may consider ‘delayed’ reporting to be offensive and counterproductive, as it hurts the business. Another problem associated with cross-cultural differences in transnational projects relates to contracts.
Often, Western business executives tend to focus on formal agreements, procedures, and written contracts in order to guide the partnership and avoid future problems. In contrast, people from Asian cultures tend to be relationship oriented; their business deals are largely based on mutual trust14.
The Conception of Time
The conception of time is also different among various cultures. People from different places and cultures schedule their activities differently. In Western cultures, punctuality to a meeting is highly regarded and thus, arriving late would be considered gross and disrespectful to the other members15.
In contrast, in some countries, showing up a few minutes late to a meeting is not condemnable. Thus, time schedules in such countries are flexible. On the other hand, executives from societies where punctuality is highly regarded set and keep tight schedules and agendas.
According to Locker (1998), such people belong to ‘monochronic’ cultures that view ‘time’ as a limited resource that should be managed well16. The author states that businesspeople from the Western culture, especially Britons and Americans, consider time as a limited resource that must be utilised wisely to achieve expected outcomes.
In contrast, ‘polychronic’ cultures consider time as unlimited resource and thus, do not consider punctuality and strict observance of deadlines as critical in business17. Their scheduling of activities and business meetings tend to be loose and flexible, which allow members to attend when it is convenient for them.
Thus, Western project managers may become frustrated with the way other people perceive time and schedules. Moreover, Besterfield, Besterfield-Michna, Besterfield, and Besterfield (2003) observe that in some Asian societies, emphasis on quality and safety in production processes is lacking18.
In comparison, European cultures lay greater emphasis on safety and quality of products/services and thus, the production cycle is relatively longer and the process more stringent than that of Asian companies. It implies that discrepancies in goals may arise when Asian and British team leaders are involved in one project.
Managers should identify the conflicting facts or opinions, which may hamper collaboration and ultimately result in project failure. If a firm has an assembly, production, and distribution plants located in different countries, efforts should be made to harmonise the production and distribution processes.
In big projects, delays in one plant can affect production in another leading to losses. An oversight committee can help resolve any conflicts that may arise because of cultural differences among team members.
Gestland (2003) recommends that team leaders belonging to ‘monocronic’ cultures should adopt a more flexible scheduling approach to appeal to members of ‘polychronic’ societies. They should also encourage trust relationships to integrate such members into their teams.
Other factors that hinder communication such as honour, self-respect, and self-preservation should be considered during cross-cultural interactions. Moreover, all communications should be devoid of offensive or embarrassing remarks as they create hostility and hatred among employees.
Based on Gestland’s (2003) suggestions, it makes sense to adopt a communication approach that appeal to each person’s culture as opposed to an all-encompassing technique. Thus, staff will feel valued and recognized as members of a project team when all organisational communications appeal to their culture and values.
It also helps eliminate the outsider mentality that minority group may have when working in foreign countries.
According to Shachaf (2008), businesspeople from Asia tend to do everything to save their ‘faces’ from embarrassment19.
He explains that this tendency stems from their group-focused attitude. A person’s self-worth and pride depend on their friend or community’s views about their behaviour or actions. Their actions are motivated by the need for self-preservation and the pressure to maintain honour in the eyes of their compatriots.
Thus, criticising an employee in front of his or her colleagues would be very hurtful. In contrast, in Western societies, positive criticism is encouraged as a way of improving performance and efficacy20.
In other words, criticising an employee in public does not depict a manager as rude or inconsiderate; rather, it is a call on the person to correct his/her mistakes. Thus, while public criticism may be considered crude or dishonourable in Asian culture, it is regarded highly among Western managers and staff.
Mor-Barak (2005) defines culture as “the invisible beliefs and values” manifested in the behaviour of members of a particular social group21.
Understanding the cultural differences within a group enables a project manager to promote interpersonal communication and collaboration among the members, which translates into project success.
Harris, Moran, and Moran (2004) explain that business is so intertwined with culture that it becomes almost impossible to separate the two22.
Therefore, understanding culture not only enhances the management of a transnational project, but it also inspires staff to work towards achieving the set objectives.
Schell and Solomon (2009) categorise culture into three distinct classes: “visible, hidden, and invisible” sub-cultures23. These sub-cultures define organisational behaviour and values.
The invisible culture encompasses the beliefs and ideals transmitted from one generation to another within a given society. On the other hand, hidden culture represents the norms and values that are characteristic of a particular culture24. They tend to affect organisational behaviour.
In contrast, the visible culture encompasses the non-verbal cues that accompany verbal communication such as eye contact and bowing.
Hofstede (2001) surveyed IBM employees and managers working in over 40 countries. He discovered that each of the employees had certain behaviours and attitudes that could be traced to his cultural background or country25.
He characterised the cultural differences between co-workers into five dimensions: “power distance, long-term vs. short term orientation, uncertainty avoidance, individualism-collectivism, and masculinity-femininity”26.
Each of these dimensions affects a team leader’s management style and relationships amongst the employees. Thus, cultural differences within a firm can affect organisational behaviour and values, which define a firm’s corporate culture.
Based on the literature reviewed above, the proposed study will be guided by the research questions below:
- What is the effect of culture on the performance of a transnational project?
- How do cultural differences affect the internal communication processes at Son Group?
- How do Son’s managers handle multiculturalism within the company?
- What factors hamper intercultural communication and collaboration within Son group?
These research questions will enable the researcher to identify the effect of cultural differences on communication and collaboration within the case company. They will also aid in understanding the opinions and experiences of the staff working on any of Son’s international projects.
The aim is to understand the factors that affect multinational communication, which would help the case company strategise on how to promote intercultural relations to assure the success of its transnational projects.
In the proposed study, the researcher will use a case study approach that combines both qualitative and quantitative methods to collect and analyse data. The researcher will first conduct a survey of the firm’s staff in all its subsidiaries in Europe, the US, and Asia.
A survey questionnaire will be given to the project manager, who will issue it to all team members via email. The employees will be required to fill out the online questionnaires and resend them to the project manager. He will then forward the completed questionnaires to the researcher.
The sample will include the workers currently involved in a project that requires multinational collaboration in terms of assembly, packaging, and distribution. Convenience sampling will be used to select the participants.
Data Collection and Analysis
The study will use questionnaires containing structured and unstructured questions to collect data. In the analysis, quantitative measures will be assessed using statistical techniques while the qualitative ones will involve descriptive analysis to interpret the respondent’s answers.
The qualitative data will be analysed using Hofstede’s dimensions on cultural differences in an organisational context. Other theories will also be used to summarize the study’s findings.
In the study, the proposed methodology is appropriate because of the large amount of data expected. The use of online questionnaires will help reduce costs and save time, as the completed questionnaires will be received within a short period.
Moreover, since the employees live in different countries, face to face interviewing will not be feasible. It is expected that the online questionnaires will achieve a high response rate. The study questions will capture each employee’s cultural characteristics, collaboration style, and values, among others.
The case study approach will be appropriate for this study because intercultural communication is specific to an organisation. A mixed research approach will be used to collect data from culturally diverse team leaders and staff.
Adler, N, International Dimensions of Organizational Behavior, South Western, McGill University Press, 2002.
Besterfield, D, C Besterfield-Michna, G Besterfield & M Besterfield, Total Quality Management, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, Pearson Education, Inc., 2003.
Bloch, S & P Whiteley, How to manage in a flat world: 10 strategies to get connected to your team wherever they are, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, FT Press, 2009.
Gesteland, R, Cross-Cultural Business Behavior; Marketing Negotiating, Sourcing and Managing Across Cultures, Copenhagen, Copenhagen Business School Press, 2003.
Guirdham, M, Communicating across Cultures at Work, New York, Palgrave MacMillan, 2005.
Harris, P, R Moran & S Moran, Managing cultural differences: Global leadership strategies for the 21st century, Burlington, MA, Elsevier Butterworth Heinemann, 2004.
Hitt, M, D Ireland & RHoskisson, Strategic Management– Competitiveness and Globalization, New York, Thomson Learning Publisher, 2003.
Hofstede, G, Culture’s Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions, and Organizations Across Nations, Thousand Oaks, California, Sage Publications, Inc., 2001.
Kitchen, P & F Daly, ‘Internal communication during change management Internal communication during change management’, Corporate Communications: An International Journal, vol. 7, no. 1, 2002, pp. 46-53.
Locker, K, Business and Administrative Communication, New York, McGraw Hill, 1998.
Mor-Barak, M, Managing Diversity: Toward a Globally Inclusive Workplace, Thousand Oaks, California, Sage Publications, Inc., 2005.
Thill, J and C Bovee, Excellence in Business Communication, New Jersey, Prentice Hall, 2002.
Trompenaars, F, Riding the waves of culture: understanding diversity in global business, Burr Ridge, IL, Irwin Professional Publishers, 1994.
Samovar, L & R Porter, Communication Between Cultures, Belmont, CA, Wadsworth/Thompson Learning, 2001.
Shachaf, P, ‘Cultural diversity and information and communication technology impacts on global virtual teams: An exploratory study’, Information & Management, vol. 45, no. 2, 2008, pp. 131-142
Solomon, C & M Schell, Managing across cultures–The Seven Keys to Doing Business with a Global Mindset, New York, McGraw Hill, 2009.
1 N Adler, International Dimensions of Organizational Behavior, McGill University, South Western, 2002, p. 16
2 M Hitt, D Ireland & R Hoskisson, Strategic Management–Competitiveness and Globalization, Thomson Learning Publisher, New York, 2003, p.245
3 J Thill & C Bovee, Excellence in Business Communication, Prentice Hall, New Jersey, 2002, p. 67
4 S Bloch & P Whiteley, How to manage in a flat world: 10 strategies to get connected to your team wherever they are, FT Press, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, 2009, p.149
5 Ibid., p. 146
6 L Samovar & R Porter, Communication Between Cultures, Wadsworth/Thompson Learning, Belmont, CA, 2001, p. 83
7 Ibid., p. 77
8 M Guirdham, Communicating across Cultures at Work, Palgrave MacMillan, New York, 2005, p.76
9 C Solomon & M Schell, Managing across cultures–The Seven Keys to Doing Business with a Global Mindset, McGraw Hill, New York, 2009, p. 153
10 Samovar & Porter, op.cit., p. 232
11 R Gesteland, Cross-Cultural Business Behavior; Marketing Negotiating, Sourcing and Managing Across Cultures, Copenhagen Business School Press, Copenhagen, 2003, p. 37
12 Ibid., p. 39
13 Ibid., p. 32
14 Ibid., p. 29
15 P Kitchen & F Daly, ‘Internal communication during change management Internal communication during change management’, Corporate Communications: An International Journal, vol. 7, Issue 1, 2002, p. 46.
16 K Locker, Business and Administrative Communication, McGraw Hill, New York, 1998, p.29
17 Gestland, op.cit., p. 33
18 D Besterfield, C Besterfield-Michna, G Besterfield, & M Besterfield, Total Quality Management, Pearson Education, Inc., Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, 2003, p. 141
19 P Shachaf, ‘Cultural diversity and information and communication technology impacts on global virtual teams: An exploratory study’, Information & Management, vol. 45, Issue 2, 2008, p. 131
20 Samovar & Porter, op.cit., p. 297
21 M Mor-Barak, Managing Diversity: Toward a Globally Inclusive Workplace, Sage Publications, Inc., Thousand Oaks, California, 2005, p. 127
22 P Harris, R Moran & S Moran, Managing cultural differences: Global leadership strategies for the 21st century, Elsevier Butterworth Heinemann, Burlington, MA, 2004, p.67
23 Thill & Bovee, op.cit., p. 99
24 F Trompenaars, Riding the waves of culture: understanding diversity in global business, Irwin Professional Publishers, Burr Ridge, IL, 1994, p. 29
25 G Hofstede, Culture’s Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions, and Organizations Across Nations, Sage Publications, Inc., Thousand Oaks, California, 2001, p. 81
26 Ibid., p. 88