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How to Facilitate Success in Culturally-Diverse Virtual Teams

Creating successful virtual teams is already difficult to achieve. When cultural diversity and distance are thrown into the mix, the task can be even more challenging. Han and Beyerlein (2016) conducted a systematic review of the literature on multinational virtual teams to examine what factors lead to a high level of functioning.

The researchers found that to be successful, multinational virtual teams must engage in both task processes and socioemotional processes. Task processes refer to mechanisms for achieving goals. Socioemotional processes are described as how relationships are formed and maintained. The most critical task processes for success were: communicating, coordinating, establishing expectations, and knowledge sharing. The key socioemotional processes were: overcoming biases, building relationships, developing trust, and intercultural learning.

The researchers proposed a framework in which they paired one task process to one socioemotional process for a total of four pairs. They discussed strategies for handling challenges with each pair.

Overcoming biases and task-related communicating. For a successful multinational virtual team, team members must overcome biases relating to cultural stereotypes. This prevents division within the group. A great way to do this is to put aside time to share social information to form potential friendships. Any type of task-related communication should be done frequently. Also, team members should be aware of potential misinterpretation resulting from a lack of face-to-face interaction.

Building relationships and coordinating. It can be difficult to coordinate across time zones and around culturally-specific holidays. Spend time team-building to understand these differences.

Developing trust and establishing expectations. Trust is built through appropriate and timely responses to communication. Establishing expectations early on will give team members the information they need to build trust with one another.

Intercultural learning and knowledge sharing. All team members want others to understand and be aware of their culture. Create forms of communication that are accessible and understandable to all. Share knowledge within the team. When you include cultural references that are only understood by some, certain team members are alienated.

Han, S. J., & Beyerlein, M. (2016). Framing the effects of multinational cultural diversity on virtual team processes. Small group research, 47(4), 351-383.