Abstract
Dealing with cross-cultural teams has become more common throughout the years especially in
higher education and work environments. The need to have good communication skills and
effective participation in projects is a critical aspect for the completion and quality of the projects
or tasks performed. Certain aspects such as cultural background or common interests shape the
dynamics of the team to achieve the desired success. Different methods of improving
participation and the characteristics of the persons have been discussed in a case study where
the goal is to highlight the ever-evolving world of team based tasks and how to achieve the
optimal outcome by involving every member of the group through effective participation.
Introduction
One of the many challenges of working in a cross-cultural team environment is adapting to the
different ways of communicating from all the members in the group. Effective participation from
each of the group members becomes key in group sessions to accomplish good involvement,
develop relationships within the group, and most importantly, communicate ideas in an effective
way. Every member must have time and feel comfortable showcasing ideas which will lead to
every participant becoming engage by the mechanics of the group. The dynamics of how a group
behaves varies greatly depending on the background of each team member, how to deal with all
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the different personalities and have everyone contributing is a key aspect to achieve the overall
team success.
Along this paper the theme of group dynamics and the interaction of the participants in crosscultural
teams will be analyzed. First, a section of background theory where the focus will be on
Hofstede’s cultural dimensions and to a lesser extent in a series of authors trying to explain and
improve the dynamics of cross-cultural group participation. After this, a reflection from a
personal point of view from the author will be written regarding the dynamics of the group
focusing on participation that took place in the weeks leading up to “Eyes on the Future” an event
which was performed for the Understanding International Grand Challenges course during the
first quarter of the Engineering & Policy Analysis program.
Background theory
Hofstede’s Cultural Dimension
Hofstede’s work was based on a global survey conducted by IBM in the 1960s and 1970s. The aim
of this survey was to analyze the different cultural aspects through six dimensions, his work was
lauded as a breakthrough in his field and has since been used as a benchmark when explaining
cross-cultural communication. Hoefstede explains the difference in participation through his
book “Cultures and Organizations, Software of the mind. Intercultural Cooperation and Its
Importance for survival” and attributes a person’s ability to participate to one key aspect
regarding their culture, individualism. In the chapter I, We, and They a clear definition of this
premise is provided. (Hofstede, Hofstede, Minkov, 2010)
“Students in a collectivist culture will also hesitate to speak up in larger groups without a
teacher present, especially if these groups are partly composed of relative strangers: outgroup
members. This hesitation decreases in smaller groups. In a large, collectivist or
culturally heterogeneous class, creating small subgroups is a way to increase student
participation” (Hofstede, 2010 p. 118)
Another dimension that could also be used to describe interaction among peers is describe in the
chapter “More Equal than others” with the argument of power distance. It could be argued that
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there is a relation between expressing thought in group environments and the power distance
related to the nation where the participants came from. When the power distance in a nation is
high it is likely that members of the team that come from a nation with this characteristic will
accept decision taken by others and will not argue even if they have not expressed an opinion.
(Hofstede, 2010)
Maleki & De Jong Clustering the dimensions of national culture
These authors took into account the previous work by Hofstede, along with Inglehart’s World
Value Survey and Schwartz’s Cultural Value Orientation. The purpose of the work was to have a
more concrete measure of the culture dimensions develop by Hofstede but making clusters of
different aspects while disaggregating what they called the “big dimensions”. Maleki & De Jong
also used the cluster of Individualism vs Collectivism proposed by Hofstede to highlight the
difference in culture and how any given person depending on which nation grew up could have
some characteristics which are described.
Tajfel & Turner Social Identity Theory
Tajfel and Turner were two psychologists which greatest contribution was that they developed
the concept of Social Identity. According to the theory developed Social identity is a person’s
sense of who they are based on their group membership(s) (McLeod, 2008). This group
membership gives the person a sense of pride and self-esteem. The feeling of belonging to a
group develops an us against the world mentality depending on the group’s characteristic.
Holding prejudice of other groups while speaking glowingly about the groups that we are part is
a common practice of social identity (Tajfel, 1986).
Eyes on the Future event
Development
For the event the team formation was the first opportunity to work with other people. The group
I was part of was shaped by a wide range of nationalities which could be divided in two main
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groups. Dutch people representing the individualistic nation and persons from Mexico, Indonesia
and China who could be clustered in the Collective spectrum of Hofstede dimension. The dynamic
of the group was a rather complex scenario at the beginning where we had to come up with a
game design. The dutch representatives started speaking and giving some of the ideas while the
collective group was listening at the beginning. This dynamic held true for the first session, the
changes started coming when the intra-group relationships were developed. Familiarities with
other members of the team which were develop over the other courses and external activities
played a good component on the social interaction within the group.
The task in hand, which was to design a game with the objective of having the participants of the
game learn more about international grand challenges, was a rather complex but welcoming
experience. The participation of the group for the group sessions during class hours were a bit as
expected with the “collective group” preferring to let the starring role to the dutch students. This
dynamic change during off-class meetings were the interaction between members had more
fluidity and everyone was getting comfortable talking to each other. Social Identity started to get
on the scene when every peer was involved with their team which created that the teams
essentially transformed in the “groups” of Social Identity Theory. (Yuki, 2003)
Results
The way authors such as Hofstede and Maleki & de Jong portraits the characteristics of collective
countries is rather simple and not completely true. These authors were born and raised in a
nation with individualistic values, meaning that their opinions of collective nations come from an
external point of view of the culture. Coming from a Latin-American culture a label as being
unexpressive or too quiet has been put on us. What I have learned in the past 5 months of living
in the Netherlands and what happened in the Eyes on the future event is that countries from
individualistic countries are more expressive and want to speak their mind. I believe that this
could be a peculiarity of trying to overachieve and to highlight among the group meanwhile
people coming from collective nations are prepared to listen more and take other people
opinions into account. For the event Social Identity Theory was on display when the dummy runs
for the games were played which showcased what was portraited by Tajfel & Turner our team
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members spread around the games to play them but also to find the flaws and compared them
to our own game. This resulted in people not fully focusing on what was good about other group’s
work but on the potential mistakes of their games, validating the credibility of Social Identity
theory. (Tajfel, 1986)
Overall, I believe that the frictions of the team while doing this specific task were minimal and
the combination of our characteristics made us understand more about the other’s culture and
forced us to learn and have a different approach while working in the task. We develop a bond
while working on the same team which helped us become more united and also to compare our
game with other team’s games essentially leading to the principle of Social Identity Theory where
we have to highlight our achievements and criticize the other’s work (Yuki, 2003). At the end,
even though we all come from different cultural backgrounds we still have a lot of similarities like
age, interests and some of the goals we want to achieve with this master course and that helped
us have a good group dynamic and design a game which we were comfortable delivering.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Cross-cultural teams trying to complete a certain task or project will always have to overcome
rising communication challenges to fulfill the desired outcome, this becomes especially true if
the group has a lot of members from several nationalities or a different cultural background. The
most important aspect to encourage effective participation is that all team members feel
comfortable with one another. Hofstede posit an ingenious way to enhance participation by
making the group smaller, this results with the participants gaining confidence when speaking to
their peers and feeling comfortable talking and expressing their ideas (Hofstede, 2010). During
the Eyes on the Future game development stage confidence was gained, especially for members
who come from non-individualistic nations, when the group was divided because this led to small
sub-groups and everyone ended up feeling confident speaking which at the beginning had
become an issue for some of the members. Social identity played a key role in helping teambuilding
as we look at ourselves defending our game and trying to find the flaws in the other
games that were created this principle of behavior of comparing is one characteristic that no
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matter the person’s cultural background is always present especially when dealing with a
common task but different ways of doing it.
In conclusion team’s success is the final goal when dealing with a team-project, I believe that
person’s coming from collective backgrounds are easier to assimilate the goal and trying to
achieve them, while individualistic members, even though, all share a common goal, will try to
convince the other team members that their specific way of doing it is the best way to proceed.
In order to achieve optimal success where every team member is contributing and having an
effective participation Hofstede’s option of dividing the team into small groups could be helpful
(Hofstede, 2010). Laura Maher in her thesis work “Strategies to Increase Participation in
Cooperative Learning Groups” develop ways to enhance participation. The recommendations
when working on a group is to assign different roles for the members to increase productivity,
the success in this method is by taking the personalities and cultural background to match the
role that has been assigned. If the participant of the group feels connected to the role given the
effort will be greater and the overall success probability of the team to finish a project or task
will have good odds of happening. (Maher, 2010)
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References
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