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Multicultural Management in Virtual Project Setting

Introduction

The new communication strategy of the internet is linking individuals and organizations all over the world. This technology is making routine face-to-face meetings among team project members less necessary compared to the past (Quinn 1983, p. 121). Virtual project teams can work within and between geographically separated areas without ever physically getting together. Virtual project teams can be very effective for product development but there are several side effects due to the physical separation of the team members. These problems include the lowered level of trust among team members and the frequent lack of effective communication patterns. This article will address the critical issues faced by managers in virtual project management and possible solutions to the issues. It will also give two real-world comparisons and the ethical implications of the problems and the identified solutions.

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Critical issues faced by managers in multicultural management

Cultural differences are inevitable in projects that use virtual team members from around the globe. Therefore managers in the virtual environment must pay attention to cultural differences and recognize how they affect the team members in terms of attitudes, values and behavior (Jeffrey 2009, p. 341). Failure of the manager to recognize and deal with cultural elements of the team may result in problems with the project deliverable attributes of time, cost and performance. Cultural differences may result in communication problems where different symbols may be interpreted in different ways by different people, thus result in misunderstandings. A team member might summarily discount messages that are not consistent with his own cultural norms. Conflict might occur due to a mismatch between implicit culturally based assumptions of the members.

Cultural differences affect the decision-making process. Depending on one’s background, some team members may prefer democratic decision-making. This is because an idea can be discussed by others and democracy is easy to achieve when everybody has equal status in the team. Other team members prefer census-oriented decision-making. Therefore decision-making is affected by cultural differences in a virtual project setting thus making the process very complicated (Chakma 2009, p. 204).

Cultural differences in a virtual project setting influence the kind of leader to be chosen. Some cultures believe in equality and do not want a person with more powers than others if there is no obvious reason for it. On the other hand, other cultures demand a leader who is associated with autocratic decision-making and authority. This is a challenge to a manager because some team members may give him the due respect he deserves due to their background.

The disparity in understanding is common with virtual teams and is a result of larger geographical spans. Chakma (2009, p. 204) observes, “Common misunderstanding that may occur in phone conversation may be as a result of different interpretations of the significance of silence and pause in different cultures”.

The original birth culture of each team member impacts the project in many ways. One team member might evaluate another team’s member behavior by the standards of his own culture, based on the belief that one’s own culture is superior to the other (Tanlamai & Wattanasupachoke 2005, p 89). The cultural background, affiliation and past experience of each team member may be a source of frustration and irritation. This is because team members may try to challenge each other with their different beliefs depending on their origin. This will result in a lack of cohesiveness among the team members and thus their performance will be poor.

Managers face the problem of mistrust among the team project members because most virtual teams are not able to build any mutual relationship as communication is only completed through the help of computers. Lack of trust has resulted in members viewing other person’s views as invalid. This results in people ignoring a solution to a problem that may be initiated by a member. This also results in poor performance due to ignoring views from some members which may be important.

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Stereotyping is also a critical issue faced by managers in multicultural management of multicultural virtual projects. Stereotyping of other members is based on an individual’s views and attitudes towards members of a specific group which is based on incomplete information. If stereotypes are negative, they will dramatically thwart team building.

Solutions to the Multicultural problems

There is a need for the managers to develop a culture of “common language for the official language since such projects employ people from different nationalities” (Gibson & Cohen 2003, p.23). For example, English can be used as a link language for international projects. It is important for the manager to recognize that a team member who is fluent in languages other than his native language may react differently to verbal and written terms (Gibson & Cohen 2003, p. 423). Misunderstanding can be minimized by adopting a mechanism where messages are made simple, clear and direct, which eventually minimizes any form of distortion. For example, once English has been chosen as the main language for use, “communication should be based on a vocabulary that is limited to essential and unambiguous words” (Tanlamai & Wattanasupachoke 2005, p. 89).

Managers should help the team members to adopt a unique project-specific culture. This can be achieved through the process of learning and by interacting with one’s environment. A unique project-specific culture will help the members to embrace and not avoid cultural differences. The cultural background, affiliation and past experience of each team member must be acknowledged as a prelude to leveraging the cultural differences as a source of inspiration and discovery. Honesty, openness and directness will help in making a cohesive team, independent of the cultural origins of the team members.

Managers should help the team members to trust each other. The behaviors, interrelationships, teamwork and performance of the entire team are affected significantly by the manner in which a team member views, relates to and shows respect to other team members (Buchanan 2004, p.104). The practice of trustworthiness helps individuals to overcome barriers of psychological and geographical barriers that come with virtual communication. Cultural dimensions of relationships must be considered when implementing virtual project plans. Respect should be taken as a skill to be learned by team members, thus making it an acquired concept rather than a natural knowledge. Any form of judgment can be paused so that one can seek various opinions as far as the issue is concerned.

Information technology must help create and maintain a common identity among the team members. Knowing the identity of the people with whom one is communicating is essential for a full understanding of the explicit and implicit components of a particular interaction. In online communication, “people will be judged by the value of their ideas rather than the gender, race, religion, national origins, class or age” (Tanlamai & Wattanasupachoke 2005, p. 91). Communicating with a team member without knowing the rank and the status of the person helps in building respect. This helps team members to value one’s idea or accept a person’s solution to a problem.

Conflict management is important in a virtual project setting. There is a high likelihood of conflict occurring because of the inability to interact one-on-one. When a manager spots potential conflict, he should encourage debate and open discussion and at the same time orchestrate a win-win solution.

Real-world examples

Edmunds.com is a successful virtual organization that acts as a one-stop-shop for the automobile market. The organization has divided its market by grouping related services together online. These services include insurance services, leasing facilities, spare parts and car dealerships in seamless bundles to meet the customer’s requirements (Goncalves 2004, p. 367). Edmund gets referral fees from the connections made between customers and service providers. The firm maintains its central position in the webs that it creates by broking connections with the buyers. For example, the company creates this connection with the buyers by setting up special interest groups for classic cars (Koster 2009, p. 213). The firm also creates a broking connection with the sellers by linking finance companies with car dealerships. Edmund Company can be regarded as one of the successful networked organizations.

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Computer-aided software engineering (CASE) is a tool supplier and their main customer is the United Kingdom. The company designs different types of software applications for customers. The virtual team made the company meet the needs of the customers effectively and with a lot of ease (Goncalves 2004, p. 367). The company was also able to overcome the geographical problems by making the interaction between the company and the clients possible through networking.

Ethical implications

Ethical issues are very important for a good project leader. The issue of ethics becomes very crucial when the project is distributed all over the world. A leader of a virtual team has different ethical characteristics compared to traditional project leaders. Due to advancements in information and communication technology, it has become easy to control a virtual team (McMahon 2001, p. 324). There are some challenges associated with virtual leadership like geographical dispersion, communication issues and cultural issues. These challenges are associated with leadership qualities affecting the ethical matters of a project leader.

Ethical issues found in virtual projects are also known as e-ethics and they include unethical use of sensitive material, unethical behaviors and superficial codes of conduct. Other ethical issues in virtual projects are ethics of care and developing a caring environment, social isolation in the virtual community and lack of stakeholder involvement or dissatisfied stakeholders in the project. With these ethical issues, a successful project leader is one who can coordinate nontraditionally distributed stakeholders. He should also be in a position to provide satisfactory solutions by which stakeholders’ expectations can be realized.

Virtue project setting includes people from different parts of the world. These people have cultural differences which affect the communication process, decision-making process and even the leadership style (McMahon 2001, p. 324). A manager must try to solve these problems in order to ensure the good performance of the team members. There are ethical issues that arise in a multicultural virtue project settings. Due to communication differences, some team members may feel discriminated against because they cannot fluently communicate in the common language chosen. They feel inferior which results in them opting to remaining silent and not giving their opinion about the organization.

Managers must adopt a good decision-making process for the virtual project setting. Some cultures believe in a democratic way of solving problems. On the other hand, some cultures believe in the census as a way of solving problems where members have to agree on a certain issue (Goncalves 2006, p. 534). When a manager adopts one way of decision-making and solving problem, ethical issues will arise because some members will be discriminated against. Some people are quick decision-makers while others are slow which may also result in ethical issues when a certain procedure is adopted.

Multicultural in virtual project setting may result in some people feeling more superior than others depending on their background. People with good decision-making skills and good communication skills may take the authority in virtual projects while those who are poor in communication and are slow decision-makers may not get the chance to be leaders thus making them feel inferior and discriminated against.

Conclusion

Managers in a virtual project setting face a lot of challenges due to the cultural differences of the team members. This article has given how cultural difference affects the communication process, decision-making process, leadership and trustworthiness of the members. It has also explained how the manager can solve these problems resulting from the cultural differences in a virtual project setting. There are ethical issues that result from cultural differences and in solving these. This article has also explained how these ethical issues arise.

Reference List

  1. Buchanan, E. (2004) Readings in virtual research ethics: issues and controversies. Chicago: Idea Group Inc (IGI).
  2. Chakma, J. &Calcagno, J.(2009) Is it Virtuous to be Virtual? New York: The VC Viewpoint.
  3. Gibson, B. & Cohen, S. (2003) Virtual teams that work: creating conditions for virtual team effectiveness. Chicago: John Wiley and Sons.
  4. Goncalves, M. (2004) Managing virtual projects. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  5. Goncalves, M. (2006) Implementing the Virtual Project Management Office. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  6. Jeffrey, P. (2009) Project Management. New York: Pearson Education.
  7. Koster, K. (2009) International Project Management. Chicago: SAGE Publications Ltd.
  8. McMahon, P. (2001) Virtual project management: software solutions for today and the future. Chicago: CRC Press.
  9. Quinn, E. and Cameron, K.(1983) Organizational Life Cycles and Shifting Criteria of Effectiveness. Chicago: CRC press.
  10. Tanlamai, A. & Wattanasupachoke, T. (2005) E-commerce Model of Virtual Enterprises. New York: The Business Review, Cambridge.

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