Cultural considerations etm5361 msis5600 managing virtual project teams
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Cultural Considerations ETM5361/MSIS5600 Managing Virtual Project Teams. Nicholas C. Romano, Jr., Ph.D. [email protected] Paul E. Rossler, Ph.D., P.E. [email protected] Overview. What types or dimensions of culture are encountered in virtual teams?

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Cultural Considerations ETM5361/MSIS5600 Managing Virtual Project Teams

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Cultural Considerations ETM5361/MSIS5600Managing Virtual Project Teams

Nicholas C. Romano, Jr., Ph.D.

[email protected] E. Rossler, Ph.D., P.E.

[email protected]


  • What types or dimensions of culture are encountered in virtual teams?

  • Is culture a management variable or is it a constraint more often than not?

  • What is alignment?

  • What makes alignment difficult to achieve in general and in virtual teams in particular?

What is culture?

“People in organizations, as in social life generally, generate ideologies that tell them what is, how it got that way, and what ought to be. Such ideologies form the substance of cultures. They are not rationally based belief systems. Rather they are relatively implicit sets of taken-for granted beliefs, values, and norms.” (Trice and Beyer, The Cultures of Work Organizations, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1993, p. 2)

Margaret Mead’s Definition of Culture

  • Shared patterns of behavior

    • Coming of Age in Samoa, 1953

  • Behavioral definition

    • Same behavior can have different significance

    • Different types of behavior can have the same meaning, for example, eye contact

  • Observation not sufficient to detect differences

Schein’s Definition of Culture

Shared solutions to universal problems of external adaptation (how to survive) and internal integration (how to stay together) which have evolved over time and are handed down from one generation to the next

  • Schein, 1985

Geertz’s definition of culture

  • Systems of shared meaning or understanding

  • Meaning expressed as value and attitude

    • underlying assumptions are not always clear

    • culture is a code

      • must be broken to understand it

  • Culture is ”thick”

Functional Culture

  • Engineering

  • Software Development

  • Research and Development

  • Sales and Marketing

  • Production and Manufacturing

“The Alien from Outer Space” Exercise

Imagine that an alien spacecraft is hovering over your workplace, collecting data on the decisions people make and the behaviors they exhibit toward one another and customers. As part of his (or her or its) 4th grade science project, the alien must submit a report that lists the rules that seem to be guiding people’s decisions and behaviors. What rules do you think would be found on that list?

Company A

Share your ideas because; you’ll get credit for them

He who does the best work gets rewarded

Tell it like it is

Company B

Play it close to the vest; information is power

He who does the best work gets the most work

Shoot the messenger

Example rules

Culture has long been considered a part of the teamwork equation

  • Forming

  • Storming

  • Norming

  • Performing

Note that culture is not a value-laden term. A team’s culture can facilitate effective teamwork as easily as it can inhibit effective teamwork.

Willingness to


Level of Interpersonal Trust

Propensity to Experiment and Adapt

Comfort Level

With Changes

Form Cross-





Integration of

Diverse Skills


Team Leadership

Top Management’s

Tolerance for Delays

and Failures

Access to Information

and Resources

(Based on Jassawalla, A.R. and H.C. Sashittal, 1999)

Types or categories of cultures that can affect virtual teams

  • National

  • Organizational

  • Functional

Dimensions of National Culture

  • Power distance

  • Uncertainty avoidance

  • Individualism-collectivism

  • Masculinity-femininity

  • Long term-short term

  • High or low context

(Source: Hofstede and Hall as presented in Duarte and Snyder, 2001)

Types or categories of cultures that affect virtual teams

  • National - “collective mental programming” of the people of any particular nationality

    “inherited ethical habit” that can consist of an idea or value, or of a relationship

  • Organizational - management styles, appraisals, rewards, and communication styles used by employees.

  • Professional - ingrained through highly structured formal education during formative years and continued through training programs.

  • Functional - norms and habits associated with functional roles within the organization, such as marketing, R&D, and manufacturing.

  • Team - emerges from bonding through common work experiences.

Hofstede’s Dimensions of National Culture

  • Power Distance

  • Uncertainty Avoidance

  • Individualism-Collectivism

  • Masculinity-Femininity

  • Long term-Short term

  • High or Low context

(Source: Hofstede and Hall as presented in Duarte and Snyder, 2001)

Lessen and Nebulae - effect of national culture

  • Pragmatism that is a dominant influence in the conceptualizing of management principles and practice.

  • Rationalism that is defined as a theory, which regards reason than sense as the foundation of certainty in knowledge.

    · Idealism/Holismthat is something made up of parts in combination, a complex unity or system.

    · Humanism that defined as pertaining to the social life or collective relations of mankind.

Lewis differentiates mono- and polychronic cultures

  • Monochronic cultures that act in a focused manner, concentrating on one thing at a time within a set time scale

  • Polychronic cultures that are flexible and unconstrained by concerns with time

Trompenaars National Cultural Parameters

  • Universalism vs. Particularism: The universalist approach is to say that what is good and right applies everywhere, while the particularist emphasizes the obligations of relationships.

  • Collectivism vs. Individualism: Similar to Hofstede’s model.

  • Neutral vs. Emotional: Some cultures are affective in that they show emotions while others are neutral, control and subdue their emotions

  • Specific vs. Diffuse: In specific oriented cultures the manager separates the work relationships with subordinates from other dealings with them.

  • Status: While some cultures give status on the basis of achievement, others ascribe it on the basis of age, class, gender, education, etc.

  • Sequential vs. Synchronic: In the former cultures time is treated as a sequence of events while on later cultures a number of events are juggled at the same time.

  • Inner-Directed vs. Outer-Directed: The former cultures believe that they can and should control nature while the later go along with nature.

Hall’s Five Dimensions of National Culture

  • Space: Different cultures have different attitudes towards space. Social distance or bubbles vary by culture.

  • Material Goods: Such goods are used for power and status.

  • Friendship: Interpersonal relationships vary considerably across cultures.

  • Time: Linear time cultures take time and deadlines very seriously, in a very rationalist sense. Time is structured, sequential and linear.

  • Agreement: Expressing agreement and disagreement varies by culture. In some cultures the detailed written contract is essential to agreement, while in others a handshake is sufficient.

Fukuyama – Trust and Culture

  • Low Trustsocieties can organize workplace on a more flexible and group-oriented basis - responsibility delegated to lower levels of the organization

  • High Trustsocieties must fence in and isolate their workers with a series of bureaucratic rules

Overview of National Cultural Models

Dimensions of Organizational Culture

  • Clan vs. market

    • “Relationship” oriented vs. results oriented

  • Hierarchy vs. adhocracy

    • Procedures vs. adaptive

(Source: Cameron and Quinn as presented in Duarte and Snyder, 2001)

Functional Culture

  • Engineering

  • Software Development

  • Research and Development

  • Sales and Marketing

  • Production and Manufacturing

Is culture a given or is it a variable or is it both?

  • Ontogenetic Hypothesis

    • More compatible with current culture, greater likelihood of effective implementation and use

  • Cultural Lag Hypothesis

    • Changes in the social dimensions of culture typically lag behind changes in the technological (material) dimensions

A Framework for Using Cultural Models Dimensions in Virtual Teams

Possible “cultural states”

26 x 22 x 51 = 1,280

National – 6 variables, 2 states

Organizational - 2 variables, 2 states

Functional – 1 variable, 5 states

Personality also plays a role

  • Heredity and experience (nature v. nurture)

    • Nature can be reinforced or mitigated by nurture (and vice versa)

  • Jung’s typology (Myers-Briggs)

    • Introvert-extrovert

    • Thinking-feeling

    • Sensing-intuitive

    • Perceiving-judgmental

Some teams’ cultures are better than others

  • At-stakeness

  • Transparency

  • Mindfulness

  • Synergy

    In other words, team members are “aligned”

Source: Jassawalla, A.R. and H.C. Sashittal, Building collaborative cross-functional product teams. Academy of Management Executive, 1999. 13(3): p. 50-63.

What is alignment? The textbook definition

“The condition where appropriate project participants are working within accepted tolerances to develop and meet a uniformly defined and understood set of project objectives.”

Griffith, A. F. and G.E. Gibson (2001). "Alignment during pre-project planning." Journal of Management in Engineering 17(2): 69-76.

Griffith, A. F. and G.E. Gibson (2001). "Alignment during pre-project planning." Journal of Management in Engineering 17(2): 69-76.

The word on the street…

“Everyone rowing in the same direction

singing from the same sheet of music

and being on the same page.”

Griffith, A. F. and G.E. Gibson (2001). "Alignment during pre-project planning." Journal of Management in Engineering 17(2): 69-76.

Intra-Organizational Project Alignment






& Design







Adapted from Griffith and Gibson (2001)


Inter-Organizational Project-Team Alignment


Organization A






Organization B





(Source: Romano, Moran, and Rossler, 2003)

(Source: Romano, Moran, and Rossler, 2003)


  • Culture influences virtual team performance

  • Virtual teams often cut across different national, organizational, and functional cultures

  • Achieving goal and implementation alignment is challenging

  • How to influence culture in reliable, predictable ways is a matter of uncertainty

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