Critical Situations in Multicultural Teams. Challenges for Multinational Companies

Bachelor Thesis 2014 49 Pages

Business economics - Business Management, Corporate Governance


List of Contents

2 List of Figures

3 Introduction

4 Theoretical Background
4.1 An Era of Globalization
4.2 The Character of a Multicultural Team (MCT)
4.2.1 Definition of a Team
4.2.2 Types of Diversity in Teams
4.3 The Concept of Culture
4.3.1 What exactly is Culture?
4.4 Dimensions of Culture
4.4.1 The Multi-Level Model of Culture
4.5 Emotions: An Attempt for classification
4.5.1 Emotions in the Workplace
4.5.2 The Group Emotion
4.5.3 Emotion Management in Multicultural Teams
4.5.4 Emotional Meaning Across Cultures
4.6 Basic Emotions and Expressions
4.6.1 The Basic Emotions Approach
4.6.2 The Basic Expressions Approach
4.6.3 Emotion Display and Culture
4.6.4 Emotions and Diversity
4.6.5 Trust in Multicultural Teams
4.6.6 The Theory of Emotional Intelligence
4.6.7 The Terms Emotion and Intelligence
4.6.8 Intelligence Defined
4.6.9 Emotions Defined
4.6.10 Models of Emotional Intelligence
4.6.11 The Ability Model
4.7 Measurement of Emotional Intelligence
4.7.1 Perceiving emotions

5 Performance of Multicultural Teams
5.1 The Health of a Team
5.2 The Five Frames of Performance and Health
5.3 Multicultural Team Effectiveness
5.4 A Model for Multicultural Team Effectiveness

6 Stages of Emotion Process
6.1 Feedback Theory
6.2 Appraisal Theory
6.3 An Emotion Process Model
6.3.1 Stages of the Emotion Process Model

7 Emotional Intelligence as A Success Factor for Multicultural Teams
7.1 Mutual Trust
7.2 Team identity
7.3 Team Efficacy

8 Conclusion

9 References

2 List of Figures

Figure 1. Multi-Level Model of Culture (Erez and Gati, 2004, p. 588)

Figure 2. Multicultural Team Effectiveness Model (Halverson and Tirmizi, 2008, p. 9)

Figure 3. Emotion Process Model (Elfenbein and Shikaro, 2006, p. 273)

Figure 4. A Model of Team Effectiveness (Druskat and Wolff, 2011, p. 83)

3 Introduction

As a result of the increasing globalization the business world gets interconnected and more and more organizations are operating internationally. Such multinational companies often rely on successful teamwork to reach goals and to compete on the fast-paced global market. Indeed, teamwork plays a variety of important roles; when employees with varying skill sets and ideas are working together in a team not only information and knowledge can be shared, successful teamwork can also lead to faster results. A group of employees clearly can achieve more than one individual alone.

Teams, whose members come from different nations and backgrounds place special demands on operations, diversity clearly adds complexity and a longer learning curve for establishing effective processes.

In the multicultural team, obviously, culture itself is one significant characteristic, in addition the role of emotions in the team have gained increasing interest in the last years. Nevertheless, research in this field is scarce and through adding an additional variable – culture, the multicultural character is making research even more complicate. Practitioners report that where people work together, emotions are not far to seek. While influencing our thinking and behavior, the effects of emotions and the resulting behavior can either be positive, or negative.

In multicultural teams an awareness of emotions seems to be especially important as cultural differences in emotion processing and diversity among members may cause negative emotion and lead to conflict and misunderstandings what may have serious consequences reducing performance.

The aim of this paper is to identify challenges for multinational teams focusing on emotions within the team, and to propose emotional intelligence as an approach to multicultural team effectiveness.

The two research questions guiding this work are:

1. What role do emotions play in the multicultural team?
2. Is emotional intelligence connected with multicultural team effectiveness?

4 Theoretical Background

4.1 An Era of Globalization

Within the last two decades globalization has become the buzzword to describe the current state of the world. We are living in a – or even the global age (Albrow 1996).

The historical origins of globalization are the subject of on-going debate. Several scientists situate the origin of globalization in the modern age, while others debate that the world did not turn „global“ over night and accordingly regard it as continuous process with a long history. For instance Osterhammel and Petersson (2005, p. 28) argue that the origins of globalization can be traced back to the 1750s-1880s an era of free trade.

A phenomenon described as a process of the sudden increase in the exchange of knowledge, information and ideas, trade and immigration driven by technological innovation. From the internet to shipping containers, globalization has brought advances in telecommunications and a rapid increase in economic and financial interdependence all around the globe.

According to Arnett, (2002, p. 774) globalization is seen as one of the most significant and commonly known changes taking place in today’s work environment.

The world gets increasingly interconnected; this unstoppable integration is exposing people to divergent ways of thinking and acting to cope with differing cultural values, norms and behavior.

The phenomenally rapid expansion of many sorts of global business interaction and likewise the proliferation of transnational corporations determines individuals of different cultural backgrounds to interact with each other in day-to-day workplace situations more intensively than before. Setting up multicultural teams to work, develop and transfer ideas, has become an important issue to be competitive and attractive at international level, based on longevity, integrity and commercial success.

4.2 The Character of a Multicultural Team (MCT)

4.2.1 Definition of a Team

A team can be defined as “an interdependent collection of individuals who work together towards a common goal and who share responsibility for specific outcomes of their organization”. (Sundstrom et al. 1990, p. 120).

A team is always a group (of individuals) but a group is not necessarily a team.

According to Mabey and Caird (1994, p. 7-9) the main characteristics for what is considered a team are as follows:

A team refers to two or more individuals who contribute their respective competences within interdependent roles towards the accomplishment of a common goal.

There is the team identity, which is distinct from the individual members’ identities along with established methods of communicating within the team and with external teams. The organized and purposeful structure is explicit, tank as well as goal orientated and the effectiveness of the team is reviewed periodically.

4.2.2 Types of Diversity in Teams

A distinction can be made in relation to the criteria diversity. “Team members can have very similar or quite different backgrounds”. (Adler and Gundersen, 2007 p. 132); they distinguish: Homogeneous teams including all members that have a similar cultural background, in contrast to heterogeneous teams the members are generally perceiving, interpreting and evaluating more similarly. In Token teams one single member has a culturally differing background whereby that particular person is the so-called “token”. Bicultural teams consist of members who represent two distinct cultures, such as a fifty-fifty partnership between two different cultures, and finally Multicultural teams whereas the members are coming from three or more cultural backgrounds.

In multicultural team settings there are two important aspects playing a major role.

The influencing factors in the collaboration with members of different cultural backgrounds are culture and emotions.

4.3 The Concept of Culture

4.3.1 What exactly is Culture?

No fixed universal understanding does exist; there is little consensus. Over the last century researchers on culture such as anthropologists, psychologists and others have attempted to describe culture from various perspectives. To some culture is learned behavior while by others it is just seen as an abstraction from behavior and not as behavior at all. For example the American Psychologist Harry Triandis describes culture as a “by human made part of the environment” (1989, p. 306); and Hofstede, Dutch social psychologist (1991, p. 5), defines culture as the collective programming of the mind. However, most of the theorists roughly agree on definitions as, culture, a collection of values, norms and beliefs shared by a group of people and consequently guiding their thinking and actions.

The above attempts to define culture and citations as, “cultures are like underground rivers that run through our lives and relationships, giving us messages that shape our perceptions, attributions, judgments, and ideas of self and other” (LeBaron, 2003, p.1), strongly suggest that there is more to it than common sense characteristics as language, religion, dress codes or national dishes, thus there is way more to culture than we might notice in the first place.

Furthermore, culture it is a pattern of responses developed within a particular group of people, aroused from interactions between its members. Those responses are considered the correct way to perceive, feel, think and behave, including observable actions as the way people greet or say good-bye to each other. No matter if social habits, specific behavior or attitudes, those patterns are automatically passed on to all hands of a culture through transmission and learning.

Culture is, the unwritten rules of a society, determines what is right; what is wrong, what is inappropriate and what is considered important or unimportant; including the learned and shared assumptions, along with norms and values (Culture, n.d., BusinessDictionary).

4.4 Dimensions of Culture

Over the last decades, intercultural issues have received an explosion of interest. Many ways of approaching cultural diversity were introduced.

For instance Hofstede’s (1980, p. 65ff.) dimensions of culture have been widely influential in the last 30 years. A simple and easily comprehensible model was provided to make direct comparisons in terms of cross-national differences. However, shared experiences, values, and basic assumptions that were adaptive in the past may not be adaptive at present, or in the future because of contextual changes (Triandis, 1994, cited in Erez and Gati, 2004, p. 586).

In former dimensions of culture the overemphasis on differences only related to the cultural heritage has resulted in stereotyped judgments and biases. The possibility of significant within-country variations in cultures has practically been ignored; variations such as, regional or personal life experience and personality traits. Indeed, cultural differences include a variety of parameters combined that go beyond national borders.

The changing work environment and increasing cultural complexity in response to globalization requires dynamic, rather than stable models of culture to serve for understanding.

4.4.1 The Multi-Level Model of Culture

A multi-level model (Figure 1.) was introduced to define cultural differences beyond just the national culture, to embody the dynamic nature of culture.

Characterized by two significant dimensions: The structural dimension referring to the hierarchy of levels nested within one another. The individual level (cultural self representation) is the most internal one nested within group culture, organizational culture, national Culture and global culture. Erez and Gati (2004, p. 587) define the boundaries of the collective at the national level as partly determined by the shared agreement on desired, or existing values in the society. The level nested with national culture is the level of organizational culture. According to Schein (1992, p. 18) in an organizational culture members of the same organization share a set of beliefs and values that influence their behaviors. At the team level shared values by team members such as interpersonal trust, shared learning orientation and support reflect a group culture (Bunderson and Sutcliffe, 2003, p. 552ff.; Edmondson, 2002, p.128ff.). Finally, cultural values in the individual level are reflected as represented in the independent self.

The model is characterized by structural as well as dynamic dimensions. The dynamic dimension refers to the interrelationships among the various levels of cultures and how they affect each other. During top-down processes of socialization individuals internalize the shared meaning system of the particular society and the individual self

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 1. Multi-Level Model of Culture (Erez and Gati, 2004, p. 588)

represents its values, taking a multi-level approach, where each cultural level serves as the context and stimulates a process of adaptation and change in the cultural levels below it, such as the macro level of the global culture influences the national culture and the national culture further affects the meso level of organizations and groups which in turn affects the individual and cultural self-representation.

Reciprocally bottom-up processes of interaction and sharing also exist. Emerging from the individual level, behavioral norms and cultural characteristics of higher-level entities are formed at group, organizational and national levels (Erez and Gati, 2004, p. 590). As soon as most members of the organization (the level) share the new cultural norms the process permeates the group and organizational levels. Once modified, the organizational culture becomes a meso-level construct and when it is further shared by all organizations in a region, it becomes a national-level culture.

4.5 Emotions: An Attempt for classification

4.5.1 Emotions in the Workplace

When making sense of what is going on around them, individuals do not only engage their rational mind but also their emotional mind (Goleman, 1995, p.20).

There is no doubt that emotions play an important role in the human mind and interactions among individuals. “When we meet people, either directly or remotely, in addition to communicating thoughts and attitudes, we also transmit emotions” (Parkinson, et al., 2005, p. 25). Social interaction always implies the experience and the expression of feelings in forms of happiness, anger, disappointment or hope and other emotions, and there is evidence that these effects can be beneficial as well as the other way around. Several studies have shown the influence of emotions on creativity, motivation and performance at individual, group and organizational levels (e.g. Ashforth & Humphrey, 1995; Ashkanasy, 2003; Fisher & Ashkanasy, 2000).

Thus, the impact of emotions on workplace interactions and behavior is of increasing interest.

4.5.2 The Group Emotion

The “group emotion” in a team is shaped by the affective experience of the team, a combination of the individual-level affective state and group- and contextual-level factors (Kelly and Barsade, 2001, p. 106). Emotions are contagious; they spread in teams (Barsade, 2002, p. 646ff.; Bartel and Saavedra, 2000, p. 197ff.). This contagion effect depends on the level of team commitment and the team climate (Totterdell et al., 1989, p. 1507ff.). Thus, if is there is a high degree of commitment in the team and a good team climate an enhanced contagion effect serves to spread emotions. Positive emotions in the team and the resulting upward spiral of excitement lead to a high degree of personal involvement and positive attitudes towards the task, whereas negative emotions have adverse consequences, they provoke conflict, distrust and fear what may result in poor team outcomes

Emotional investment influences the degree of effort exerted in the team, determines the willingness to commit oneself to the team, hence they increase relationship commitment and facilitate team survival (Saavedra and Van Dyne, 1999, p. 110ff.). Indeed, effective emotion management helps to avoid a culture of mutual dissatisfaction.

As mentioned earlier, the world gets increasingly connected and so do the people living and working in it. So what part do emotions play here?

4.5.3 Emotion Management in Multicultural Teams

Diversity clearly adds complexity to various kinds of significant team processes. In order to develop effective interaction processes in the team it is crucial to understand the role of emotions in these processes (Druskat and Wolff, 2001, p. 82ff.). The great interdependence between the members involved requires a special focus on expressing, interpreting and sense making of the emotions and feelings of individual team members. According to several studies emotional competence is connected with team effectiveness, high team performance and outstanding conflict resolution (Feyerherm and Rice, 2002, p. 343ff.; Jordan and Troth, 2004, p. 195ff.).

In matters of diversity, what actually is subject of the cultural context?

4.5.4 Emotional Meaning Across Cultures

Beginning with the very basics of cultural diversification, the question arises if there are differences in emotional meanings, to cross-cultural variation in emotion itself, and what exactly belongs inside the emotion category in one culture compared to another?

Culturalist views of emotion often focus on language, “Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going“ (Brown, 1988, p. 55). As stated in Parkinson et al (2005, p. 31), there are differences in the meaning of emotion according to language. In countries like Samoa or Tahiti the translated meaning for emotion would be “our insides” (Ifaluk); or thoughts and feelings that originate in the liver (Chewong), thus they don’t appear to have such a term as “emotions”. Or the Japanese have two different words labeling emotions in their language (kanjo and jodo), whereas “jodo” translates into something that the English would rather call personality traits. Thus, it is not clear if these Japanese words refer to the same types of feelings that is meant by emotions in the English language. Hence, emotions may be understood and evaluated differently because they mean different things (Parkinson et al, 2005, p. 25).

In English speaking countries the five most prototypical or basic emotions are “love”, “joy”, “anger”, “sadness” and “fear” (Shaver, et al., 1987, p. 1076-1079). Even though those prototypes seem to match in a wide range of languages as the Western ones, significant differences can be found in non-Western languages. For instance in the Chinese language “love” itself seemed to be just a part of the “joy” cluster and “shame” was considered a separate cluster, unlike results in the U.S. where “shame” was just a subcategory of “sadness”.



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Emotional Intelligence Multicultural Team Effectiveness Emotions in the Workplace



Title: Critical Situations in Multicultural Teams. Challenges for Multinational Companies