Globalization and Communications

The following quote indicates the complexity of globalization and communications: “Overlay cultural behavior and expectations on the roles of communication, team leadership and group dynamics, and you immediately understand. Moreover, there are logistics to overcome: challenges inherent in working in different time zones, lots of travel, and busy conflicting schedules” [61]. Research has shown that global virtual teams face multiple challenges, including communication, culture, technology, and leadership [62]. In addition to these challenges, organizations are often unprepared to make the changes necessary to be successful in the global virtual environment. Many lack training in inclusiveness, necessary for dealing with multiple cultures, and do not have the technology available to provide virtual teams with the tools needed for success. Planning and strategy must be in place prior to the decision to “go global” or “do virtual” for an organization to be competitive. Not all companies are able to do so, nor should all companies.

Barriers to Globalization

Globalization, or the expansion of an organization beyond domestic boundaries, is a strategic decision for a company. Several factors may limit an organization from expanding globally. One of the biggest issues facing a company that hopes to globalize is the ability or inability to localize to “fit” the country it is marketed in without raising production and distribution costs [63]. If the company is unable to do this, then globalization may not be an alternative for them. The global economy is also a factor that may prevent expansion. Fluctuating exchange rates and the costs of labor, distribution, and possibly production can inhibit the move to global enterprise. Companies with little or no profit margin are at high risk when moving into global markets [64].

If the company is highly local (an example would be a company involved in lawn care products), it may not be adaptable to global expansion (such as producers of elevators or cameras) [65]. Foreign countries that have little or no presence of similar competing products may be unsuccessful markets. The ability to globalize also requires the ability to understand the needs of the customer. To move into a global position in an area that does not need the product or service shows a lack of strategic planning on the part of the organization. No amount of virtual communication or project work can change the fact that the organization does not fit the needs of the chosen country. The degree of vertical integration already in place in the organization, backward or forward, may decrease the number of economies of global marketing [66]. In addition, the lack of foreign strategic partnerships, joint ventures, and alliances may prohibit international growth [67]. Domestic and foreign regulations may prohibit entrance into the global market. This would be applicable to banking, insurance, and other highly regulated industries. Some industries may face expensive foreign barriers, such as licensing, that may make services and products noncompetitive in the global market.

Lack of understanding of foreign customer preferences and business and country cultures and lack of international management experience are reasons why an organization should not consider expanding globally. Working on global project management teams requires an understanding of cultural differences, access to the right individuals in each culture represented, and common goals and communication technologies. Organizations need to allocate appropriate technologies to provide the necessary mediums of communication for global project management.

The infrastructure of the organization has to be able to support the communication and technology systems necessary for international communication. In addition, the individuals within the organization need to have training and the ability to use the technology necessary. Global organizations should consider mandatory cross-cultural training in communication, project management, working in multicultural teams, and stakeholder management. There should be guidelines in place and support for project managers, from help in writing charters to selecting communication and collaboration technologies to relationship building and more, to ensure the success of the global project team.

Communicating Across Cultures

Cultural Fluency

Culture and communication are linked by the ability to identify, understand, and apply cultural variables, described as cultural fluency [68]. Cultural fluency should be a top priority for organizations with multicultural, international virtual projects. Individuals on project teams can represent a mix of different cultures, religions, competencies, ages, genders, and nationalities; and often this diversity can produce more innovations for the organization than a homogeneous team could produce.

Cultural fluency, or the ability to cross cultural boundaries, can be increased by employing good listening skills to notice international differences. Marchetti’s [69] advice that listening to and focusing on customers increases effective sales communication can be applied to global project communications. Input from international team members is a major part of a successful global project, but the international partners must be listened to and understood. Language is a major issue in understanding and being understood in global teams. Individuals who speak the same first language may have difficulty understanding team members from different cultures attempting to speak in their language.

Cross-cultural communication interactions that improve cultural fluency include listening, avoiding ambiguity, respecting differences, and understanding without judgment [70]. Cultural sensitivity is one of the top competencies an international virtual project manager can have. As one international project manager (anonymous) says:

I think one of the most important things when working with diverse teams is to realize that not everyone has the same cultural background, and this may impact how they act, interact, and react. This doesn’t mean you have to know every culture around the world, but you do need to have this awareness.

This type of mindfulness regarding cultural awareness is essential to communicating with cultural fluency.

Training in cultural fluency is important in global organizations. Cultural competence, or the knowledge and understanding about other races, ethnic groups, cultures, and minority groups, can be taught in the classroom or online. The project manager can incorporate team-building exercises, formal training, or coaching as a strategy to improve cultural fluency among the team members. Included in this training should be the legal issues that surround diversity. Discrimination on the basis of race, ethnic background, religion, age, gender, and physical disability, for example, is illegal in the United States and many countries. Developing cultural fluency means not only embracing cultural diversity but also understanding the law. For the global leader or project manager, cultural fluency can also be accomplished through studying other cultures and customs, language immersion classes, traveling to other countries, participating in community activities, and socially seeking out individuals who are different.

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