Academic journal article Management International Review

Building Bridges, Windows and Cultures: Mediating Mechanisms between Team Heterogeneity and Performance in Global Teams

Academic journal article Management International Review

Building Bridges, Windows and Cultures: Mediating Mechanisms between Team Heterogeneity and Performance in Global Teams

Article excerpt

Abstract and Key Results

* While research on teams shows evidence that heterogeneous composition and global dispersion creates difficulties, it has yet to holistically address how to overcome those difficulties without losing the intended benefits.

* We describe four mechanisms to mediate the difficulties created by heterogeneous composition and global dispersion on global teams.

Key Words

Team Heterogeneity, Performance, Global Teams, Global Dispersion

Introduction

Global teams involve significant investments by MNEs, and authors of work aimed at both management scholars and practicing managers have taken notice. A recent literature search produced 113 articles on global teams, only 6 of them published prior to 1995. (1) The increasing research attention to global teams reflects the fact that operating effectively in a global business environment requires integrating ideas and activities from around the globe and responding to and learning from local markets (Bartlett/Ghoshal 1989), and that global teams play an important role in effective management of globally dispersed businesses (Snow et al. 1996). Global teams are teams made up of people from different parts of a multinational organization working together to achieve a team-specific mandate that is global in its scope (Maznevski/DiStefano 2000).

A global team's mandate typically dictates both diverse membership and globally dispersed locations. Members represent different parts of a multinational organization, may come from different countries and cultures, and may also represent different business functions. In this paper we assert that existing research on global teams has not adequately addressed methods to mitigate the difficulties associated with heterogeneity and distance and still capitalize on the heterogeneity deliberately designed in the team. Specifically, common approaches to mitigating the problems associated with heterogeneity and distance may wipe out the benefits to be gained. Drawing from recent research, we develop a model explaining why global teams need to develop both social integration (a sense of cohesion and trust among team members) and self-verification (a process by which team members express their unique perspectives and receive acknowledgement about them from their teammates) in order to reap the full benefits from heterogeneity. We make a distinction between deliberate and collateral heterogeneity, and then argue that global teams need to be designed for deliberate heterogeneity, and then both deliberate and collateral heterogeneity need to be managed. Finally, we propose two mechanisms that contribute to social integration and two mechanisms that contribute to self-verification on global teams. Before developing our propositions, we detail key characteristics of heterogeneity and distance for global teams.

Key Characteristics of Global Teams

Two characteristics differentiate global teams from other types of teams: (1) deliberate and collateral heterogeneity on multiple dimensions, and (2) a globally dispersed work environment. Both heterogeneity and distance provide the opportunity for high performance as the global teams tap into expertise unavailable locally, but both heterogeneity and distance also create well-documented barriers to team performance.

Deliberate and Collateral Heterogeneity

Global teams often have multiple dimensions of heterogeneity. Some dimensions are demographic, like nationality, culture, gender, and age, and some dimensions stem from intra-organizational boundaries, like functional expertise. Some subsidiary locations have different organizational cultures, different administrative histories, play different roles within the MNE (Birkinshaw/Hood 1998), and have different levels of power depending on market share or the resources available in that location (Davison 1994).

Depending on the task, global teams will be deliberately heterogeneous on some dimensions, and collaterally heterogeneous on other dimensions. …

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