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date: 09 July 2020

Global Teams

Summary and Keywords

Global teams have become a basic building block for organizing work that crosses geographic boundaries. They are an alternative to more traditional forms of hierarchy-based organizing and form the foundation of what is becoming known as the global networked organization. Global teams connect people who are geographically dispersed and work together on specific projects or tasks, crossing national, cultural, organizational, and linguistic boundaries. While global teams hold promise for organizing global work, they face conditions of complexity: (1) a multiplicity of different cultural contexts, governmental requirements, and multiple diverse stakeholders; (2) interdependence brought about by global flows of capital, information, and value chains; and, (3) ambiguity of meanings despite the fact that there is plenty of information. Management scholars have conducted most of the research about global teams from 1990 to 2018. These studies have shed light on global teaming processes, including communication and collaboration, facilitation and brokerage, leadership, language and identity, shared meaning, trust, power, national and organizational culture, distance, time, and technology. Some of the factors shown to improve global team effectiveness are as follows: a clear mission and objectives, explicit expectations for members’ roles and responsibilities, facilitating relationships among team members that leads to shared knowledge and a team identity, managing cultural, language and other contextual challenges, and monitoring and managing changing environmental conditions. While knowledge has grown about how global teams function, there is still much to learn about the complexity of multilevel cultural interactions in global teams and how different influence factors interact to affect performance. In-depth, longitudinal studies by anthropologists can provide such insights. The role of anthropologists is to assist the development of global teams by bringing nuance to the ways culture manifests in team member interactions and how social relationships are enacted and understood. Anthropologists can help build a richer understanding of contextual influences and the perceptions embedded in culture that shape sense-making across multiple contexts.

Keywords: global teams, culture, virtual teams, organizations, globalization

Global Organizing and Global Teams

Global business teams have become basic building blocks for organizing work that crosses geographic boundaries. They are the future of global organizing and represent an alternative to more traditional forms of hierarchy-based organizing in global firms (Zander et al. 2015, 228). They form the foundation of what is becoming known as the global networked organization. A global team not only connects people who are geographically dispersed and working together on specific projects or tasks, but each team also links with other teams to form networks of teams across global organizations. The relationships and interactions among people within and across teams create the opportunity for both individual and team-based learning that can help the organization respond swiftly and flexibly to the continual flux and complexity that is the global marketplace. It has been proposed that “team-based organizing will become synonymous with global organizations in the future,” with a fluidity that crosses national, cultural, and linguistic boundaries.

As global organizations transition to team-based organizing, they must not only pay attention to the work task at hand but also understand how to work across different kinds of boundaries (organizational and occupational, as well as cultural) simultaneously. Global team members must learn to manage communication technology, leverage diversity, and share leadership to tap into the variety of resources and skills available to them. They also must connect and share knowledge with other teams to foster learning and produce knowledge for the organization that furthers business objectives. The challenges to effective global teaming are many. This article is about global teams as the fundamental basis of global organizing in the 21st century, what they are, what we know about how they function and what they do, and their future challenges. Throughout the article, the terms “firm,” “multinational corporation” (MNC), “organization,” and “corporation” are used interchangeably, consistent with their use in the research studies and the literature domains. All these terms refer to business organizations that span geographic, cultural, national, and time boundaries. The terms “globally distributed team,” “distributed work team,” “global team,” “multicultural distributed teams,” “cross-cultural virtual teams,” and “virtual team” as well other names for global teams (the term adopted in this article) are also used interchangeably, consistent with research domains and use by the various authors cited. As early as 2007, there were fourteen combinations of terms used to describe global teams (Connaughton and Shuffler 2007).

The focus in the article is primarily on in-depth qualitative studies of how global teams conduct their work within and across diverse contexts and the contribution of these studies to understanding global teaming processes. Qualitative studies of global teams, including those conducted by anthropologists, have provided a rich, nuanced, and detailed understanding of many different aspects of global teaming as a phenomenon in organizing with the rapid growth in the global economy. They have documented the emergence of global teams as essential to global business success. The qualitative approach, and particularly ethnography, is important to understand new phenomena such as global teams first at the micro level, in the interactions of the team members themselves. Qualitative studies also enhance understanding at the mezzo and macro levels of organizing by illuminating how the teams are situated within a conditional context as well as how they influence and are influenced by context. Anthropologists can help build a richer understanding of global teams in the larger discussion of the forces of globalization. They can reveal perceptions and practices embedded in culture that shape sense-making in the ongoing work of global teams.

Global Teams and the Global Business Context

At the turn of the 21st century, globalization was upon us in full force. As Thomas Friedman (2000) put it in his first book about globalization, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, the idea of a first world, second world, or third world was no longer valid; to Friedman, globalization meant there now was just the fast world and the slow world. Globalization is happening at an accelerating pace brought about by the economic liberalization that has freed, opened, deregulated, and privatized economies and spurred global investment as well as by the digitization of technologies that have revolutionized communication (Barkema, Joel, and Mannix 2002). The speed of globalization has altered the pace and rhythm of organizational activities and led to a level of complexity that is difficult for firms to manage. The complexity of markets has increased as well through other changes such as Brexit, the rise of tariffs and trade barriers, and the difficulty of navigating global governance. These conditions are evidence of resistance to the effects of rapid globalization, such as job loss and economic inequality. The conditions of complexity center around three major characteristics (Lane et al. 2004):

  1. 1. Multiplicity, which means that corporations have to face and function in a global environment in which there are many models of organizing and contextual differences. Governments around the world impose a myriad of requirements. Multiple competitors come from different parts of the world. Operations are located in many environments with customers who have differing demands. The supply chain is diverse, and there are multiple stakeholders, including employees coming from different cultural contexts;

  2. 2. Interdependence, with global flows of capital, information, and people who are connected economically, in multiple alliances and joint ventures, and through their value chains, such as in the global automotive industry;

  3. 3. Ambiguity that exists despite the fact that there is plenty of information. There are so many different meanings or implications for information that there is a lack of clarity and a difficulty in pinning down cause and effect.

The constantly changing global system and the increasing rate of change mean that multinational firms must move away from fixed structures and sets of policies that have become too complex to understand or control. There are ever more managers, matrices, and other organizational logics. Firms instead must focus on both processes with enough requisite variety and people with enough cognitive ability to decipher the information in the environment and to decide on the appropriate processes for managing in complex and ever-changing circumstances across space and time and determine what actions to take (Lane et al. 2004).

Globalization processes have resulted in the deterritorialization of work such that “many of us are leading lives that are to a greater or lesser degree mobile and distributed” (Jordan 2008). Multinational organizations have widely adopted global teams to manage complexity, with team members located around the world who communicate primarily through virtual means. This form of global organization is typically an “organization without location” (Weick and Van Orden 1990, 5). Global teams are the basic building blocks of global organizing because they are capable of sensing and managing environmental changes and have the flexibility to respond to them quickly and effectively, but only if they have enough internal requisite variety and have members who work well with one another. Global teams grew out of both the expansion of multinational business and the internet. Specialized professional skills, low formalization, adjustment and continual redefinition of tasks, low centralization, and a structure resembling that of a network create an organic form that relies on processes and on the integrated expertise of people to do work well in a changing and uncertain environment (Weick and Van Orden 1990, 6). Today, networked global teams constitute the dominant form of global organization.

Global teams can be conceptualized as “geographically dispersed individuals who work together using virtual communication technologies to achieve a shared objective or task for a specified period of time” (Gluesing 1998). Team members increasingly work around the clock as work flows from one location to another and for the most part do not meet regularly face-to-face, if at all. Teams can work on an immediate problem-solving task that may take only a couple of months, or longer term as almost permanent teams, such as in a sales or customer service capacity, and on work that has a duration of everything in between. Global teams may also be comprised of people working for different companies or organizations and not just in different locations within the same company, although the latter is the predominant case. Global teams can be small, with as few as three or four individuals working on a specific project, such as a targeted local marketing campaign, or as large as 300–400 people or more working on a product development team. In this latter case, the large team is best conceptualized as a network of global teams, which is the essence of the global networked organization.

The Study of Global Teams and Global Work

Methods

Over the past twenty-five years researchers studying global teams have employed multiple methods, both quantitative and qualitative, and often a mix of both. Research has been directed at understanding what makes global teams work—including their conditions, work processes, and outcomes—and how they are different from conventional, collocated teams. The majority of the published papers have appeared in the management, psychology, communication, and the organization studies literature (Gilson et al. 2015; Wasson 2006). Gibson et al. (2014, 218) examined the intersection of global and virtual to understand 21st-century teams. They conducted a review of research papers examining virtual teams, published between 2000 and 2013, and found that “372 (94.9%) of the papers included geographic dispersion, 337 (86.0%) included electronic dependence, and 153 (39%) included national or cultural diversity.” Despite acknowledging that teams are increasingly “characterized by both virtuality and cultural diversity, much of the research about team cultural diversity has been conducted in face-to-face (FTF) teams . . . of the 392 papers on virtual teams, only 18 (4.6%) assessed nation or culture and included it in empirical analyses.” There is still not enough research that investigates both virtuality and team cultural diversity and their combined effects on global team interactions and on team performance. Among the eighteen virtual team studies from 2000 to 2013 that measured national culture, eleven were studies of multiple organizations (qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods) and two were single case studies. The remaining five were experimental studies in a laboratory.

Gibson et al. (2014), in their review of published research about global teams, did not include any studies from anthropology. Yet there are some anthropologists who have used an ethnographic approach to investigate global teams. Using a pragmatist philosophy and constructionist perspective and drawing on organization studies heavily influenced by anthropology, Czarniawska (2008, 6). reviewed fieldwork methods. She diagnosed the studies’ shortcomings and pointed out that traditional ethnographies may not be the best approach to studying “the same object in different places at the same time.” She suggests that a variety of techniques as well as improvisation may be needed to adequately capture a phenomenon such as global teams where multiple sites are at play. It can be necessary to use multiple techniques such as shadowing (following a person through his or her working day), longitudinal observation and interviewing at multiple sites, diary studies, online ethnography, and multimedia tools, as well as to invent new ways of gathering information on the fly to capture the “specificity of present-day organizing, that is, its mobile, dispersed, heterogeneous and computer-mediated character” (Czarniawska 2008, 10). Jordan (2009) argued that anthropologists may be required to rethink the practice of ethnographic methods in the future by creating a hybrid ethnography that combines research in virtual and real-world spaces in which anthropologists conduct both online and offline research as boundaries blur in what she calls “hybrid” spaces. Ethnographers must locate themselves firmly within the time and space of social actors “living the global” (Gille and Riain 2002) to uncover and reveal how global teaming processes are constructed and evolve. Four examples, taken chronologically, illustrate the methods anthropologists have employed to conduct ethnographic studies of global teams.

Ethnography of Global Teaming Actions

Gluesing (1998) conducted an ethnographic study by a single anthropologist in the early 1990s as global teams were first emerging. The primary objective of this research study was to uncover and explain how people in global teams come to understand, account for, and take action in the core team context, particularly how they communicate cross-culturally and make sense of those communicative interactions within a set of interrelated conditions. To accomplish this task, the fieldwork consisted of both formal and informal interviews with team members and others in the organization who were responsible for directing the global teams, called “core teams,” and for supporting their teaming processes. Gluesing also gathered secondary documents and news items and participated in all scheduled meetings of five teams, whether virtual or face-to-face, who were the focus of the research. The study illustrates how traditional ethnographic methods of interviewing and participant observation can be employed to investigate global teamwork in hybrid spaces.

Interdisciplinary Analysis of Cognitive Convergence

Marietta Baba (Baba et al. 2004) led an interdisciplinary team of researchers that included four anthropologists (two of them graduate students), two engineers, a sociologist, a psychologist, and a management student. They explored the process by which cognitive structures or the mental maps of globally distributed team members gradually become more similar over time (cognitive convergence). There were six global teams who were part of the study and the researchers relied on multiple methods, including ethnography, statistical analysis, and modeling, to follow the teams longitudinally. Ethnographic methods included direct observation of face-to-face meetings and videoconferences, listening in on teleconferences, interviewing, collecting team documents, being included in email distribution, and participant observation to capture interactions in virtual and face-to-face situations. One of the teams was based in a Fortune 500 corporation headquartered in the United States. With manufacturing and sales operations around the world, it was the focal team for a qualitative study of the cognitive convergence process. The researchers created a natural history of the team and concluded that shared cognition in a global team context means more than simply exchanging declarative and procedural knowledge, but also suspending judgment to explore divergent beliefs and values that can lead to new knowledge and organizational innovation. These insights were only made possible by mixing learning from observation of both virtual and face-to-face interactions, from interviews with participants to understand the meanings they had for events, and from survey findings.

Linguistic Analysis of Virtual Meetings

Wasson (2006) examined virtual teams in a corporate environment by exploring how virtual meetings are different from face-to-face meetings. She observed and videotaped twelve virtual meetings distributed across four diverse groups that were comprised of teams of managers in a high-tech company. For comparison, two physically collocated groups were also observed and videotaped during five face-to-face meetings. Wasson uncovered a pattern of multitasking during virtual meetings that led her to conclude that meeting participants act in several interactional spaces at the same time and often have a multifocal pattern of attention, with a central focus on the situation in the virtual space only. To represent the interactions in both virtual space as well as local space, she also created a new linguistic anthropology transcription convention.

Multi-Site Ethnography of Virtual Work

Eaton (2011, 40), using a multi-sited ethnography (Marcus 1995, 2010) of virtual work, followed a team whose leader was in North America while the majority of the members were located in India as part of a corporate outsourcing strategy. While the methods included traditional ethnographic fieldwork, the majority of the data for the study was recovered from virtual workspaces. Eaton makes the important point that “doing ethnography in a primarily virtual workspace calls for a certain higher level of familiarity with communication technology and software than is traditionally thought of in anthropological field study.”

These examples strongly demonstrate that anthropological studies of global teams are not only possible but also valuable as sources of new knowledge about how global work actually takes place. They represent new directions in global ethnography while simultaneously challenging “some pillars of traditional ethnographic research and, indeed, the ethnographic sense” itself (Jordan 2009). Virtual ethnography both provides background and helps contextualize conventional ethnography (Friedenberg 2011). The ethnographic study of global teams and their processes is important to understand place-making, fluid boundaries, and social relations that are constructed across multiple spatial scales. Anthropologists studying global teams can make explicit how the space of places and the space of flows (Castells 2010) intersect and overlap. Ethnography is particularly well-suited to “uncovering global processes in their multiple and overlapping contexts” (Gille and Riain 2002), including the extension of sites in time and space as well as the conditions that surround them (Appadurai 1990).

Frameworks

Since the mid-1990s, as studies about the work of global teams and their role in global organizing have accelerated, researchers have proposed both conceptual and analytical frameworks to facilitate the development of theory and best practices for teams (Barkema, Joel, and Mannix 2002; Connaughton and Shuffler 2007; Cramton and Hinds 2014; Dulebohn and Hoch 2017; Jimenez et al. 2017; Stahl et al. 2010). These frameworks, derived through both qualitative and quantitative studies, have been published in the organization studies, management, psychology, and communication literature and focus on topics including conditions for team success and effective performance, team processes, and the complex cultural contexts in which teams are embedded. Researchers often present their frameworks with an accompanying review of research studies whose results have been synthesized to create the frameworks. A selection of these frameworks is presented here to highlight scholarly conceptualizations about global teams.

Performance Framework

Bosch-Sijtsema et al. (2011) take an approach that emphasizes the knowledge work that is done by distributed teams. The framework is used to analyze knowledge in the changing context and the new ways of collaborative working due to distributed and diverse locations and the mobility of global team members. In earlier studies (Gibson and Cohen 2003; Gluesing 1998; Riopelle et al. 2003), models of global teaming conditions, task and social processes, and performance factors uncovered key influencers and their proposed relationships. The framework developed by Bosch-Sijtsema et al. (2011, 275) is based on “five key factors that challenge the ability of distributed teams to perform effectively. It extends and integrates traditional performance models of task, team structure, and work process, with context factors such as workplace, organization policy, and information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure.” The five key factors are task content, team structure, team work process, workplace, and organization context. The authors applied their multilevel framework in a qualitative comparison of eight globally distributed teams from two high-tech Fortune 100 companies. The authors conclude that flexibility and adaptability are required characteristics for global teams who need to constantly adapt, readjust, and realign according to these five factors in response to the complexity, ambiguity, and interdependency of team tasks. Theoretically, the framework can be applied to study the knowledge work taking place in new work contexts as they arise. From a practice perspective, the framework advises managers that strategic alignment and integration of different work units in the multinational firm are important to support global teams.

Complex Cultural Framework

As researchers from multiple disciplines have examined global teams, there has been an increasing focus on the concept of culture. Connaughton and Shuffler (2007) reviewed the ways scholars have conceptualized culture in their research and argue that as more focus has been placed on culture in distributed work, the concept has become more nuanced to reflect the complexities of global team characteristics and processes. They argue that scholars should continue to offer complex understandings of culture in future research. Their framework emphasizes a model of culture encompassing broad national cultural differences. However, it also includes differences that result from ethnic, racial, gender, and other demographic characteristics as well as individuals’ group identities. Current work on global teams has primarily focused on national cultural differences, with a tendency to equate culture with nation and to neglect cultural variation and cultural dynamism. For example, works often draw upon Hofstede’s (1980, 396) cultural dimensions, particularly the individualism–collectivism dimension. Connaughton and Shuffler’s (2007) preferred model for investigating global teams is one that includes an expanded conceptualization of culture to include multiple team and organizational cultures and their emergent nature. The model also takes into account the complexities of distribution, including the degree of virtuality present in the team due to reliance on communication technologies, how geographically dispersed the team members are, the history of the team, whether team members have worked together before, and the duration of team tasks and their complexity.

Input-Process-Output Framework

The explosive growth of global teams as a primary way to structure work led Hoch and Dulebohn (2017) to focus on an input-process-output framework to advance theory and research and to inform organization in designing, structuring, and managing virtual teams. Their approach decomposes virtual teams by their deterministic factors. Inputs include organization factors such as team design, the technology infrastructure that supports communication, and the training and reward systems for individuals and the team as a whole. Inputs also include team leadership characteristics and team composition. Team processes and emergent states in the framework focus attention on cognitive, affective, and motivational factors such as team cognition, team cohesion, and member engagement as well as on behavior factors such as shared leadership. Outcomes at the team level are performance and effectiveness, and at the individual level they are performance, effectiveness, satisfaction, and commitment. The framework also includes moderators such as virtuality, task interdependence and complexity, and team context.

Success Drivers Framework

Jimenez et al. (2017) synthesize the global teams’ research by placing the emphasis on the key drivers that influence the success of global virtual teams and how to mitigate the challenges that these teams face. They propose a framework to help guide scholarly conversation and help researchers focus attention on the most important topics for advancing knowledge about distributed teamwork. Their framework highlights the dimensions of complexity faced by global virtual teams, distance, location and time and the larger company context, as well as the advanced communication and collaboration technology platforms available to global teams. Another important focus of scholarly attention is the concept of team brokers and their roles in facilitating team interactions both inside and outside the team. The focus on brokerage and broker characteristics is in keeping with the trend to think of global teams as part of larger global networked organizations.

An Overview of Knowledge About Global Teams

Recent studies report that up to 70 percent of all white-collar workers in Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries collaborate using virtual technologies, and much of that work is on collaborative projects that cross national boundaries (Jimenez et al. 2017, 342). Understanding among scholars about the complexities of global teams as well as their potential is evident as the management literature has begun to accumulate valuable knowledge about this phenomenon. A Google Scholar search for “Global Virtual Teams” in 1996 “returned virtually no hits prior to 1996, but reaches about 800 studies per year by 2012,” and there are similar results for other terms for the same phenomenon, such as virtual teams and transnational teams.

Enabling Effective Global Teams

To achieve the promise of global teams, managers and team leaders can do much to enable team members by creating a supportive environment. First and foremost, they must be aware of context and how it influences the ability of team members to stay integrated and focused on a shared business objective or on individual tasks to meet that objective. Second, it is important that the factors contributing to complexity be understood and taken into account in designing and forming global teams, selecting team members, and fostering cohesion among them.

Considering Context

One of the insights that has emerged from the literature about global teams is that context matters (Baba et al. 2004; Bechky 2003; Gluesing et al. 2003; Gluesing and Gibson 2004; Kirkman et al. 2016; Joshi and Roh 2007, 2009). Contextual influences can moderate the effectiveness of team processes such as communication and conflict management in cross-cultural collaboration. Context is an important first consideration in creating conditions that will increase the likelihood that global teams will succeed in accomplishing their business objectives. “Context” can be defined as “a way of life and work in a specific geographical area with its own set of business conditions, cultural assumptions, and unique history” (Gluesing et al. 2003). It is a dimension of global teaming that represents team members’ “social networks, norms and cultural values of their local communities, their organizational memberships and administrative frameworks with their respective rules and behavioral incentives” (Jimenez 2017, 345). In collocated teams, sharing the same context means that existing working conditions and the business situation are common to team members and that the members are subject to the same conditional influences. Team members also have the opportunity to get to know one another more informally because they meet face-to-face on a regular basis, and most important, to develop through their interactions a kind of ongoing, taken-for-granted, invisible sense-making that keeps them aligned even when the circumstances of their context change or pose new challenges. In global teams, it is not unusual for team members working across contexts to have little understanding of the contextual conditions that affect the performance of individual team members and the overall work of the team. Diverse business conditions often change at different rates in different ways. Global team members also may even move from one geographic location to another while they are working together, which can mean that the contextual conditions become even less transparent. Unknown context-bound conditions can increase the “virtual distance” between team members (Lojeski 2010). Thus, global team members can quickly diverge in their understanding about their tasks, resulting in task conflict and even team disintegration unless they meet the major challenge of making multiple contexts explicit (Gluesing and Gibson 2004; Baba et al. 2004).

Designing and Forming Global Teams

In the past two decades, some researchers have directed their attention to actions to strengthen the likelihood of success even before global teams begin their work. Horwitz, Bravington, and Silvis (2006) used an online survey combining both quantitative and qualitative explanatory questions to ask 115 employees in virtual teams about enabling factors for effectiveness. They conceive of virtual teams as an “evolutional form of network organization.” The researchers found that the primary contributing factor is management direction. Those who are responsible for forming virtual teams can help ensure the teams have a greater likelihood of success by clarifying objectives, roles, and responsibilities.

Findings also point to the importance of bringing team members together face-to-face when teams are formed to help build relationships to foster alignment and good communication practices. Initial face-to-face interaction is especially important when task complexity is high and there is also a high level of cultural diversity in the team (Ely and Thomas 2001; Stahl et al. 2010). Managers who direct global teams should also ensure that the virtual technology is appropriate for the team tasks and that the technology is available and works in each team member’s location (Horwitz, Bravington, and Silvis 2006). In addition to technology, enabling access to resources around the globe is an important director-level function. A strong link exists as well between how well teams are organized and how well they understand how their performance will be measured and rewarded. There must also be commitment to the team from both the organization and the team members themselves to enable the team to stay on track in the face of factors such as changing contextual conditions and local forces that could be a distraction.

All these findings are consistent with the results from other research about enabling factors (Gluesing 1998; Kirkman et al. 2002; Maznevski and Chudoba 2000; Nohria and Eccles 1992). The Gluesing and Gibson (2004) review of the key dimensions of dynamic complexity in global teams provides a good summary of these five key design considerations in forming global teams and how to manage them for global team effectiveness:

  1. 1. Task: the level of task complexity and interdependence;

  2. 2. Context: geographically based conditional influences;

  3. 3. People: the skill levels and diversity among the people on the team;

  4. 4. Time: the time available to the team to work together and the dispersion across time zones; and

  5. 5. Technology: the availability and characteristics of the communication technology.

To help manage complexity, in the pre-start phase of team design, there are four key design techniques that can create a supportive environment for global teams:

  1. 1. Clearly specifying the task objective of the team;

  2. 2. Making sure resources are available for the team to accomplish its work;

  3. 3. Selecting team members who have the skills and abilities to work in a global team, including the capacity to handle ambiguity and uncertainty; and

  4. 4. Creating a sense of urgency to keep the team members focused and integrated.

At the start-up of a global team, establishing a clear and achievable team vision, mission, and objectives, and determining roles, responsibilities, and communication and interaction norms are particularly important. Fostering the development of shared team mental models and frameworks can guide teamwork and team learning. It is advisable to bring team members together to contribute their diverse knowledge and expertise in the initial definition of the team’s situation and tasks as well as to create a shared sense of communication and commitment.

Stakeholders, team leaders and team members can actively participate in creating conditions prior to the start-up of a team that can provide and enhance the likelihood that the team will achieve its objective. They can also structure task and social processes when team members first come together that will establish a positive foundation for their ongoing work together.

(Gluesing & Gibson 2004, 43)

Global Teaming Processes

In the twenty-five years or so that scholars have been studying global teams, the research has largely focused on how to enhance global team effectiveness and on the factors or processes that influence effectiveness. In their introduction to leading and teaming, Lane et al. (2004, 171) focus on the dimensions of complexity team leaders and members must manage through task and social processes to produce successful outcomes for the team and the firm. They state that complexity can best be managed not only by being mindful about global team design and formation but also through attention to the interactions among global team members inside the team and externally to various stakeholders. A global team accomplishes its goals by interweaving task and social processes. “Task processes represent what teams are doing, whereas social processes involve how they are doing it in relation to one another and to their task environment” (Lane et al., 2004, 171). Managing the actual project work, using communication technology, and negotiating roles and responsibilities are all task-related processes. Social processes include creating a safe environment, developing shared mental models and a sense of community, the sequencing and timing of the work, and how team members negotiate decision-making or work through conflict.

Recent scholarly reviews (Gibson et al. 2014; Gilson et al. 2015) reflect a continued interest in global teaming processes including those related to virtuality, technology, leadership, trust, and ways to enhance virtual team success. These themes emerged inductively from a large proliferation of studies from where the literature stood ten years earlier. Issues of particular concern are cultural diversity and its intersection with virtuality, multi-team membership, leadership, communication, coordination, and knowledge sharing, conflict management, team commitment and cohesion, and other characteristics such as interdependence, the formalization of decision-making, and the fit between the time available to accomplish tasks and technology. Both trust and the development of a team identity are treated as emergent properties of global teams (Gibson et al. 2014; Gilson et al. 2015; Lane et al. 2004).

It is largely thought that global teams follow a sequential group development process, especially in longer-lived global teams. The use of virtual communication technologies heightens team members’ need to conform when the team is first formed. That initial commitment to the team’s task and to each other is strengthened as the team accomplishes its tasks appropriately and trust emerges, further emphasizing the interwoven nature of task and social processes (Gluesing 1998; Haines 2014). Leaders and facilitators or brokers are roles important to global team effectiveness and are focal areas of research that have continued over the years. Research also is increasingly emphasizing the need for teams to achieve a work–life balance and to develop new practices particular to their own tasks and business conditions (Johri 2011).

Leading

Since the 1990s, leadership scholars have turned their attention to global leadership (Mendenhall et al. 2018). As work has become both more collective and more technologically interdependent with the growth of global teams, researchers have emphasized team-based performance and emergent leadership. Both the organizational environment and technology impact how teams are structured, and hence affect how leadership emerges (Liao 2017). In teams whose members are geographically dispersed, a “level playing field” is essentially created, allowing individuals to emerge as leaders who rotate, depending upon the task and their expertise; leadership can be shared in global teams (Charlier et al. 2016). Shared leadership has been shown to be significantly related to team performance.

Leaders emerge based upon work-related actions as well (Eseryel and Eseryel 2013). Leaders in and of global teams need to be actively engaged in the team’s work in order to emerge as transformational leaders and influence others. They gain and lose leadership status in the eyes of the team members based on their leadership behaviors. Skills such as a leader’s ability to communicate without apprehension and to do it well in text influence members’ perceptions as well (Charlier et al. 2016). When teams are more virtual in nature, hierarchical leadership is less strongly related to team performance than a shared leadership approach (Hoch and Kozlowski 2014), which is expected to facilitate both team functioning and effectiveness (Gilson et al. 2015; Hoch and Kozlowski 2014).

Research indicates that leaders can influence team performance in the ways they manage social processes as well as task processes and how these processes intersect. For example, Lauring and Jonasson (2018, 1) have shown that leaders can improve the productivity of a global team by demonstrating “inspirational motivation” and can “compensate for a lack of inclusive group attitudes in the form of team openness to language diversity.” In a multilevel approach to studying team leadership, Liao (2017) demonstrated that leadership at the team level impacts not only team processes but also individual effectiveness in the team. Leaders can influence the level of collaboration and conflict present in the team as well as emergent states such as trust and the development of shared mental models among team members. Leaders, whether appointed or emergent, can have a significant impact on professional respect, contribution, and loyalty at the individual level. Some of the leadership behaviors have been shown to be effective in both team development and performance management. In the face of task complexity and a high level of interdependence, leaders should provide clear and engaging direction and also establish and reinforce habitual routines such as a cadence in team meetings (Maznevski and Chudoba 2000). They also should set guidelines and role expectations for team members’ behavior (Bell and Kozlowski 2002). Leaders of global teams need to pay particular attention to monitoring changes in external environmental conditions, spanning boundaries across the organization (Bell and Kozlowski 2002, 27).

Leadership styles and behavior are shaped by both cultural context and global experience (Mendenhall et al. 2018). Successful global leaders are able to adjust to the expectations of team members as well as facilitate the negotiation of a shared working culture in the global team. Among the most important characteristics a global team leader must personally have are a global mindset and cultural intelligence (Ng, Van Dyne, and Ang 2009). These two characteristics are necessary to accomplish their roles as boundary spanners, bridgers, and blenders of social processes that lead to team cohesion (Zander, Mockaitis, and Butler 2012). E-leadership skills that involve mentoring team members across distances can support cohesion as well (Fan et al. 2014; Philippart and Gluesing 2012).

Facilitating

Team leaders have a central role in facilitating team interactions and development through people-oriented leadership to promote effectiveness and bring about desired team outcomes (Zander, Mockaitis, and Butler 2012). Formal facilitators who do not have a functional role based on task expertise in the team can be assigned to teams to promote smooth interactions among team members and help keep the team on track (Gluesing 1998; Gluesing et al. 2003; Hinds, Retelny, and Cramton 2015). These facilitators are generally chosen to be part of the team because they possess group process skills as well as cross-cultural communication skills. They can serve as multicultural brokers to help address the challenges related to group dynamics, especially facilitating communication and bridging differences among business subgroups with the organization as well as across national and cultural boundaries (Eisenberg and Mattarelli 2017). Team members often come to the team from subgroups that may have conflicting and even competing objectives that can inhibit open communication. Facilitators can focus on the process of overcoming tensions among colleagues from different subgroups, thus reducing the negative effects of subgroup identity tensions on the ability to share knowledge among team members.

Researchers have emphasized the positive role that bicultural or multicultural individuals can have on organizations when they assume facilitator or broker roles (Fitzsimmons 2013; Fitzsimmons, Miska, and Stahl 2011; Holtbrügge and Engelhard 2017). In global teams, bicultural individuals have been found to have a mediating positive effect on internal group processes and group cohesion and on facilitation and team performance (Holtbrügge and Engelhard 2017). An important implication of these studies is that bicultural individuals should be considered when staffing multicultural teams to serve specifically as facilitators. Mattarelli et al. (2017) developed a grounded model based on interviews depicting how team capabilities develop in global virtual teams. Their model underscores the relevance of multicultural brokers to enhance global team performance, especially in the development of mutual knowledge among team members. However, brokers can actually reduce the accuracy of team members’ perceptions of one another by filtering their interactions. This effect is countered by team members’ professional identities and their desire to work and do well on complex projects, pushing them to attain more awareness about others, actually leading to an increase in the accuracy of their perceptions. Increased accuracy is instrumental in the team’s ability to adapt to changing conditions and to produce better work. Facilitators can help teams develop new “location-spanning work practices” and routines through a kind of “sociomaterial bricolage” that can lead to better team outcomes (Johri 2011).

Communicating and Collaborating

Leaders and facilitators can do much to create conditions to foster communication and improve collaboration. Communication and collaboration in global teams are first and foremost sense-making activities because they take place across contextual, cultural, and geographic boundaries where cues that trigger understanding and appropriate behavior are often unknown or misinterpreted (Bird and Osland 2005). Studies of global teaming processes have drawn attention to several key elements in communication and collaboration team processes and how they unfold.

Culture and Cultural Adaptation

One of the major challenges for global teams is the process through which they adapt to cross-cultural differences as they work across multiple contexts. Cultural effects in teams are multidimensional (Kramer, Shuffler, and Feitosa 2017) and take place at multiple levels, primarily organizational culture and subcultures and national or societal culture. Culture can have both direct and indirect effects on team processes (Kirkman et al. 2016). The understanding of the impact culture has in global teams is very limited (Connaughton and Shuffler 2007; Cramton and Hinds 2014; Hinds, Liu, and Lyon 2011). In a 2011 review, Hinds (2011) found only eleven published works in top management journals that examined the significance of national culture, and most of those studies took a static view in their approach to culture rather than examining culture as a dynamic system. Several studies have taken a dynamic systems view that indicate cultural differences in global teams can be the source of misinterpretation in communication across contexts and can lead to conflict that undermines trust (Baba et al. 2004; Hinds, Liu, and Lyon 2011; Kirkman et al. 2016). Culture is defined in varying ways and there is no consensus about which cultural differences are important (Cramton and Hinds 2014). Culture is often viewed as something team members bring with them to the teaming context, a particular way of thinking, communicating, and interacting, which they have learned in their home cultural milieu (Cramton and Hinds 2014).

Research does suggest, however, that successful teams negotiate “hybrid” cultures of their own over time, if they are together long enough (Early and Mosakowski 2000; Gluesing 1998; Salk and Brannen 2000; van Marrewijk 2011). These team cultures, whether they are viewed as shared schema (Adair, Tinsley, and Taylor 2006) or in both cognitive and behavioral terms (Early and Mosakowski 2000), provide norms for communication and conflict management, foster a shared team identity, and set performance expectations that facilitate work. Empirical results have shown that moderately diverse teams often struggle to create a hybrid culture compared to teams that are highly heterogeneous or homogeneous (Early and Mosakowski 2000). Cramton and Hinds (2014), in an in-depth ethnographic study of nine software development teams, propose a model of cultural adaptation. Their model takes into account the structures of nested cultures at multiple levels and considers the influence of contextual factors in which the teams are embedded, the different organizational subcultures, and the national cultural differences at play in global teams. They suggest that teams move back and forth between convergence and divergence as team members wrestle with differing demands and views that emerge as they work over time, resolving cultural differences and arriving through learning at shared meaning and problem solutions in a haphazard manner. It is a dialectic process (Gibbs 2009). Negotiating a hybrid team culture is a “messy” (Dossick et al. 2015) process of adaptive integration such that “cultural diversity leads to process losses through task conflict and decreased social integration, but to process gains through increased creativity and satisfaction” (Stahl et al. 2010, 690).

Shared Meaning and Mental Models

Getting team members to collaborate and align their thinking and their actions in both task and social processes is one of the most complex issues that leaders, facilitators, and team members themselves need to resolve to perform well (Bechky 2003; Cramton and Hinds 2014; Ellwart et al. 2015; Engeström 2008; Stahl et al. 2010; Vlaar, van Fenema, and Tiwari 2008). The concepts of shared meaning, shared mental models, and cognitive convergence in general are topics of leading global teams research. Communication frequency, quality, and content are all thought to affect the emergence of shared cognition (Marlow, Lacerenza, and Salas 2017). How shared meaning develops in heterogeneous global teams is one intriguing area in global teams research where anthropologists have contributed. Baba et al. (2004) investigated a naturally occurring globally distributed team over a fourteen-month period, producing an in-depth case study that illustrates factors and processes that influence convergence in cognitive structures or shared meaning. To be effective in bridging differences, which yields new organizational capabilities, requires that leaders and members explicitly recognize their differences at the start of their work together and negotiate them as they arise in order to maintain integration. Otherwise, they risk divergence and the rejection of knowledge domains that could result in learning and that are critical to accomplishing the work of the team. Both this study and another by Gluesing (2018) have demonstrated that several actions can be taken to facilitate shared meaning through the use of boundary objects and other means such as “separate but parallel or similar learning experiences in a common context; the surfacing of hidden knowledge at remote sites by third-party mediators [facilitators] or knowledge brokers; and shifts in agent self-interest that motivate collaboration and trigger the negotiation of task interdependence” (Baba et al. 2004, 547).

Language

One of the most interesting streams of literature is about language (Brannen et al. 2014), a factor that has often been treated as secondary in research about global teams, whose members generally work in English no matter where the teams originate (Janssens and Steyaert 2014; Klitmøller and Lauring 2013; Piekkari and Westney 2017; Tenzer and Pudelko 2017; Vigier and Spencer-Oatey 2018). Language use in global teams is a topic closely related to the development of shared meaning. In the two decades since 2000, the interest in how language influences the conduct of international business has increased (Brannen, Piekkari, and Tietze 2014; Feely and Harzing 2003; Fredriksson, Barner‐Rasmussen, and Piekkari 2006; Janssens and Steyaert 2014; Harzing, Köster, and Magner 2011; Klitmøller, Piekkari and Westney 2017; Śliwa and Johansson 2014), with studies about multinational corporations as multilingual organizations. Many of these studies have also focused on global teams as the basic structure of these organizations, seeking to understand language barriers, language use in action, and how a linguistic approach can enrich theories about global team management and improve practice in global teams (Chen, Geluykens, and Choi 2006; Hinds, Neeley, and Cramton 2014; Klitmøller, Schneider, and Jonsen 2015; Tenzer and Pudelko 2017; Vigier and Spencer-Oatey 2018; Zakaria 2017). While language and culture are inextricably linked, language reflects not only the context in which it is used, but also influences social interactions within teams. Even when all team members work in a common language, native speakers of one language can often form closer relationships with others who share the same native language, and non-native English speakers can often feel left out because they miss nuances, and especially humor (Chen, Geluykens, and Choi 2006).

Considerable code-switching from one language to another, especially in binational global teams, may occur, which may add extra time to discussions but which can also foster shared understanding (Gluesing 1998). Vigier and Spencer-Oatey (2017) conducted an ethnographic case study using observation and interviews with members of three global teams to understand how they managed code-switching challenges. The teams developed different strategies for managing code-switching even though they were performing similar activities with varying positive and negative effects. The findings suggest that while the use of a common working language in multinational teams is the norm, code-switching often occurs and differences in age, experience and tenure, and levels of respect and trust can produce different outcomes.

Language differences can impact the power dynamics in multinational teams (Feely and Harzing 2003; Gluesing 1998; Harzing, Köster, and Magner 2011; Tenzer and Pudelko 2017). The adoption of English as a common corporate language can create “power-authority” distortions because people who have proficiency in the language, especially native speakers, derive advantages beyond their positions in official hierarchies. Spoken communication in a foreign language is more challenging for global team members than written communication, which is comparatively less stressful because there is more time to respond (Tenzer and Pudelko 2017). Proficiency differences that influence power relations in teams are more prevalent in synchronous, as opposed to asynchronous, communication. Hinds, Neeley, and Cramton (2014) also suggest that asymmetries in language fluency can contribute to an “us versus them” dynamic. Their findings indicate how teams who are already showing signs of power struggles can exacerbate them by enacting language-related choices and behaviors.

Distance, Time, and Technology

Global teams who use technology to span both geographic distance and time zones experience “time–space intensification” (Riain 2006) and face challenges that are not present in collocated teams. Research presents mixed findings about whether distance is indeed a challenge to global teams’ effectiveness (Connaughton and Shuffler 2007). Distance is often framed as a constraint in the formation of relationships among global team members (Jarvenpaa and Leidner 1998). In general, distance is thought to complicate the challenges that global teams face and to affect outcomes. For example, distance, along with the challenge of crossing multiple time zones in synchronous communication, prevents continual communication (Cogburn and Levinson 2003). Zakaria et al. (2004) see geographic and temporal distribution as a barrier to knowledge sharing. However, some empirical work comparing collocated and distributed teams has shown that distance alone is not necessarily a factor that inhibits collaboration (Hinds and Mortensen 2005); distributed teams did experience more interpersonal and task-related conflict than teams who worked face-to-face because they did not have the advantage of spontaneous communication available to collocated teams due to both time differences and a reliance on technology. Gibson and Gibbs (2006) found that a safe communication climate in which members can freely speak their minds and feel heard can help to minimize negative effects of distribution, both geographically and across time.

Time is conceptualized in different ways aside from time zones. In their research, Maznevski and Chudoba (2000) found that global teams who can meet periodically face-to-face can establish a rhythm in their interactions that can compensate for distance. Anthropologists have long documented differences in conceptions of time in cross-national and even regional contexts (Hall 1983; Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck 1961). Individual team members’ perspectives about time—the orientation to past, present, or future, monochronic or polychronic approaches, and short-term versus long-term perspective—can be a unique source of heterogeneity in global teams (Todd 2009), resulting in unidentified process loss (Gibson et al. 2007). However, differences in time perspectives also may represent “an untapped resource for improving the knowledge created” (Gibson et al., 2007, 1006) in global teams. Gibson et al. (2007) suggest as well that time perspective configuration is a key team composition issue that leaders should pay attention to in the design and formation of global teams, both to avoid conflict or divergence and to speed knowledge creation (Gibson et al. 2007, 1026). More research is needed to understand how distance and time interact with each other and with other factors that affect team processes.

There have been several studies about the role of information technology in structuring work and enabling knowledge sharing among global team members and in the dissemination or transfer of knowledge across the organization (Griffith, Sawyer, and Neale 2003; Jones and Karsten 2008). Klitmøller and Lauring (2013) examined the interaction of media type and the relationship between culture, language, and knowledge sharing using an ethnographic field study. They learned that media use varies depending on the cultural and linguistic characteristics of the people using it. In teams with a high level of cultural diversity, the sharing of equivocal knowledge was best conducted in face-to-face interactions or using rich media, whereas canonical knowledge sharing was just as effective using lean virtual technologies. However, when language challenges were present and rich media was used, equivocal knowledge sharing was negatively affected. Lean media in this case allowed for reflection and correction of verbal communication, thus reducing miscommunication. Global teams may also go through an adaptation process in which technology and team processes coevolve (Majchrzak et al. 2000; Riopelle et al. 2003). Coevolution of technology and team processes includes cultural adaptation as well. In a review of research about the relationship between culture and information technology, Leidner and Kayworth (2006) conclude that if the values people have about information technology are considered, then technology can be examined in terms of cultural fit with both organizational and national cultures, and many of the conflicts related to information technology use in teams can be reconciled.

Emergent States: Performance, Trust, and Team Identity

Performance is researched as a collection of outcomes that emerge from global team processes. The research findings vary quite a lot, especially when effectiveness is considered (Gilson et al. 2015). Factors thought to produce team effectiveness include, but are not limited to:

  • Being clear about the team’s mission and objectives and expectations for team members

  • Establishing goals and role responsibility early in the team’s life cycle

  • Facilitating positive relationships among team members that are equal and balanced

  • Managing language challenges

  • Establishing a cadence in the team’s communication and fostering knowledge sharing

  • Having formal and structured processes that adapt to changing conditions

  • Using both individual-level and team-level incentives and rewards

  • Matching technology to tasks and cultural context

  • Negotiating and fostering a team culture and identity

A trend in measuring effectiveness is to draw on ratings from outside the team as well as objective measures of team performance (Cummings and Haas 2012; Andressen, Konradt, and Neck 2012). Team member satisfaction also is measured as an outcome, primarily using self-ratings. One of the most used measures is whether team members say they would work again with the others in the team (Ortega et al. 2010).

Trust

In addition to team effectiveness and the team’s ultimate performance in achieving established goals, there are two emergent states that are important indicators of team effectiveness: trust (Chang, Hung, and Hsieh 2012; Ford, Piccolo, and Ford 2017) and team identity. Trust is one of the most studied variables in global teams literature because results suggest it is important to team success, although trust may not have a direct effect but may be moderated by knowledge sharing and other variables that lead to trust and ultimately to collaboration for performance (Alsharo, Gregg, and Ramirez 2017). Defining communication standards and documenting communication (Breuer, Hüffmeier, and Hertel 2016), including procedures for managing conflict and for providing feedback (Peñarroja et al. 2015), and establishing regular and predictable communication, can help build trust in a global team (Benetytė and Jatuliavičienė 2013). In examining the role of trust in global teams, some studies have suggested that trust also should be contextualized because it is dependent on the particular situation or conditions in which the teams are embedded (Jarvenpaa, Shaw, and Staples 2004; Newell, David, and Chand 2007).

When global team members form in an ad hoc manner “as needed” to address immediate issues or to work on special projects, they are associated with a unique form of trust, swift trust, that emerges in temporary systems (Crisp and Jarvenpaa 2013; Jarvenpaa and Leidner 1998). Swift trust is based in cognitive processes that emphasize beliefs in the abilities of the other members of the team, their capability, reliability, and dependability. However, swift trust can be fragile, susceptible to the discontinuities and disruptions that can come with crossing time, distance, and organizational and national cultures; in other words, it is conditional (Griffith, Sawyer, and Neale 2003). Crisp and Jarvenpaa (2013) conducted a longitudinal study of swift trust in ad hoc global teams and found that trust is indeed a “glue” that keeps teams together and that mediates performance. The researchers propose that leaders, facilitators, or team members themselves may need to monitor beliefs in others’ professionalism, such as follow-through in actions, to sustain trust. “In ad hoc global virtual teams, high early trusting beliefs give members the necessary confidence to engage in normative actions, and these normative actions become a sustained basis of trusting beliefs and subsequent performance” (Crisp and Jarvenpaa 2013, 53).

Team Identity

Shared identity is an emergent state and a dynamic property of a team (Gluesing and Gibson 2004; Hinds and Mortensen 2005). If team members work together long enough and their collaboration is effective, they generally develop a negotiated team culture and a sense of team identity (Gluesing 1998; Eisenberg and Mattarelli 2017) which can positively affect team members’ sense of belonging, commitment, and performance in the team. Team identity can facilitate better communication patterns, help develop emotion-display norms (Glikson and Erez 2013), and enhance commitment, participation, and collaboration. A strong shared identity among team members has been shown to reduce interpersonal conflict and the effect of geographic distribution on conflict because team members are predisposed to positively evaluate members of an “in-group” (Hinds and Mortensen 2005). When team members have a shared identity, team members are inclined to be more loyal, more trusting, and more concerned about promoting the welfare of the group (Brewer and Miller 1996).

Gibson et al. (2014) suggest that leaders should work to help team members build a strong sense of collective identity. So doing can counteract the divergence that is characteristic of very diverse global teams and help teams maintain integration (Stahl et al. 2010). Team-building activities are particularly encouraged for heterogeneous global teams, not only when they begin their work together but throughout the team’s life cycle (Gibson et al. 2014; Gluesing et al. 2003). However, team building is hard to accomplish if teams do not have the opportunity to meet face-to-face.

Future Directions

Although much more is known about global teams in 2018 than in 1995, there is still much more to learn. There are several future research opportunities where theorists and practitioners can work together to resolve some of the more complex issues that face global teams. Opportunities involve broader contextual considerations such as study settings and methods as well as opportunities for research about the design and formation of global teams, global teaming processes, and their emergent states or outcomes.

Context and Methods

Researchers have conducted field studies of global teams primarily among knowledge workers because most teams are composed of these workers. However, there are opportunities to expand research to other contexts, such as energy and medicine, that are just beginning to leverage global teams to enhance efficiency or improve patient care (Gilson et al. 2015).

Methodologically, more studies need to be conducted using longitudinal rather than cross-sectional designs. A few rich, in-depth longitudinal studies have provided insight into the complexities of global teaming processes (Baba et al. 2004; Gluesing 1995); however, more are needed to understand team dynamics and their effects on team performance. Such studies are necessary for understanding the effects of time, whether they are different cultural understandings of time or time zones related to geography, on team processes as well (Kozlowski and Bell 2003). Social network analysis can provide more understanding of team dynamics as well because it allows visual illustration of underlying team structure as it evolves over time and is consistent with the prevalent conceptualization of global organizations as networks (Gloor 2002; Gluesing 2013; Gluesing, Riopelle, and Danowski 2014; Hadley and Wilson 2003).

Design and Formation

There are additional opportunities to expand research related to team demographics. For example, researchers generally control for variables like age. However, not surprisingly, attitudes and use of communication technologies vary by generation. The millennial generation has grown up with computers, and their access to multiple types of computer-mediated communication means that they are likely to have different attitudes and skills differing from prior generations, requiring a theoretical adjustment in how global teams’ research is approached (Gorman, Nelson, and Glassman 2004).

New and emerging technologies present opportunities to use a mixed methods approach (such as ethnography and network analysis in combination) to investigate collaboration platforms and social media that are proliferating and increasingly used in global work. Expanding understanding about how these technologies can be incorporated into the design of global teams can help create conditions that foster team success (Gilson et al. 2015).

Global Teaming Processes

Another research opportunity is team member mobility. When team members come into and move out of global teams frequently, it can disrupt team functioning and create tensions for individual team members and their well-being (Gluesing et al. 2003). Working any time and anywhere is also a form of mobility (Jordan 2008) with multilocality that can influence individuals’ mindsets by altering expectations with the change in space. Future research needs to consider how mobile work affects team processes.

As they work over time, teams can develop subgroups, especially if they are large. While these subgroups can facilitate and speed work by allowing simultaneous smaller groups to work different tasks, there is also the danger that they will create “us versus them” dynamics. It is important to learn more about how subgroups in global teams can affect team success or failure (Cramton and Hinds 2005).

Developing a “conception of culture that is markedly more contextual, behavioral and dynamic than the conception largely relied upon in the literature” (Hinds 2011, 177) is critical to advancing knowledge about global teams. Empirical studies that examine culture in context and how different nested cultures become salient in global teaming processes can do much to further knowledge about cross-cultural collaboration and global team formation. Anthropologists are well suited to this task.

Anthropologists can also help in increasing knowledge about cultural adaptation in global teams. How team members negotiate and renegotiate culture, creating a “hybrid” working culture and adapting it to changing conditions both within the team and in their external contexts, needs to be better understood (Chang, Hung, and Hsieh 2012; Cramton and Hinds 2014).

Emergent States

Global teams have been touted as the way to get work done in the complex, fast-paced, and competitive global economy. The diversity in thinking and ways of working, access to resources, knowledge, and flexibility they bring to global organizations is a strategy for managing complexity and continual flux (Lane et al. 2004). Global teams are thought to be a way to harness diversity and increase creativity (Zakaria, Amelinckx, and Wilemon 2004). Yet it is not clear how creative processes unfold over time, how ideas are generated, and how they are implemented. Moreover, creativity is affected by other global teaming factors such as media richness and use.

Global businesses seek performance that leads to their success in the marketplace. Yet in research about global teams, the different meanings and metrics for success that are culturally and contextually embedded have not been well investigated (Ortega et al. 2010). Anthropologists can contribute to knowledge about how different stakeholders give meaning to the language about success and performance.

As global networked organizations become the normative structure for accomplishing global work, it is important for researchers to embrace their complexity and incorporate more nuanced approaches to learn more about global teams. While knowledge about these teams is no longer in its infancy (Wageman, Gardner, and Mortensen 2012), there is still much to learn, especially in a continually changing global landscape. Anthropologists have not been very active in this stream of research, and they can contribute greatly to further knowledge about the complexities of global teaming.

Further Reading

Marquardt, Michael J., and Lisa Horvath. 2012. Global Teams: How Top Multinationals Span Boundaries and Cultures with High-Speed. London: Nicholas Brealey.Find this resource:

Marx, Elizabeth. 2013. The Power of Global Teams: Driving Growth and Innovation in a Fast Changing World. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Find this resource:

Shap, Debra L., ed. 2005. Managing Multinational Teams: Global Perspectives. San Diego, CA: Elsevier.Find this resource:

Wildman, Jessica L., and Richard L. Griffith, eds. 2015. Leading Global Teams: Translating Multidisciplinary Science to Practice. New York: Springer.Find this resource:

Zakaria, Norhayati. 2017. Culture Matters: Decision-Making in Global Virtual Teams. Boca Raton, FL: Taylor & Francis.Find this resource:

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