Meetings are an important part of the operational routine of any sort of organization. To put it in simple words, a meeting basically refers to the gathering of relevant people at a certain place and at a certain time to discuss and/or decide on a certain matter. Usually a meeting has an agenda, however it is not necessary that it always has a pre-decided agenda.
In an organizational setting meetings have an important role to play in the decision making process and therefore it is highly important that they are run in a successful manner. As simple as it might seem, running successful meetings can be a fairly complicated task for many organizations. The successful running of the meeting is a key decisive factor in the fact whether the employers and/or the owner have been able to get their message across successfully. While meetings may differ in their nature slightly on grounds of being of either strategic or tactical in nature, the general rule and need of efficient and effective communication, information sharing and knowledge management remains the same.
While the rapid changes in technology and telecommunications have made it easy for many transnational firms to hold meetings across geographical regions without requiring the participants of the meeting to travel, it, in many ways has also made the task complicated.
Over a period of time the subject of organizational management has evolved to a great deal and has given birth to various branches and fields of study out of itself. While marketing, finance, production and human resource management remains important functions in any organization, an organization can only be successful if all departments and stakeholders remain coherent with each other (Lewis, 1999). In order to ensure that coherence, it is highly important that strong communication exist within the organization. This includes both internal and external communication. A strong communication is not merely about interaction among people, but in an organizational context, it is important that the messages are transmitted across in an understandable manner.
While issues pertaining to communication within an organization have been greatly addressed, it must be noted that the world is now a globalized place and the advent of technology has made corporate organizations present and exposed to cultures other than their own. This means that their clientele, employees and other stakeholders belong to different demographics and cultural groups and their way of perceiving things greatly differ from one another. This resulted in highlighting concerns related to cross cultural communications especially when it comes to holding meetings in a virtual world. Many cross cultural practitioners believe that effective communication is only possible when people belong to similar cultural orientations.
Meeting & Communication in Cross Cultural Setting
When meetings are held in a virtual setting, it generally means that none of the team members would be travelling. Communication and workspace will thus be shared in the virtual world. Communication constraints such as language barriers, technical barriers, time differences etc. need to be taken into account in order to ensure smooth communication process.
Communication has a strong role to play in employee motivation. It is only by strong communication that an employee is inducted and trained to adapt to an organization's corporate culture. An employee who comes from a culture other than an organization's own culture might find it difficult to adjust if one cannot 'connect' oneself with the organization at large. This might include language barriers and differences in cultural values (Warren, 2006). An employee with a 'weak' connection with the organization is likely to be less motivated and will find it difficult to socialize himself with other colleagues, which again requires strong communication. According to the Maslow's hierarchy of needs, satisfaction of social needs within the organization remains an important motivating factor for an employee.
Moreover, communication also plays an important role in day-to-day human resource management within an organization. It is important for the efficiency and productivity of the employees that they are clear about the targets they are expected to achieve (Barnard, 1995). This failure usually occurs in an event when communication between the top management and the employees is not strong enough and it becomes even stronger when the employee comes from a different cultural background as he or she might feel alienated among others (Gudykunst, 2003). This immensely impacts the productivity and efficiency of an employee. An example of this could that a female employee coming from a highly conservative cultural background might find it difficult to adjust in a liberal organizational culture.
The priorities of the organizers of the meeting must be focused on ensuring that the communication process is smooth, and information sharing and knowledge management is efficient such that it triggers efficient decision making without delays.
The Likely Challenges
The major challenge at hand remains the problem of cross cultural communication. Effective communication is the backbone of human resource management and thus plays a key role in environments that operate in a cross cultural setting. The key issues that are faced in a cross-cultural setting include language barriers and differences in culture, norms and ethics. Norms and ethics are important in cross cultural communication because what might be ethical and normal in a certain cultural group might be out of the comfort zone of another. While all of the employees are familiar with the language, their efficiency and differences in dialect, spellings, grammar and use of language may also differ enough to be difficult to adapt. This is an important issue in the given case, as communication will only take place in the virtual world which means dependence be on written communication and in some cases verbal communication which might not include face-to-face communication (Gudykunst, 2003). Despite of the ability to speak similar language, linguistic barriers can play a hindrance due to the difference in the language usage (Warrens, 2006). When communication takes place via telephones, where face-to-face communication is not involved, differences in accents can also create problems pertaining to comprehension. When it comes to written communication, there are clear differences in the way language is used in many regions for example the British way of expressions are more 'conservative' and clear as compared to American ones.
Another major problem of communicating in the virtual world is the time difference among various geographical regions. Due to time differences some employees might need to come online in odd hours for virtual meetings.
Meetings in a Regular Setting
Apart from the virtual world, communication problems pertaining to language barriers and cultural constraints are also persistent in the regular meeting environment. This usually happens in contemporary firms that have a culturally diverse workforce working at a single physical work premises. This problem is more prominent especially when the employee or the meeting participant is new to the firm.
In a regular setting, the dynamics of the relationship between the supervisor and the subordinates is also a key player in the smooth running of the meeting. Many subordinates, despite of having little language and comprehension problems, might find it difficult to raise their voice, offer a suggestion or ask a question from the supervisor out of fear or trust deficit. This is usually common in organizations that adhere to a more normative and autocratic style of a corporate culture. Under such circumstances, there is little room for idea generation and innovation. Moreover, the result orientedness of the meeting in such cases is also highly questionable as the attendants of the meeting might avoid asking important questions despite the need to ask them.
Getting feedbacks is also an important part of many meetings and under such controlled and autocratic situations, the effectiveness of the feedback acquired, if any, is also highly questionable as most employees might only respond to please their employers rather than giving a genuine feedback.
Possible Solution to the Challenges
Considering the fact that language barriers pose a major problem despite of the similarity of language, employees must be encouraged to use neutral accents rather than a purely local dialect. The company must train all its employees at induction levels about how to maintain neutral and comprehensible dialects and accents (Norales, 2006). As for the written communication, The company must devise its own written communication guideline applicable to all parts of the world, and employees around the world must be encouraged to adhere to the guidelines given by the company (Despres & Hiltrop, 1995). In order to assist face-to-face communication, use of video conferencing can be made. In order to address the issue of time difference a standard time zone and time must be fixed by mutual consensus and meetings must be arranged at that time only.
While making communication systems stronger in a cross cultural setting is essential, it might become very challenging for certain organizations. In order to avoid problems such as high employee turnover, declining employee productivity and limited demographic market, it is essential that organizations devise strategy which can accommodate stakeholders regardless of their cultural orientation (Starkey, 1996). The company must therefore devise a team that…