The topic of the project is "multicultural management in the virtual project setting." In today's globalized business environment, multicultural work teams are become the norm, rather than the exception. Often, projects are undertaken at multiple work sites around the world, so that not only are teams diverse, but they are virtual as well. The members of these teams, with their different ethnic backgrounds, will often have different values, and different perspectives on the issues that the team faces. Such diversity can aid with problem-solving and also with decision-making where the employees' different experiences and worldviews contribute to seeing the problem in multi-faceted ways. This can help to drive innovation and help the company to derive original solutions, allowing the organization to better compete in the global environment. Promoting creativity and building global consensus are two of the most important benefits of multicultural, diverse work groups (Horwitz & Horwitz, 2007).
At the same time, multicultural diversity can be challenging for managers in that the differences between the team members can create conflict and dissention. While leadership might wish to encourage tolerance and understanding and appreciation of each culture, this ideal might be challenging to achieve in practice. As hard as it is to lead in a multicultural workplace in an offline setting, the problems are compounded in a virtual environment where one does not meet face-to-face with the other members of the team. Time zone differences could even mean that chats and virtual meetings are not possible, such that there might not be any direct communication at all between some members, at least not without some time lag.
This project will explore the issue of multicultural management of virtual teams. This is a unique skill for leaders, known as e-leadership. E-leaders are presented with challenges that include bridging the physical distance from the followers and to do so in a manner that is sensitive to cultural differences; communicating effectively with remote team members incorporating cultural understanding in e-communication; conveying enthusiasm and inspiring followers electronically and doing so in a manner congruent to cultural differences; and building trust with someone who may never see the e-leader (Trivedi & Desai, 2012).
There are a number of key terms that help clarify and frame the issue. Diversity reflects a workplace, team or organization that features people from a wide range of backgrounds. The more backgrounds are present, the more diverse the team is said to be. The issue of diversity is tied to the concept of multiculturalism. A multicultural environment is one that is diverse, featuring people from a number of different cultures. There are differences between multicultural environments along the continuum of integration and distinctiveness. In some situations, the group members may move strongly to a collective cultural norm, but in other cases the different cultures within the group might maintain their own individual characteristics to a significant degree.
Horwitz and Horwitz (2007) note that when a group begins to think as one, groupthinking is occurring. The use of teams can work as a foil to groupthink, as individual members bring their different perspectives to the problem. However, a group might also lean towards groupthink as the different cultural views within the team begin to complement one another, bringing the group to a unique way of working that is a distinctive blend of the different characteristics of the different group members -- this is what the authors hint at groupthink in a positive sense.
The workplace is the setting for this group work. The workplace in the virtual context is more difficult to define than a traditional workplace. There are a number of physical locations, but critical to the function of the group is the virtual workplace that the group members collectively inhabit. The design and function of the virtual workplace substantially affects how the group functions. The leader within this setting is the e-leader, somebody who specializes in leadership in an electronic or virtual workplace. These leaders not only have basic leadership skills, but they also know how to apply these skills in a virtual environment. The virtual environment has unique characteristics that need to be understood. For example, team members often have no face-to-face interaction with one another. There may be language barriers, and cultural differences, and there will also be time zone differences as well. Understanding these unique characteristics of the virtual environment is a critical skill for the e-leader.
Challenges of e-Leadership
It can be challenging enough to lead in a multicultural workplace in an offline setting. The leader must have a sense of what the different cultural dynamics are within the team, and be able to work with those dynamics to identify and resolve issues. The online setting only exacerbates these challenges, because the e-leader is unable to communicate directly with the members of the team. The e-leader does not typically meet face-to-face with very many, if any, of the team members. This makes conflict identification and conflict resolution in particular more challenging. However, any communication is a challenge under these circumstances, including training and motivation. Even monitoring progress of work is more challenging when supervision is done remotely, so there are considerable issues that the e-leader faces in the conduct of his or her duties.
Objectives of e-Leadership
Kozlowski (2002) outlines some of the objectives and goals that e-leadership has. In a sense, these are the same objectives that any leadership has. The leader must set objectives for the team, outline tasks that the team must face, and will then focus on achieving those tasks. There are tasks relating to measurement and other such issues that must be addressed by the e-leader. There are, however, some new tasks that are unique to e-leadership, and this is going to be the objective of this section, to outline these unique objectives. The e-leader must maintain harmony within the virtual multicultural team, in order to minimize turnover, yet must also be able to maintain a standard of open, honest dialogue that allows progress to be made on projects.
Furthermore, the e-leader must be able to design communications and feedback systems that facilitate leadership. The systems that are used are going to differ from the systems used in offline settings, because the e-leader needs to ensure that the same standards of communication, feedback, training and dispute resolution are met even though he or she is not physically present in the same location as the different team members, and not of the same culture either.
Core Competencies for e-Leaders
O'Reilly (1998) and Kozlowski (1999) both contribute to the understanding of the core competencies of e-leaders. The first of these is active listening, where the leader must listen to what others are saying and attempt to determine any underlying meaning, and ensure that everybody understands everybody else. The e-leader must also facilitate discussion, to ensure that the different team members are in constant communication with one another. This helps to develop a sense of team coherence, or "linked individual goals that create a repertoire of team task strategies, and building a compatible network of role expectations across team members" (Kozlowski, 1999). The e-leader is also responsible for communicating outside of the team or organization, acting as a go-between with the outer world and with the virtual team. This usually involves multiple modes of communication.
The e-leader must also be good at delegating, assigning tasks to the individuals so that each individual feels responsibility for the work. The leader "also needs to be sensitive to any particular or possible changes" in the virtual environment and try to deal with these changes before they become problems (Bell & Kozlowski, 2002). Because information is a key element of managing a virtual team, the e-leader needs to be expert at managing information resources. The e-leader needs to understand the "information needs of the team members and provide access to tools for project management, data analysis, strategic planning and process controls. With these five competencies, e-leaders will be in a position to manage complex, diverse teams in a virtual environment.
Ethics of e-Leadership
Surinder et al. (1997) point out that the ethical considerations of e-leadership are focused on issues of confidentiality, particularly of sensitive data. This is for the company as a whole, but also for data relating to individual members of the team. In addition, the culture of the virtual environment is something that should be managed by the e-leader. For example, there are ethical issues involved when members of the team disrespect each other or their cultures. Communications between group members should be respectful at all times, and this is something that the e-leader is responsible for. In addition, the e-leader needs to adopt common principles of fairness and justice that will be used by the team. These can differ significantly from one culture to the next, so it is important that the e-leader establishes a common culture that will be used in the team function. Some cultures might also have different ethical standards with respect to things like bribery or corruption, and…