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Knowledge Exchange Processes in Multicultural Teams


Project description

This project focuses on a timely topic that relates to current challenges of managing and leading multinational corporations (MNCs). The insights and recommendations are based on comprehensive qualitative research involving 11 organizations, 48 teams, and 143 interviewees.

In terms of academic contributions, the authors develop the concept of diversity climate in MNCs, focusing in particular on important manifestations that pertain to national cultural diversity. They show that an organizational diversity climate that upholds certain core values and norms throughout the organization, but then provides its teams with sufficient leeway in negotiating their own methods of implementing that direction, results in the best utilization of national cultural differences. They provide evidence that such climates subsequently result in strong team effectiveness, because they encourage what the researchers refer to as “oscillation” between cooperative and assertive knowledge exchange in teams. This oscillation, in turn, translates into the ability of the team to accomplish its objectives.

Conversely, the paper shows that if an organization suppresses national cultural differences for the sake of a uniform approach and standardization, this harms the process of negotiating functional and cross-cultural interactions. What results is adherence to strict guidelines (e.g., a strictly defined code of conduct) for prescribed behaviors.  In turn, teams engage in detrimental, assertive knowledge exchange which limits the teams’ potential to accomplish objectives.

In summary, by looking at how MNCs frame national cultural diversity and by exploring the impact of this cultural frame on multicultural team processes and team effectiveness, this project makes a strong contribution to management scholarship.

Impact statement: However, it also has clear implications for practitioners.  The authors explain how to design organizational diversity climates that enable teams to learn and function effectively. They also highlight the defining characteristics of cooperative and assertive team processes, showing the value of both and how each set of practices contribute to team functioning during team training, evaluation, and rewards. With concrete examples, these findings are actionable and practical, yet based on solid empirical evidence.