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In the process of internationalization, multicultural management deal with the cultural differences issues, i.e. diversity related to language, values, customs and behavior in the workplace. Due to the internationalization of companies and work teams, new organizational structures have emerged, such as virtual teams. The purpose of this paper is to understand the influence of cultural differences and multiculturalism in virtual teams as well as to identify potential cultural impacts in their work development and performance. For this, it was conducted a single case study in depth in a US multinational IT company. After completed the content analysis, we identified issues related to the differences between the global organizational culture and the national culture of the team members , communication barriers, differences in leadership style and acclimatization to the virtuality. They led to the conclusion that virtual teams, although they are essential to the growth and evolution of the company, they need to be worked to overcome the multicultural differences among team members, or better managed toward an improved outcome for the organization. The reflection and contribution presented in this paper refers to the emergence of local culture studies about the organizational culture regarding global virtual teams.
[a] PhD student in Business Administration at FEA/USP - School of Economics, Business and Ac-
counting - University of São Paulo, SP, Brazil. E-mail:
[b] Phd in Business - Rio Grande do Sul Federal University - UFRGS. Professor at Federal University
of Paraná - UFPR. Curitiba, PR, Brazil. E-mail:
[c] PhD student in Business Administration Positivo University, Curitiba, PR, Brazil. E-mail: gracye-
[d] PhD in Psychology from São Paulo University USP. Professor at Federal University of Paraná -
UFPR. Curitiba, PR, Brazil. E-mail:
In the process of internationalization, multicultural management deal with the cultural differences
issues, i.e. diversity related to language, values, customs and behavior in the workplace. Due to the
internationalization of companies and work teams, new organizational structures have emerged,
such as virtual teams. The purpose of this paper is to understand the influence of cultural differ-
ences and multiculturalism in virtual teams as well as to identify potential cultural impacts in their
work development and performance. For this, it was conducted a single case study in depth in a US
multinational IT company. After completed the content analysis, we identified issues related to the
differences between the global organizational culture and the national culture of the team mem-
bers, communication barriers, differences in leadership style and acclimatization to the virtuality.
They led to the conclusion that virtual teams, although they are essential to the growth and evolu-
tion of the company, they need to be worked to overcome the multicultural differences among team
members, or better managed toward an improved outcome for the organization. The reflection and
contribution presented in this paper refers to the emergence of local culture studies about the
organizational culture regarding global virtual teams.
Keywords: Organizational culture. Multicultural differences. Virtual Teams.
With the internationalization phenomenon, many companies have been ex-
panding their business and the boundaries of organizations have become closer than
ever before. In this scenario, interconnection between countries, States, and organi-
zations has taken place and with that, new challenges have settled in business envi-
ronments, such as the multicultural management and issues regarding cultural dif-
ferences like language, customs, behavior patterns and workplace practices (CANEN;
CANEN, 2005).
In a multinational company, when individuals interact with each other they
recognize different ways on how should be management and implementation of
work activities. In the process of multicultural interaction, business teams can be
structured in such a way that their work processes are improved by tapering their
competence and combining their cultural diversity for the benefit of organizational
processes and decisions (BUENO; FREITAS, 2015).
Novel organizational structures have replaced the traditional functional
and/or matrix designs, with empowered, flexible and integrated work teams that
requires horizontal communication on behalf of interdisciplinary activities, collabo-
ration and mutual cooperation needs (GIBSON et al., 2014). Thus, the virtual teams
have emerged as an organizational structure that became possible by the advance of
information and communication technology (GILSON et al., 2015).
This contemporary organizational structure enables organizations to have
access to qualified individuals for a particular job regardless of their location or na-
tionality (TOWNSEND et al., 1998; GIBSON et al., 2014). With that, organizations are
able to position themselves faster and become strategically flexible, in response to an
increasingly competitive market (MALHOTRA; MAJCHRZAK, 2014). For this reason,
virtual teams are considered strategic as they can provide the organization a poten-
tial source of competitive advantage (STRIUKOVA; RAYNA, 2008).
However, the market has been more and more concerned with the dynamics
of virtual teams and their multicultural interaction. As a result, it becomes relevant to
understand the influence of cultural differences on such work setting. Studies, such
as Hosftede (1985; 1990), have focused on examining cultural differences in different
countries and organizations in co-located teams, however, there are lacking studies
on how this phenomenon occurs in virtual teams.
Therefore, the purpose of this study is to understand the influence of cultural
differences and multiculturalism in the performance of three virtual teams of a mul-
tinational information technology (IT) organization.
To this end, this paper is structured by this introduction, followed by a theo-
retical foundation that addresses organizational culture, multicultural organizations
and virtual teams, the presentation of the methodological procedures used for this
research and the results and analysis of the gathered data, and lastly, the conclusions
and limitations of the study.
Virtual teams and multiculturality: differences and impacts of organizational culture in an i.t. com-
Organizational Culture
Race, ethnicity or even their conjunction are not the only forms of cultural
production. Social units, institutions and organizations are also forms of creation and
transformation of culture. Since the 80’s, many scholars (HOFSTEDE, 1985;
SHRIVASTAVA, 1985; FREITAS, 1991; SCHEIN, 1993) have been gathering efforts to
research and define the field of culture within social and organizational boundaries
(MOTTA, 1997).
Schein (1993) presents one of the most used concepts of culture, he defines
organizational culture as a model of basic assumptions, created and developed in the
learning process of a particular group to deal with the internal integration and exter-
nal adaptability to the organization. For this author, once the assumptions are all
valid, they are taught and shared to others so that there is a standard way of thinking
and acting with respect to the problems of the environment.
Schein (2009) uses the concept of organizational culture as a collective learn-
ing, that once developed in group, is shared with the other members for cohesion in
resolving domestic issues facing the external environment. In this vein, Freitas
(2007) states that the point of every organization owning a culture can be challenged
whether there are or not opportunities of learning occur. The degree of organization-
al culture interaction is related to the time of interaction between the group mem-
bers and the intensity that the collective learning takes place.
One has to say that much of the interest in studying organizational culture is to
find out why groups behave in a certain way, as well as why certain values are de-
fined within the organizations (FREITAS, 2007).
Srivastava (1985) uses a more tangible concept about the organizational cul-
ture to consider it as a set of products for which the organization is perpetuated.
These products include: myths, sagas, language, metaphors, symbols, ceremonies,
rituals, values and norms of behavior.
The elements cited in literature make up the values, beliefs and assumptions
and communication, as part of the creation and maintenance of the organizational
culture. They are described in more detail in table 1:
Table 1 Elements of the system of creation and maintenance of organizational cul-
Beliefs and basic concepts in an organization. The organizational values form the
central core of the organizational culture, by means of these are established
standards of how to think, act and react the activities within the organization.
According to Deal & Kennedy (1982) the values provide direction and serve as a
guide to the behavior of all employees. Other elements are involved in the process
of maintenance of values, such as the stories, myths, rituals and ceremonies.
Beliefs and
For Schein (1993), the vision of the world, the collective perception, and cognitive
intuition that are used within the organization are based on the beliefs and as-
sumptions that have been validated by the group. Thus, the organizational culture
is a constantly learning process, always based on a set of core assumptions and
beliefs that individuals incorporate and validate as correct by means of their mu-
tual interaction.
Schall apud Freitas (1991) argues that cultures are created, sustained, communi-
cated and changed through social interaction. For the author, organizations are
seen as a phenomenon of communication, without which it would not exist. The
communication would be something intrinsic to the organization, which through
the culture would be created and revealed to everyone who are part of.
Source: Created by the authors.
Deal and Kennedy (1982) argue that even in a strong culture, as in the case of
large organizations, networking and effective communicative process can be one of
the only ways to get the job done while respecting the cultural standard established
by the organization.
According to Mintzberg et al. (2000), to the extent that the organizational cul-
ture is consider as the mind of the organization, this gives more clarity to the con-
cepts by accepting that beliefs, common habits, symbols and other elements, that
may be part of culture, are intertwined with the result of business management, even
though there is no agreement among researchers and theorists on the influence of
culture on organizational performance whatsoever (FREITAS, 2007).
Once exposed the contributions on the topic of organizational culture, next, the
multicultural organization will be presented - a topic of culture that investigates the
functioning of culture in international organizations that operate in different coun-
tries and are under the influence of various systems of national values, in addition to
its global organizational culture.
Multicultural Organization
With globalization and the development of the international market, organiza-
tions have spread to different parts of the world. Thus, a company that had its opera-
tions restricted to the local market or even national has intensified the stage of its
transactions with different countries and also has gone through the phenomenon of
internationalization, developing branches, offices and production/business units in
different locations apart from its national origin.
According to Freitas (2007), when large organizations have surpassed geo-
graphical boundaries, there is also a spread of socio-cultural matrices that these
companies carry with them wherever they are installed. However, it should be noted
that, even if there is influence and possible standardization of technologies and ways
of working, every society sets itself by selecting and creating their own adaptations
to the dominant culture. According to Motta (1997), in this process, there are global
Virtual teams and multiculturality: differences and impacts of organizational culture in an i.t. com-
values and customs, but also, the hybridity mixing of cultures that is characterized
as a field of study of the organizational culture.
In the end, there are several aspects that influ-
ence these cultural differences between companies.
However, one of the most important factors that dif-
ferentiates the culture of a company from another
culture, perhaps most importantly, is the national
culture. The core assumptions, customs, beliefs and
values, as well as the artifacts that characterize the
culture of a company, bring out, somehow, the brand
of their corresponding national culture. There is no
way, therefore, to study culture of companies operat-
ing in a society, without studying the culture-or cul-
tures-of such society (MOTTA and CALDAS, 1997, p.
Many studies have, as their object, the cultural comparison and the behavior of
organizations located in different locations. This stream of research, initiated in Eu-
rope, is interested in investigating the cultural contingency and its influence in organ-
izations (MOTTA, 1997; FREITAS, 2007).
One of the most cited research refers to the study developed by Hofstede
(1985), who was interested in investigating the different organizational values and
national systems. The author, during 15 years of research, in a single organization
operating worldwide, involving more than 53 countries, identified four dimensions of
values that explain to some extent the different patterns of work-related values. The
dimensions identified were:
Table 2 Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions
The extent in which society accepts the fact that power is distrib-
uted unequally in organizations and in society itself, of which
there are privileges and where the personal absolute authority is
The extent in which society feels threatened by uncertain and
ambiguous situations. Different cultures have different coeffi-
cients of risk aversion and uncertainty.
The way the individual is connected to the social structure; if this
loop is more or less flexible in order to provide opportunities for
display of individual behaviors.
The extent in which certain society focuses on achievement, hero-
ism, determination and material success, as opposed to the pref-
erence for relationships, modesty, watch out for the other, quality
of life, etc.
Source: Adapted from Hofstede (1985)
According to Hofstede (1985), the foreign subsidiaries of multinational organi-
zations end up playing a hybrid organizational culture, a reflection of international
organizational culture and national culture. However, the author reinforces that even
among the employees of the subsidiaries of the same international business, are
found differences in the values of working relationships, although in large interna-
tional organizations whose culture is shared, you can identify a similarity between its
members, even if from different nationalities. That is, there are similarities, but there
are also differences and these differences are what we seek to show through this
The influence of national culture is relevant on the organizational culture.
Considering this, there is a direct relationship in the performance of the organization,
or their different work teams that are affected by the multiculturalism, so under-
standing the roots of cultural differences are crucial to the management of these
teams as well as the overall company (BUENO; FREITAS, 2015).
As the scope of this work is to evaluate multicultural differences in virtual
teams, the next topic describes and contextualizes such organizational structure.
Virtual Teams
The advance of information and communication technology and globalization
process has boosted the emergence of a new organizational structure known as vir-
tual teams (GILSON et al., 2015). This scenario, where organizations are confronted
with constant transformation of their business model and exponential development
of technology, reflects a favorable environment to the development of these teams
and the increase of their adoption within organizations worldwide (GIBSON et al.,
2014; GILSON et al., 2015).
According to Powel, Piccoli and Ives (2004), virtual teams are groups of
knowledge workers geographically, temporally, and/or organizationally dispersed,
but brought together in time and space by the advanced information and communi-
cation technology. These teams can be classified as global, as per Maznevski and
Chudoba (2000), when distributed internationally and with organizational authority
to take or implement decisions with international implications. Virtual teams, when
organized in a global scope, serves as an important mechanism for integration of
information, decision making and implementation of actions around the world (GIB-
SON; GIBBS, 2006; GIBSON et al., 2014).
Virtual teams can influence organizations to become more flexible and to stra-
tegically position themselves in order to act faster in response to an increasingly
competitive market (BERRY, 2011; MALHOTRA; MAKCHRZAK, 2014). In other
words, they represent strategic structures, as they may offer a potential source of
competitive advantage (EBRAHIM et al., 2009; STRIUKOVA; RAYNA, 2008).
However, there is no consensus on the concept of virtual teams. In an attempt
to overcome this theoretical problem some researchers have considered the degree
of virtuality (MALIK et al., 2004; KIRKMAN et al., 2004; MALHOTRA; MAJCHRZAK,
2014). According to Kirkman et al. (2004), virtuality describes the level at which the
teams use technology to communicate and coordinate their activities and efforts. So,
instead of comparing virtual versus co-located teams, scholars have focused on their
Virtual teams and multiculturality: differences and impacts of organizational culture in an i.t. com-
degree of virtuality, in recognition of the fact that nowadays most of the teams uses
the technology in one way or another (GIBSON; GIBBS, 2006). Malhotra and
Majchrzak (2014) corroborate with the idea of teams having different dimensions of
virtuality, as that this is not about of simply adjusting the best technology to the
team’s activity (MAZNEVSKI; CHUDOBA, 2000), but also to adapt it to the needs of
team’s coordination (MALHOTRA; MAJCHRZAK, 2014). In this perspective, the virtu-
ality becomes an element that enhances the understanding of work in organizational
teams in general.
In addition to the controversies and diversity of concepts, there is also a theo-
retical pluralism in the study of virtual teams. This theoretical pluralism is not rare in
the area of organizational theory as there isn't a unifying theory of teams (POWELL et
al., 2004; SCHILLER; MANDVIWALLA, 2007). The main constructs found in literature
of virtual teams, according to Powell, Piccoli and Ives (2004), are: team inputs, team
processes and team outputs. Gilson et al. (2015) added to this list of constructs, the
mediators, such as communication, coordination, conflict and confidence; and moder-
ators, such as virtuality and interdependence.
The plethora of benefits of adopting virtual teams come with challenges (AN-
DRES, 2012; HERTEL et al., 2005), such as more complex people management and
coordination of work that is distributed and dispersed in time and space (MCLEOD,
2013). In addition, the lack of a shared context and the discontinuities that members
of the virtual teams face can affect the organizational strategic alignment (MAL-
Commonly, researchers consider that the team function is affected when its
members rely primarily on technology (MALIK et al., 2004), i.e. in teams with a high
degree of virtuality (FOSTER et al., 2015). However, the conditions that are favorable
to the effectiveness of virtual teams remain unknown. In this vein, Guinea et al.
(2012) showed inconsistent results between performance and virtuality, i.e., some
research indicates that relationship as positive, others as negative or indifferent. This
corroborates with the notion of virtuality that Kirkman et al. (2004) present: virtuali-
ty itself is not a performance inhibitor if members are able to use the most appropri-
ate forms of technology at the right time. They concluded that virtuality itself does
not generate harm but, on the contrary, can potentially become a strategic resource.
However, important moderators and contextual variables have not been deep-
ly explored in research (FOSTER et al., 2015). Foster et al. (2015) understand that
teams influence and are influenced by the context, and therefore, it is an important
element for the understanding of the field, yet, there is still no consensus on how to
describe or define it. For example, Guinea et al. (2012) conclude that virtuality may
generate different effects on teams, according to the duration of time in which their
members work together, i.e. the context of temporal stability. So, cultural diversity is
another relevant factor to the processes and results of virtual teams. The cultural
composition of a team is a major structural feature and integration processes, as
multicultural interaction training, are likely to be key factors for their success
(MAZNEVSKY; CHUDOBA, 2000; HOCH; KOZLOWSKI, 2014). For example, a more
collectivistic culture has positive impact in team processes when compared to an
individualistic culture (MOCKAITIS et al., 2012). Therefore, it is important to include
contextual factors in virtual teams’ research in order to explore their attribute of
virtuality (FOSTER et al., 2015).
For this study, we used a qualitative research because of the interest in the in-
terpretation that the participants own regarding the situation under investigation.
The case presented below aims to identify multicultural differences in virtual teams
of an IT multinational company based in the United States, hereafter called ATCHE
(fantasy name given to ensure confidentiality).
On the above, it is intended to achieve the goals of this study through the re-
search strategy of an in depth single case study based on data collected mainly
through interviews. According to Yin (2010), a reason to choose case study as re-
search strategy is the question of research set out with ' how ' and ' why '. That is, the
more the question seeks to explain any circumstances present, or when the issue
requires a broad and thorough description of a social phenomenon where the re-
searcher has little control over the events, and when the focus is on contemporary
phenomena inserted in real-life context (YIN, 2010; GANDHI; MELLO; SILVA, 2010).
The data collection technique predominantly used was the semi-structured
interview combined with non-participant observation. Due to the nature of virtual
teams, as well as the global feature of the organization studied reflecting a multina-
tional company, we decided to operationalize most of the interviews in virtual form,
i.e. by video conferencing. Respondents are presented in Table 3.
Table 3 - Research Interview Respondents.
Teams / Interviewees
Job Allocation
Global Manager
Global Man./Sponsor
Regional Manager
Team Manager CN
Regional Manager
Team Manager US
Regional Manager
Team Manager(β) AL
Consulting Engineer
CTO Team Global
Regional Manager
Team Manager (β) AL
Consulting Engineer
Team Leader (TL)
Regional Manager
Team Manager (ω) AL
Consulting Engineer
Team Leader (TL)
Source: created by the authors.
Because it is a qualitative research and with a great volume of textual data, we
used Atlasti software to assist with data analysis. A hermeneutic unit, equivalent to a
qualitative database, was created to manage the whole encoding process and data
analysis. The interviews were recorded, transcribed and transferred to the Atlasti,
Virtual teams and multiculturality: differences and impacts of organizational culture in an i.t. com-
one by one. Each interview was described separately, as a single entity, and subse-
quently, all relevant comparisons. After that, we defined the codes used to map the
important accounts and capture related meaning to the achievement of the study
proposed objectives.
As a method to parse the interviews, we used content analysis. This tech-
nique employs systematic procedures and objectives description of contents of mes-
sages aimed at obtaining indicators that allow building knowledge regarding implied
variables of messages (BARDIN, 2006). The intent of the content analysis, according
to Bardin (2006, p. 34): "is the inference of knowledge concerning production condi-
tions (or, possibly, reception), this inference, which refers to indicators (quantitative
or not)". This technique requires an organized structure, divided into three stages,
being first organized in a pre-analysis step, then, in the exploitation of collected data
and, finally, on the stage of the processing of results that will crown in the inferences
and interpretations of the researchers (BARDIN, 2006).
Regarding the choice of case, the study is considered in depth single case
(YIN, 2010). Due to the need to consider the importance and/or rarity that a single
case study must have (YIN, 2010), we opted for a company with tradition in virtual
teams; a world reference company that is pioneer in the adoption of advanced infor-
mation and communication technologies to facilitate the work of employees with the
possibility to act efficiently and effectively from anywhere at any time.
It is important to note that the survey was conducted within seasoned virtual
teams that are considered reference models within their business units, and that
have been performing in this work design for over 9 years, therefore, are representa-
tive objects of study. In addition, the adoption of the research protocol, prior to the
field trip and gathering phase, in conjunction with the use of a qualitative database
(Atlasti), represent tactics that corroborate to research’s validity and reliability (YIN,
With respect to the chosen virtual teams, representing each a unit of anal-
ysis or a case (YIN, 2010) in this research, their choice meets the arson criteria as per
Creswell (2010). This criterion is used to select cases that allow the understanding of
the context, as well as the opportunity to deep investigate and a comparative basis
between them (CRESWELL, 2010).
We chose permanent virtual teams - project engineering teams, and man-
agers- that are considered solid and seasoned teams so that from the investigation of
the interaction between their members, it was possible to study the multicultural
differences and its potential influence on the performance of the teams. After the
choice and definition of internal cases, the actors involved were identified within
each of the teams for the interview phase. The respondents were selected by their
involvement with virtual teams, be in your decision, implementation, coordination
and/or performance.
Case study description
The company researched is one of the largest technology companies in the
world and their Brazilian subsidiary is among the 10 largest companies in the coun-
try. To maintain the secrecy, its identity will not be revealed and the fantasy name
ATCHE was assigned to characterize it. ATCHE is an American multinational, which
among other things, operates in the IT services segment. With offices in more than
100 countries, distributed in 6 continents, and 280,000 employees, the company had
a revenue exceeding $100 billions of dollars and presented a net profit of about 5
billion dollars in fiscal 2014.
Despite being an American company, most of the revenue is currently outside
the United States. This, in a way, legitimizes the criticality of integration, as well as
the availability of infrastructure for collaboration at a distance. Within the company,
the business unit target for this study was “Services”, which had a revenue of approx-
imately $23 billion, which represents 19% of the company’s total revenue.
Description of the studied virtual teams
Three units of analysis, that is, three virtual teams were selected. These teams
are linked to the global network services, an area responsible for the network infra-
structure service line. The chosen virtual teams are solid and are virtual work pio-
neers in the internal environment of the organization. They share the same advanced
IT infrastructure, organized for the virtual work for over 9 years and referred to
hereafter by the following names fantasies: Alpha, Beta, and Omega.
The Alpha team, according to Duarte and Snyder (2001), is a management
team, where members work through space and time, but usually in the same organi-
zation, resolving issues that arise. It differs from the other two by its role and level of
expertise. The Beta and Omega virtual teams are composed of specialists and engi-
neers that provide project engineering services. According to Duarte and Snyder
(2001), they can be characterized as production, project and service teams because
they work on a regular and continuous fashion in a functional area, dealing with non-
routine activities that have specific and measurable results, with clear and defined
goals, and also, they take advantage of the differences between time zones.
Virtual Team Alpha
The level of activity of Alpha is strategic because it brings together the leaders
of each region of the globe that delivers services and enables new business opportu-
nities. It is thus a management team (DUARTE; SNYDER, 2001), formed predomi-
nantly by managers of the regional teams, which respond to the global manager.
More specifically, this management team works promoting the corporate alignment
through communication, priority-setting, and resolution of issues from regional
teams. In short, the Alpha team presents a high degree of virtuality (KIRKMAN et al.,
2004), once the leaders are geographically dispersed, in different time zones and
Virtual teams and multiculturality: differences and impacts of organizational culture in an i.t. com-
thus depend on a great extent of advanced information and communication technol-
ogy to operate.
Alpha is currently composed of 8 managers covering the following world re-
gions: AMERICAS (Canada, United States and Latin America); EMEA (Germany and
England); and ASIA Pacific (Japan and New Zealand). For this study, the managers
from Canada, United States and Latin America, as well as a Senior Engineer and
member of the team were interviewed. This was accomplished in order to investigate
the perception with respect to work and cultural differences existing in their virtual
teams, relationships and interactions as a member of the Alpha team, and as a man-
ager of other regional virtual team, where you need to deal with conflict manage-
ment, decision making, negotiation, among other tasks.
Virtual Team Beta
The Beta team’ scope is network security engineering. It is responsible for
providing network security infrastructure designs for internal and external custom-
ers of Latin America under the global architectural standard to guarantee seamless
network security designs worldwide. The Beta team emerged within an already es-
tablished virtual culture of work. The team is currently composed of over 20 engi-
neers distributed in the following countries: Mexico, Chile and Brazil. Most of the
team, however, is distributed between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro sites.
According to the Manager, over time team’s virtuality degree has reduced. Cur-
rently, it does not rely completely on IT to operate. The concentration of members
geographically near the main office allows them to work in co-presence. So, it's a
mixed or hybrid team (partly virtual, partly co-located), but predominantly virtual in
the sense of having their interactions and activities mediated by technology. Besides,
Beta also interacts with others regional non-distributed/co-located teams, namely,
with teams that only work in co-presence.
Virtual Team Omega
The Omega team’ scope is network engineering. More specifically, it is respon-
sible for designing internal infrastructure-related networks, such as data centers. Its
mission is to provide network engineering services to Latin America, following the
architectural standards and functions pre-defined by the global team, so that clients
receive the same service delivery worldwide.
The Omega team has currently 16 engineers distributed between Brazil and
Chile. Therefore, Omega encompasses both structures: virtual and co-located work.
The manager coordinates the efforts of the team from Sao Paulo’s office, from where
most engineers work and also other teams which they interact with all in co-
presence. Besides, the regional leadership of the Brazilian subsidiary also works
mainly from this office.
Data Analysis
During the examination of the interviews, were found some categories of
analysis that helped the understanding of the responses with respect to the
researched matter. The categories that were used addressed the following:
organizational culture, communication, leadership, virtuality and virtual work and
influence of cultural differences on the performance of the team.
During the interview phase, the word culture came about naturally, without
any specific relationship with questioning the company's organizational culture and
whether in fact there were some cultural differences in work teams. We highlight in
Table 4, some transcripts of interviews that assist in the understanding of the
categories of analysis found.
Table 4 Analysis Categories
Analysis Categories
Interview Transcript
“When you're dealing with any group of people that come
from a certain place and time you're dealing with the culture.
And that's what feeds and drives and gives meaning to every-
one's of those people's day.” (Respondent R1A)
“The cultural barrier that is very disruptive is communica-
tion, it must be overturned in order to really achieve the re-
sults that are expected.” (Respondent R2W)
“Local Leadership is effective in knowing how to speak to
individuals in a more appropriate way - blunt (in the case of
Brazil) - not focus only on metrics like Americans." (Re-
spondent R2W)
“At the organizational level, it allows everyone to work in
specific ways without getting in the way of how other people
do their work. The technology and the structure allow any
one person to work in pretty much any fashion that works
best for them.” (Respondent R5A)
Influences on work
“Their goal is to leave everything the same so that a person
from the United States can solve a problem in Brazil, for ex-
ample. But the biggest problem, not only Brazil but Latin
America is how they work time.” (Respondent R6B)
Source: research data.
Regarding the organizational culture, respondents point to reflections about
the differences between the enterprise global organizational culture and national
cultures where staff are allocated.
“If you can get the direction and mission of the
company and adjust it as close as possible to your
region, it would be the most appropriate. I think fol-
lowing 100% is not possible because of cultural is-
sues ... every part of the world you have a type of cul-
Virtual teams and multiculturality: differences and impacts of organizational culture in an i.t. com-
ture, you have a kind of customer culture, the culture
of the person who will work with you.” (Respondent
Although the company has employees from various countries of the world, and
people working virtually, the case study focuses on a work composed by many North
American employees (The United States and Canada) and by Latin America (Mexico,
Chile, Peru, Brazil), in that sense, it was found some similarity when compared the
local national cultures and the company’s global culture.
“What I mean by the fact that Canadians and
Americans were very streamlined together is ... they
share similar holidays they share many of the same
days off... It is a fundamental cultural structure. And
the other things that form culture are media and
communications and when you live in Canada one of
the things you have to do is that a great deal of what
you experience in this world is media and communi-
cations from America.” (Respondent R1A)
The American organizational culture adaptation is simplified when the
employee comes from a national value system similar to the United States one, as is
the case in Canada, as demonstrated by respondent R1A. When the interviewee is
from other countries in Latin American, other perceptions are felt about cultural
“Cultural differences, conflict aversion, focus,
work organization, punctuality, respect the rules.
Brazilian in general, he does not shy away from con-
flict, we like to debate and discuss in a warmer way.
And I even think that sometimes this is quite positive
when you have a sharper discussion.” (Respondent
In one of the Hofstede’s researches (1985) the author brought specific consid-
erations about Brazil. According to his research’s results, Brazil can be considered a
collectivist society, not, however among the most collectivist ones. But it's in a quad-
rant as stipulated by Hofstede far from the individualist culture of United States.
Brazil still appears among one of the nations where the search to avoid the uncer-
tainty is too large and its feminine dimension, although close to the male, has a high
In Latin American countries, as well as in Brazil, there is a need to personal ap-
proach and bonding process, unlike the United States and Canada - even in virtual
teams, this feature is not left out.
"We created a habit every Friday, which I
loved, a time set aside to talk about projects that
were hidden, we had the same concerns about gen-
eral issues .... It is difficult for an American that we
entered to the point people even… " (Respondent
Virtual meetings that bring the team members together, activities that involve
close contact between the team and its customers although they are not stimulated
by enterprise global culture programs, these situations are easily found when em-
ployees are still under the influence of their systems of national values.
"I think the Latino have a preference for main-
taining a closer relationship and like to know the
person, then ... I think when you personally you
know they give you more value, more trust and cre-
ates a more collaborative environment ... I guess
when you meet in person, you end up creating the
right link and the person is more willing to help, is
nicer, is friendlier. American, American and it looks
like it's targeted at not having both contacts like
that." (Respondent R3W)
Issues such as these can lead us to believe that although the scope of virtual
work is conceived and initially worked in American culture, it can be deployed on
other cultures, whereas there will be adaptations with regard to employment rela-
tionships even if these are configured differently from the model proposed by Ameri-
can values.
"The American, with whom he is working, in
fact if the person is in Brazil, is in India, is in the
United States, professional contact that he wants to
be, you don't want to talk too much." (Respondent
Considering the issues related to language and communication, several notes
were raised by respondents with respect to the way that occurs to the
communication and how language issues are resolved in this multicultural
“We also have cultural level since it is global
and internationally everyone has sort of more than
how different culture handles different situations.
Different in Brazil vs. Costa Rica vs. US vs. India. So
the virtual collaborate tools give us a way to basically
find a common, uh… find a simple language that we
Virtual teams and multiculturality: differences and impacts of organizational culture in an i.t. com-
can all talk into this from what we're viewing.” (Re-
spondent R5A)
It is clear to some respondents that as there are barriers in communication due
to cultural differences, the virtual work can also resolve some of these difficulties,
although it is clear that for Brazilians respondents the lack of physical presence
seems to be a barrier to the smooth running of the activities in these teams.
"At the time of a crisis, or a conversation.
When you are physically present, you can have a bet-
ter approach. Not that the technology would not be
able to supply this need. I think that today, people
hold a lot in e-mails, to have everything filed ... in-
stead of you pick up the phone and call. I think that
this technology could be used rather than you simply
send an email, waiting for someone else to answer,"
(Respondent R4AB).
In a theme related to interrelationship and the dynamics of working in virtual
teams, respondents were asked about the role of leadership on the team, the effec-
tiveness of leaders and how they should work in a virtual environment. Again, we
found differences between the perceptions of the North and Latin American employ-
“When you work within an American company
is almost impossible to see the manager. Even if you
are intimately connected.” (Respondent R1A)
It can be noted the spontaneity in which the Canadian respondent talks about
the lack of direct contact with the leader unlike the reports of Brazilian respondents.
For Latin Americans, mainly in Brazil, even in virtual teams, much is said about the
need to be close to your leader. In some cases, in virtual teams, employees are in the
physical space of the company, but are involved in projects and working with differ-
ent people out there, sometimes the team leader or manager is by your side or is in
another country.
"I think it should be something that would
force people to have a sense of commitment ... in
Brazil sometimes work is the result of friendship,
and friendship is the result of the work. You end up
creating a relationship with the person because you
work. Here in Brazil, the person works if you're her
friend." (Respondent R8B)
"When misunderstandings occur ... in Brazil is
sometimes difficult, depending on the person you
have to take it slower, it can't go so direct in point,
have to go just before cooking. If it's someone from
the outside is more comfortable. " (Respondent R8B)
It was observed that the personal relationship, with team members, or in this
case with the leadership, reflects much the commitment that will be given by the
employee at the time of the work. For the virtual team, this can be one of the great
difficulties when we're dealing with different local cultures. In the leading role, the
leader must understand that the treatment and the interrelationship with some team
members will generate more motivation and so may have more positive results. It is
an adaptive process, from person to person, from culture to culture.
As already mentioned above, the national American culture is often fused with
Canadian culture, and although very different from the other Latin American cul-
tures, one of the respondents, in your role as global manager, understands and ex-
plains very clearly that great cultural differences related to the leadership challenges.
“I would say that disadvantage summarizes as
a result of poor leadership. Because expectations are
what poor leadership give you. So, when I first set up
the Brazilian team for firewall engineering Don C ex-
pected them to act like Americans. He was my boss.
He expected them to want to work 24 h a day 365
days a year and I say no. We are not paying these
guys 85k a year We are not paying these guys to ig-
nore their culture, you're not paying these guys to
reject their families, and their churches and their cul-
tural traditions. We're paying these guys a salary to
do a job ... And the job has limits depending on the
individual that must be respected. And there is law in
place to enforce that.” (Respondent R1A)
Differences and thoughts like these, are even more evident when respondents
are asked about the virtuality of the work, the process of adaptation to the virtual
team, the perception that they have about virtuality and the difficulties in that scope
of work.
"South America is very particular, there is still
very resistant to this type of structure, for example,
in Mexico, was very unhappy to hear the engineer
who was working on the project was Brazilian, who
was in Brazil, his own personal account leader re-
quired to have a Mexican engineer working there in
Mexico, only to meet a particular customer. This
happened also in Chile, in Peru, and in various loca-
tions they demanded to be hired the staff of local
subsidiary, to be able to meet." (Respondent R5B)
Virtual teams and multiculturality: differences and impacts of organizational culture in an i.t. com-
It was noticed that the difference of work in Latin America and North Ameri-
cans, is that here there is still a very strong plea for face-to-face meetings, personal
contact with people from the same culture. Even though the company is global, peo-
ple of certain location prefer that their project is led by a local engineer. This interac-
tion with the client, considered generally natural here, is almost proscribed in the
United States and in Canada.
In reference to the ambiance and adaptation to virtual work, respondents ar-
gue that must have an alignment between what the company hopes with this struc-
ture and also the perception and adaptation that the person has in this process. Espe-
cially for Brazilians employees who are not so used to this scope of virtual work,
words like "growth" and "learning" are often used to refer to the process of adapta-
tion to the virtual team.
"With respect to the employee, this is done at
the very beginning, the new people that come in,
they don't get into the company and already are re-
mote. Has a period of about 3 months, so that she
will understand the operation because it will deal
with the person, she will see the leader there, so I
think that in this period of ambiance if solve many
things." (Respondent R6B)
As part of the objectives of this study, in addition to identifying the multicul-
tural differences in virtual teams, we seek to identify and analyze the cultural influ-
ences on the progress and performance of the virtual teams. To do so, we considered
team performance as a measure of effectiveness at work, achieving goals and good
results in the projects in that virtual teams are involved.
"In Brazil there still has a lot of restrictions
when working with virtual teams… it is a lot of mess
... still has the appeal of the handshake, hug," one lit-
tle thing ", I help you help me. So, I believe that virtu-
al teams can work, but it takes longer, is more com-
plicated." (Respondent R1W)
"In Brazil things are much slower, I think
there's little interaction between the teams and the
people end up trying to copy the processes that are
imposed by the United States but due to the cultural
issue here in Brazil not working right even with the
settings and everything else." (Respondent R6B)
Right there, we realize in the speaking of Brazilians, that the virtual teams are
not yet well operative in Brazil, which justify with the fact of national cultural differ-
ences with respect to the scope of work. As elaborated above, the need for closeness
and personal interaction, the presence of leadership, adaptation to American values,
are facts that influence the performance as well as the function of members of virtual
teams in Brazil.
"If you have people on the team who are not
accustomed to working with remote teams, the pro-
ject suffers impact, because the person is so used to
walk 2 meters and talk with each other and have the
answer right away, rather than depending on a re-
sponse from a person I’m is away and she can't
charge." (Respondent R6B)
So, it was noted a big challenge to the scope of virtual work to be well accepted
in Latin America. However, it is also observed the various reports that virtuality, to a
greater or lesser degree, has helped in the development of the projects and activities
of the company, especially considering its performance in the world market, that
without the virtual work, many activities and projects would be doomed to failure.
However, this leads us to state that although the virtual teams are critical to the
growth and evolution of the company, they still need to be worked out so that the
cultural differences between the teams be, if not exceeded, better managed so that
there are greater synergy and better results for the organization.
The aim of this study was to understand the influence of multicultural differ-
ences in virtual teams and the possible impact on their operation and performance.
We conclude that although much is gained by the company with the use of the virtual
work, there is little preparation to the employees, including leaders, with virtual
Although there is a global organizational culture prevalent at all business units,
large cultural differences are identified in the studied virtual teams. These differ-
ences are basically justified by local values systems and the national culture where
workers are physically located.
Besides, despite the growing prevalence of virtual teams, relatively little is
known about this new organizational structure and its dynamics (PINSONNEAULT;
CAYA, 2005; GIBSON et al., 2014). The research on this topic is still in its early stages
and many areas were not examined (MAZNEVSKI; CHUDOBA, 2000; EBRAHIM et al.,
2009; GIBSON, et al., 2014; GILSON et al., 2015).
Future research should explore global values systems and prevalent organiza-
tional culture in other countries and regions, in companies from Europe, Asia or oth-
er, whereas a large number of studies in this area are restricted to North American
companies and IT companies. We believe that different cultural aspects may emerge
when compared to other values systems, cultures and also other industries.
To wrap up the discussion presented in this research and in order to encour-
age further studies in this underdeveloped theme, we end this section with the fol-
lowing excerpt from one of the interviewee:
Virtual teams and multiculturality: differences and impacts of organizational culture in an i.t. com-
“This is not an experiment in IT management. This is
an experiment in a virtual culture work!!” (Respondent
In other words, along with the advantages of the adoption of the virtual teams,
there are also many challenges, especially those related to the social and human as-
pects such as communication, shared knowledge, among other factors that the lack of
co-presence raises (GILSON et al., 2015). With that said, the thinking presented in
this work brings a contribution to deepening the discussion in the area of administra-
tion, especially as the emergence of studies in these new forms of work organization,
and especially on how local culture influences on the organizational culture in global
virtual teams.
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Received: 09/06/2017
Approved: 10/05/2017
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Increasingly, geographically dispersed teams are relying exclusively on sophisticated information and communication technologies (ICTs) to coordinate their knowledge. Current research argues that the reliance on the technology (versus face-to-face) for communication may inhibit geographically distributed team performance. In contrast, we argue that previous research associates negative performance effects with the level or degree of exclusive reliance on ICT without regard to the specific form or ways in which team members use ICT. We hypothesize that teams will be more successful when they use ICT to specifically facilitate the situational awareness needs created by their teams’ composition and task. We studied 54 geographically dispersed teams that all relied exclusively on ICT (with minimal to no face-to-face interactions) for coordination in order to control for the effect of the level of reliance on ICTs. Our multi-source/multimethod study demonstrates that the form of use can have a positive association with team performance even in teams relying exclusively on ICT depending on the team composition and nature of task being performed. Our findings suggest that, instead of assuming that technology reliance negatively impacts team performance, researchers studying distributed teams should separate the level of reliance (degree of use) from form of reliance (type of use) on ICT.
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This paper investigates the perceptions of members of 43 culturally diverse global virtual teams, with respect to team processes and outcomes. Despite widespread acknowledgement of the challenges presented by cultural differences in the context of global teams, little is known about the effect of these differences on team dynamics in the absence of face-to-face interaction. Using a student-based sample, we study the relationship between global virtual team members' individua-listic and collectivistic orientations and their evaluations of trust, interdependence, communication and information sharing, and conflict during the team task. Our results suggest that a collectivist orientation is associated with more favorable impressions regarding global virtual team processes and that cultural differences are not concealed by virtual means of communication. Multicultural teams face a myriad of challenges not faced by single-culture teams. Cultural differ-ences within teams have the potential to pose barriers with respect to communication, relationship building, cooperation, and trust, influencing team members' views of the group and both their own and others' participation in it. Greater cultural diversity within the team is expected to result in more pronounced differences in attitudes and behaviors.
The theoretical framework of vigilant interaction theory is used to examine information exchange and decision-making quality in virtual teams. Groups completed a hidden profile task in one of three geographic dispersion conditions: all members colocated, isolated, or mixed with two colocated and two isolated members. Vigilant interactiondiscussion of task information, attention to other group members' information, discussion of positive and negative attributes of the alternatives, and systematic information processingpredicted decision quality. Explicit reminders of information differences predicted pooling of unique information. No evidence was found for difficulties in interaction and task performance due to subgroup faultline dynamics; instead vigilant interaction was highest in groups with mixed distributions, suggesting they exerted compensatory effort. Exploratory analyses suggested that temporal vigilance was lowest in completely distributed groups. Implications for new dimensions of the vigilant interaction theory framework are discussed.
Virtual teams in organizations have now become a reality, but there have been only a handful of quantitative reviews on “virtualness” (i.e., teams that are more or less virtual). We decided to conduct a meta-analytic review of the effects of virtualness on team functioning (conflict, communication frequency, knowledge sharing, performance, and satisfaction). To explain inconsistencies in the results of published material on the topic, we also examined the moderating effects of level of analysis (individual/group), method (experiment/survey), and time frame (short/long). Eighty studies were found that covered some part of this domain. Results seem to differ in the relative importance of the factors. Thus though aggregated findings suggested negative effects of virtualness on team functioning, results varied in strength and direction of the moderators, indicating that it was not possible to generalize. For example, the negative effects held only for short-term teams, while in longer-term teams the effects weakened or disappeared.
In this paper, we review the research on virtual teams in an effort to assess the state of the literature. We start with an examination of the definitions of virtual teams used and propose an integrative definition that suggests that all teams may be defined in terms of their extent of virtualness. Next, we review findings related to team inputs, processes, and outcomes, and identify areas of agreement and inconsistency in the literature on virtual teams. Based on this review, we suggest avenues for future research, including methodological and theoretical considerations that are important to advancing our understanding of virtual teams.