Study the Knowledge and Culture Factors in the Global Virtual Team

烟草中国网信息员胡峰报道 Abstract: The global virtual team must have the communication of organizations innovated, and learn how to make different members cooperate effectively in the cross-cultural, cross-organizational and trans-regional environment. To maintain the team style, the mutual information among members and the positive relationship between individuals and organizations are the basis to establish knowledge-sharing culture in the global virtual team. Key words: global virtual team, culture, knowledge-sharing 1. Insure the Knowledge Management in Effective Works of the Global Virtual Team In today’s organizations, teamwork is an important work form. Actually, organizations cannot exist without teamwork to a certain extent. Advanced information and communication technologies enable team members to work together in the virtual environment, and complete those tasks that were considered to be finished only in a face-to-face environment. Due to the competitive pressures, many companies have to shorten the period of products development and reduce costs by outsourcings all over the world. In such context began the virtual team. Companies increasingly realize that the virtual team will not only improve the flexibility of companies and the response speed to the market changes but also can reduce costs. The emergence of the global virtual team is one of the corporate-globalization phenomena. Meanwhile, advanced information and communication technologies play an increasingly important role in the global business network, especially in the working structure of transnational companies and the virtual working environment. Information and communication technologies are necessary tools for transnational companies when they establish a virtual working environment which transcends geographical boundaries. Moreover, for the geographically scattered employees, both communication and knowledge sharing process cannot work without information and communication technologies. Even though information and communication technologies may influence knowledge sharing, team cohesion and team performance, it is because that people and interpersonal relationship in the virtual environment promote or block the development process of knowledge-sharing culture and organization learning. In the virtual environment of computer-based communication media, the global virtual team takes advantage of information and communication tools to realize the exchanging, spreading and sharing of knowledge. But only information and communication tools are not enough to create a knowledge-sharing environment, and other factors are also needed, such as team confidence, team internal relations, supervision and management, intercultural communication skills and cross-cultural training. The cross-culture training can form a harmonious interactive space which enables the involved members of the global virtual team to participate actively in communication. It is normal, frequent, and an effective way to exchange cross-cultural views and solve team’s new problems as well. Knowledge management usually can be seen as a kind of information gathering, organization, storage, retrieval and transmission process. Knowledge is relatively fixed. It has nothing to do with the position, society and people. Knowledge is a kind of deformation, assessment, addition and deletion based on the absorption of society and culture by humans. The importance of knowledge is clear through filtering cultures. Though we have never been aware of the existence of the filter, it really exists. In fact, knowledge is not so objective as how we assumed. The transmission of knowledge is influenced by culture. The transfer here includes transmission process and the transmission information itself. In addition, on the basis of culture structure and knowledge-sharing, the abilities of the global virtual team to solve and innovate have been improved. Though many scholars emphasize the difficulties brought by the lack of meeting chances and cross-culture traits, what they ignored is: the production of knowledge is the result of culture definition and reconstruction; meanwhile it is limited by the cultural context of the global virtual team. So it can be considered that the new communication and comparing ways will appear in the virtual environment of computer-based media, and they can also influence learning process. At the same time, the quality and depth of the relation among the team members will influence the production and maintenance of the knowledge-sharing basis. 2. The Basis of Culture and Knowledge Sharing of the Global Virtual Team Culture can have deep influence on the conceptualization and the spread of knowledge which is devalued in practices by managers. The communication including the exchange of ideas will promote the knowledge sharing, but the communication process is dynamic, multifaceted and complicated. Culture atmosphere will influence the assessment on team members’ experiences and the ways to spread information and knowledge as well as the learning style. Another problem which should be noticed is that the transmission of information does not mean the effective learning of information. In the process of sending and receiving information, the information sender is often in an active state but the information receiver in a negative one. In the multicultural environment, the misunderstanding of information will happen when the sender cannot (or rejected) to transform the information into the form which the receiver can understand easily. Actually, both the information sender and receiver should be taken as positive participants in the spread of knowledge and the exchange of culture. In the environment with culture differences, communication is effective when the information is understood in other cultural contexts by coding and decoding. It is helpful for members to improve the learning ability through various ways of information transmission which include video, audio, oral examples, written examples and written expression, etc. In a pluralistic environment, it is difficult to reach a good effect by using the ways mentioned above among members with different cultural contexts. And not all the ways are applicable in the virtual environment. In the environment of computer-based media, the way of information transmission is stable and hard to master, maintain and learn. Generally speaking, the higher the virtual degree is, the newer the ways are needed by members to manage relationships, knowledge sharing and professional skills as well as the coordination of collective activities. Moreover, various communication channels, media and feedback mechanism are needed to promote the exchange process in the virtual environment. The key to establish knowledge sharing and cultivate team culture in the virtual team is to have knowledge of how the national culture and the corporate culture influence dynamic changes of the team because the two cultures have great influence on the global virtual team. (1) The influence of the national culture on the internal dynamics of the global virtual team The behavior and communication ways of members from different cultures are not the same. According to the contextual theory, the cultural context should be first understood in order to understand the behavior traits and the ways of communication. Some cultures can be seen as “high context” which means culture deeply depends on the external environment and people prefer the indirect communication; other cultures are “low context” which rely on non-language or behavior clues, so people prefer direct communication and it avoids the ambiguity of communication content. The members in the global virtual team from high context seldom use direct communication ways. Therefore, if members can mutually understand the communication ways and eliminate error or suspicion, the possibility of conflict will be reduced. Generally speaking, the members in the global virtual team who uphold the culture of collectivism prefer to work in a team and attach great importance to the establishment of personal relationships. However, the members who advocate individualism will think that the collectivism is redundant. So the former may take the latter as unreal team members. A better solution is to establish a harmoniously interactive space (such as chatting room) where members can mutually compare notes and exchange ideas. It is good for collectivist members to alleviate loneliness and help them to establish and maintain working relationships with others. The other problem is that if a member comes from a low -uncertainty cultural context, he will become anxious under a totally new and strange working virtual condition unless the working process and rules are identified in the beginning. Explicit rules can bring safety to the members form low-uncertainty cultural context. Meanwhile the frequent and intimate communication among colleagues can form continuous, stable, predictable and credible communication channels. It can reduce their anxiety. (2) The influence of corporate culture on the global virtual team Besides the nation culture, the corporate culture has great influence on management system. The corporate culture roots in the nation culture where the corporate locates. Though the two kinds of culture have different functions, they both affect the operations of transnational companies at the same time. Thus the two factors should be studied deeply, especially the global virtual team that use information and communication technologies. We must have knowledge of the complexity of the corporate culture, the differences and the influential scope of the corporate culture. In terms of the definition, the corporate culture or the organization culture is value and belief expressed by devices, texts, symbols and company activities. It is revealed in the language, tradition, myths and stories of the company as well. In fact, the corporate culture is the learning, absorption and sharing of value, belief and culture. Therefore the corporate culture has great influence on the information and communication technologies used by the global virtual team. It can impede and limit the use of information and communication technologies and can also support the development of technologies, basic infrastructure and the corporate culture. In the formation of the team, team members should know and accept the culture differences and trust each other through the negotiation, communication and agreement. Problem will be dealt with easily based on trust. The key to success is how the virtual team manages its internal conflict. If the initial conflict solution cannot satisfy members, it will be hard to establish and maintain the knowledge-sharing corporate culture in the global virtual team. Company managers, team leaders and members should jointly establish a unified mechanism for conflict solutions and need to negotiate mutually when alteration should be made. 3. The Necessity to Understand the Culture Differences among the Global Virtual Team Members The virtual team environment based on information and communication technologies can strengthen the relationship among members, form fair participation and weaken the corporate hierarchical concept. Compared with the face-to-face meeting, the virtual team improves the degree of members’ participation. The global virtual team uses information and communication technologies widely and there is nearly no chance for social interaction and face-to-face opportunities. Ostensibly, it may impede the establishment of the knowledge-sharing culture. As the time passes, however, it can improve the members’ enthusiasm and strengthen the mutual relations. The result will not appear in traditional teams. Some cultures include plenty of body languages, gestures and facial expressions. It is difficult for members of such cultures to communicate without videos. For instance, in high context, people involved in communication pay more attention to minute indirect language, such as nod, smile, gesture, voice and eye-contact, all of which provide important hints and mean that the other part understands the content to a certain extent. It is difficult for people to complete some works (complicated decision, simple contact) without these hints. Another point is that members are scattered and lack sufficient visual hints, so people from high context have difficulty in establishing trust and friendship. When members of a team don’t know each other, they will quickly judge others by their appearances. If the cultural trait of the global virtual team is direct and informal, the communication will be strengthened by the use of information and communication technologies. When the internal trust has been established, the non-face-to-face interaction will promote understandings, for team members with culture differences cannot be puzzled by the visual hints of the other part. Therefore, the understanding of culture differences of the global virtual team is the important basis for the total understanding of members’ behaviors. 4. Members of the Global Virtual Team Should Possess Communication Ability Before the formation of the global virtual team, companies have take many measures for its creation, and the team members are selected carefully (mainly according to professional and technological skills) and then the tasks and programs are assigned. At the beginning of the process, the problems that should be but have not been considered is whether these members possess the experience to deal with works of the virtual team, whether they have the necessary multicultural knowledge, or whether the selected members are willing to acquire the abilities mentioned above. The above problems can lead to heavy results when the organization is founded and begins to conduct the assigned tasks. Who can be selected to participate in the global virtual team is as important as what kind of technologies they can bring to the team. The larger the culture differences are, the more attention the point should be paid to. Whether these team members have the ability to work in cross-cultural environment and whether they are willing and expect to acquire this ability should be considered in the selection of the team members. After all in the cross-cultural environment, a person should have higher motivation to communicate with others actively and effectively, find the common ground and establish the common view without considering the culture differences. In a word, in order to work effectively, members in the global virtual team should not only master the proper information technologies, and also possess the ability to communicate cross-culturally. So it is necessary for the global virtual team to establish the global communication mechanism in order to solve conflicts by coordination, maintain the internal relationship and establish the effective knowledge-sharing culture. Communication is one of the various factors of cooperation but it is the necessary one. No matter from the point of view of individuals or the collectivity, the key to the success of cooperation is the preparation of effective cross-cultural communication by the members in the global virtual team. Such preparation is as important as the technological ability of the team. Generally speaking, if a person gets along with others in different cultural context and understand the cultural context of the other part, this person will be considered to have cross-cultural communication ability. So if the global virtual team expects to be competitive, individuals and the collectivity should have the global thinking pattern which means that the global virtual team should be open-minded, behave properly, and be sensitive to the deviation and ambiguity during communication and cooperation. And this is the basis to establish and maintain the knowledge-sharing culture. Therefore, cross-cultural training is important to both individuals and the collectivity. The training is helpful for members to realize, adapt to and adjust to the working environment with cultural differences and establish the global thinking pattern. In the global virtual team, the training can be used to help members to discover the cultural differences existing in the telecommunication and conquer it. Members can be conscious that cross-cultural communication is not totally change the individual behavior into the behavior that fits culture differences but to enable members to work in the team with culture differences very well. Though the cross-cultural obstacles can be reduced to some extent by using information and communication technologies, members need to accept the knowledge and ability in accordance with the cross-cultural training. 5. Further Discussion In the environment of computer-based media, the new patterns of communication and social interaction will have positive influence on the learning process of the global virtual team. The potential advantage of the global virtual team is to create harmonious culture atmosphere, to improve members’ cohesion and creativity, and to stimulate their ability to accept new views, which further improves the competitive advantage of the transnational company. The factors of the global virtual team often impede or promote the knowledge sharing and organization learning. Meanwhile, the quality and depth among members may affect the establishment and maintenance of the knowledge-sharing basis. The teamwork is a complicated issue. The culture differences are increased with or without the use of electric technologies and the pluralism of the global team. The global virtual team should establish new pattern of the knowledge sharing, communication and social interaction in the virtual environment. The formation of an effective team is the unshakable task for any organizations, especially when the team makes ineffective decisions and raises misunderstandings, and the conflict and intense among members are difficult to resolve. Recently, the global virtual team can be taken as the establishment for the completion of certain short-term tasks. If the effectiveness is low, such work can be canceled. With the increasingly wide use of the virtual team, however, the above views are altering. In the short future, the global virtual team will be the entity of the permanent and non-short program, and will become an entire and normal organization in the international working environment. When the global virtual team starts to be taken as a more durable organization from, the recognition of companies to its success will be enhanced, more resource will be invested, and the knowledge-sharing environment based on the information and communication technology will be improved positively. 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