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Cross-cultural encounters in virtual teams

Authored by: Johanna Saarinen , Rebecca Piekkari

The Routledge Companion to Cross-Cultural Management

Print publication date:  May  2015
Online publication date:  April  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415858687
eBook ISBN: 9780203798706
Adobe ISBN: 9781135105709


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In many organizations, geographically and organizationally distributed work has become a common mode of operation. In response to the challenges of globalization, cost savings, and increasing customer demands, the amount of virtual work is growing rapidly; it has been projected that within a few years more than 1.3 billion people will work virtually (Gratton & Johns 2013; Kelley & Kelloway 2012). Global virtual work is posing new challenges for cross-cultural management because managers are increasingly required to lead culturally different people whom they rarely see. At the same time, current leadership trends strongly emphasize “soft,” people-oriented leadership characterized by support for employees, coaching, and emotional intelligence (Avolio et al. 2009; Zander et al. 2012). We show, however, that the current reality of global virtual team leadership often boils down to “hard-core” management by numbers and coercive control, despite efforts by managers to the contrary. There is simply neither room nor time to take up personal, informal, or unplanned issues. Instead, leadership tasks are determined by virtual circumstances and formal processes, leaving little opportunity to build close relationships with geographically scattered team members.

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