Taking into consideration that almost 15%
of students enrolled in TU Delft are internationals, it becomes evident that
the campus is a place where multiple cultural backgrounds interact on a daily
basis. Furthermore, the various BSc and MSc programs focus primarily on working
on large group projects. The university is intending to encourage the
cultivation of important soft skills, such as intergroup cooperation and conflict-resolving.
However, it is not a rare phenomenon that several difficulties may arise due to
this vast diversity of cultural, academic and professional backgrounds. These
situations could be severely aggravated if proper actions are not taken and
their importance is overlooked.
A few relevant personal experiences from TU
Delft’s MSc program ‘Construction Management and Engineering’ will be described
in this article. These experiences will be scrutinized thoroughly and,
eventually, a strategy will be developed in order to aid intercultural groups
in attaining their goals.
theoretical background used in this article includes Hofstede’s cultural dimensions,
Tuckman’s group development theory, Tajfel and Turner’s social identity theory,
as well as Allport’s intergroup contact theory. The aforementioned theories
will be briefly described before being applied.
It has to be stated in advance that the
relevant experiences will be depicted based on my own viewpoint. My set of
ethics and values, as well as my social background has undoubtedly influenced the
way these experiences will be laid out.
Hofstede’s cultural dimensions
Geert Hofstede (1991) proposed six cultural
dimensions that define cultural differences, based on several global surveys.
These six dimensions are:
Power distance; the extent to
which the less powerful member of institutions and organizations within a
country expect and accept that power is unequally distributed.
Individualism; the extent to
which the interest of the individual prevails over the interest of the group.
Masculinity; the extent to
which emotional gender roles are clearly distinct in society.
Uncertainty Avoidance; the
extent to which people feel threatened by uncertainty and ambiguity and try to
avoid such situations.
Long Term Orientation; the
extent to which a society shows a pragmatic future-oriented perspective rather
than a conventional historical or short-term point of view.
Indulgence; the extent to which
free gratification of basic and natural human desires related to enjoying life
is curbed and regulated by strict social norms.
By taking into account the scores of a
country, cultural differences can be promptly explained.
Tuckman’s group development
Bruce Tuckman (1965) proposed five stages
of group development, based on his examination of empirical research studies.
Forming; members at this stage
demonstrate either a profound engagement towards attaining the goal or an
Storming; during this stage
conflicts and tensions amongst the members’ subgroups are manifested. In order
to proceed to the next stage, these issues ought to be resolved.
responsibilities and a general set of rules are determined in this stage.
Performing; each member carries
out the task he was assigned with. Since the group’s energy is channeled into
the task, solutions can emerge.
Adjourning; the group disbands
and feeling of anxiety and sadness are manifested.
Although the aforementioned stages
constitute a sequence, a possible reoccurrence of storming, for instance, can
be noticed when a new issue arises. Moreover, due to the fact that various
feelings and attitudes are involved throughout this sequence, it goes without
saying that different cultures react accordingly.
Tajfel and Turner’s social
Henry Tajfel and John Turner (1986) support
that a person’s social identity is primarily influenced by the various groups
he is associated with, which they define as ‘in-groups’. Furthermore, they
stress the in-group’s members tendency to enhance their status and diminish the
status of the rest, the so-called ‘out-groups’. This effort to prove the
superiority of your in-group can increase the hiatus between in- and out-
groups, thus facilitating the demonstration of conflicts and unfair treatment
Allport’s intergroup theory
Gordon Allport (1954) held that, provided
that four conditions are met, positive intergroup relations can occur and
prejudice can be mitigated. Those conditions are:
Equal group status within the
Intergroup cooperation combined
with lack of internal competition.
Support of authorities, laws,
Thomas Pettigrew (1998) added the concept
of time to these four conditions. He maintained that optimal intergroup contact
requires time for intergroup friendships to form.
Experiences In An Intercultural
In this section, a few relevant personal
experiences will be described originating while working in large,
culturally-diverse groups. The events will be firstly depicted and then a
theoretical explanation will ensue.
During a course in the second quarter, we
were divided into groups in order to complete an assignment. The professor’s
intention was to create diverse teams, thus half of the group members were
Dutch and the rest were internationals. There was one group, however, that
decided to kick one member of Indian nationality out of the group, only three
days before the deadline. The reasoning was that he did not produce the work he
was asked to in time and often resorted to plagiarism. It should be mentioned
that only a Greek student in the group tried to defend him, mainly by stating
that the deadline was too close to kick someone out. The other two members, of
Korean and Dutch nationality, insisted on dismissing him, while a Chinese girl
remained impassive. Eventually, the majority prevailed and the Indian was
dismissed from the group.
This incident can be thoroughly analyzed
and explained through Tuckman’s theory and Hofstede’s cultural dimensions.
Firstly, the group exhibited signs of reoccurring ‘storming’. According to
Tuckman (1965), during this stage, phenomena of tension manifest and need to be
resolved in order to proceed to the next stages. Nevertheless, it seems that
the group kept returning to this stage due to the fact that the issues were
never truly dealt with.
An extensive insight into the team member’s
behavior can be provided through Hofstede’s dimensions. South Korea and the
Netherlands score high in Uncertainty Avoidance (85 and 53 respectively), thus there
is a high risk that intergroup conflict may be displayed. In addition,
Netherlands’ high score in Individualism (80) indicates that completing the
task is more important than having stable relations and could also have
influenced their decision. Finally, the Greek’s attempt to ‘rescue’ the Indian
can be attributed to this low score in Individualism, which positions him to
the collectivist side (35), which prioritizes the in-group relations, whereas
the Chinese’s impassiveness is mostly due to the high power distance score
(80), which rendered her more receptive to this decision.
Leisure over obligations
TU Delft has scheduled a 2 week Christmas
break during its second quarter. Since, I was involved in a multi-cultural
group, consisting of three Greeks, one Dutch and one British, assigned with a
task; we arranged a meeting, before leaving The Netherlands. Although the
division of work was already agreed, upon returning from our vacations we realized
that only the Greek members worked on their part, whereas the rest thought they
should complete their work after the break.
An explanation can be found in Hofstede’s
cultural dimensions theory and especially in Indulgence. The Netherlands and
the United Kingdom score relatively high in Indulgence (68 and 69
respectively), thus they tend to prescribe higher value to leisure time. Hence,
it seemed reasonable to them that the Christmas break should be solely devoted
to having fun and resting, while simultaneously postponing the work
within a group
During the same course, I was also involved
in another diverse group tasked with an assignment. The first thing the group
decided upon was the division of tasks. Since the assignment required both some
theoretical exposition and specific calculations, the division resulted into
two sub-groups. One was responsible of computations and the other of writing
down the necessary passages. Nonetheless, issues began to surface when the
‘computation’ group attempted to degrade the other group’s work as ‘less
important’. After an extensive meeting, the misunderstanding was resolved and
the project was carried out to the end.
A deeper understanding of this incident can
be achieved through Allport’s and Tajfel and Turner’s theories. First of all,
the creation of two in-groups within the larger was observed. Therefore,
according to Tajfel and Turner’s social identity theory this ‘comparison’ of
task importance could be expected. This conflict meant that the group returned
back to the storming stage (Tuckman, 1965). However, the meeting that took
place was crucial towards resolving it. The group’s common goal was stressed as
well as the tasks’ equality. Hence, by fulfilling Allport’s conditions, the
positive atmosphere inside the group was restored.
Aiding Intercultural Groups In
Achieving Their Goals
Taking into consideration the
aforementioned incidents, it becomes distinguishable that communication and
mutual understanding are key elements of any diverse group work. It is
indispensable to adjust one’s strategy when managing such cross-cultural groups
in order to not only achieve the desired goal but also improve those key elements.
This section will explore such strategies in depth.
First of all, a fitting strategy does not
correspond to a strict plan, but rather to a more adaptive approach regarding
the specific circumstances. Pamela Tremain Koch (2016) indicates that while
there are areas where differences may indeed need to be accepted or minimized,
there are other areas where differences can be beneficial. This requires that
managers identify more central aspects of local culture to determine whether to
minimize differences or to leverage their synergistic potential (Koch et al,
(2016)). Jane O’Leary and Jorgen Sandberg (2016) identified four different
practices that managers can apply when managing diversity: (1) using
identity-blind practices to manage different individuals (Identity Blind); (2)
using supplementary practices to assimilate sociodemographically “different”
group members (Assimilation); (3) using inclusive practices to respond to
individuals from all sociodemographic groups (Inclusive Differentiation); and
(4) transforming group-biased practices to achieve equitable outcomes for
individuals from societally advantaged and disadvantaged groups in the organization
(Equitable Transformation) (O’Leary & Sandberg, 2016). A set of a few
characteristics that were typical in global leadership were noted by Lobel
(1990). More specifically, those include flexibility, curiosity and openness to
other ways of living and speaking, and non-judgmental acceptance of cultural
differences (Lobel, 1990). Finally, Tichy and his colleagues stated that ‘true
globalists’ possess: (1) a global mindset; (2) a set of global leadership
skills and behaviors; (3) energy, skills and talent for global networking; (4)
the ability to build effective teams; and (5) global change agent skills (Tichy
et al. 1992).
In conclusion, the various practices and
skills mentioned above ought to be combined accordingly in order to deal with
the specific situation. They can provide a framework, based on which cross-cultural
work can be established.
Facing the challenges that working in
culturally diverse groups present can always be quite demanding. However, the
application of the theoretical background cited above could aid dealing with
those challenges. Hofstede’s six dimensions provided some useful insight into
the different attitudes exhibited in the described incidents, while Tuckman’s
group development theory explained extensively the occurrence of conflicts. Thus,
a coupling of those two theories could contribute towards preventing these
occurrences. Furthermore, Tajfel and Turner’s social identity theory along with
Allport’s contact theory explained in depth the second incident and could
provide a valuable framework for reducing sub-group conflict and improving
Finally, as far as cross-cultural
management is concerned, the various practices and skill sets referred in the
previous section could be applied in every circumstance if proper alterations
are made depending on the situation. Thereby, not only Tuckman’s stages of
group development will be properly exhibited but also Allport’s conditions of
positive intergroup interaction will be fulfilled. Hence, the proper
functioning of the culturally diverse group will be ensured.