Research examines effective ways for equals to manage collaborative projects.

As more and more projects stretch across geographical boundaries, team leaders need to stretch their management skills.

Mary Ann Von Glinow

“Cross-cultural management has to consider various cultural norms,” said Mary Ann Von Glinow, professor in the Department of Management and International Business in the College of Business Administration. “Typically, it involves people-related processes and activities such as human resource management, leadership, power and politics, decision-making, and organizational behavior.”

The challenge of managing a cross-cultural virtual team escalates when the international collaborators are peers from other companies or universities.

“For example, a person from a group of R and D scientists or highly-sophisticated engineers might encounter a situation in which he or she has to manage other very intelligent individuals unaccustomed to being told what to do,” Von Glinow said.

Stripped of the opportunity to offer rewards or to exert the pressure that comes with holding a position of authority within an organization, how can a project leader bring virtual team assignments to a successful conclusion?

A number of researchers have considered the subject, but in her recent study, done with two co-authors, Von Glinow was able to look at completed projects rather than at those still underway. As a result, the study offers insights and recommendations for every stage of a project’s life cycle—from initial vision through the publication of results, in the case of research.

“Although our focus was on academic international research teams (AIRTs), our observations may help promote the effective management of all multinational, globally-distributed teams of professionals,” Von Glinow said. “We note in our work that industry has long recognized that partnerships pay off: financially, strategically, and competitively. These lessons from industry apply in the world of academic research, and conversely, our observations of successful academic collaborations may bear on businesses and other enterprises, such as professional organizations.”

The study sets out the key activities, challenges, and success drivers for leaders of international teams. Among its suggestions:

  • Develop a clear project vision, essential for guiding the team.
  • Involve key experts with requisite skills to ensure that the team will complete project tasks.
  • If the team is voluntary, have team members develop—and agree to—a formal social contract.
  • Select members with multicultural team experience who are also good collaborators.
  • Actively manage team interpersonal processes, paying particular attention to building and maintaining both trust and commitment.
  • Interject chaos and conflict to focus team energy, especially when creativity is necessary, but nurture or control chaos and conflict when needed.
  • Make sure communication is predictable, responsive, and initially social.
  • Foster a culture of shared learning to create synergistic outcomes.

The research, titled “The Life Cycle of Academic International Research Teams: Just When You Thought Virtual Teams Were All the Rage, Here Come the AIRTS,” was recently published in the eighteenth volume of the series Managing Multinational Team s: Global Perspectives. Von Glinow was also one of the editors of the volume.

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