Chapter Three. Crossing Cultural Boundaries

Culture is one of a virtual team’s most significant boundaries. Culture can be national, organizational, or functional. This chapter describes all three types of culture and how each can affect the performance of virtual teams.

Defining Culture

The word culture comes from the same root as cultivate, a Latin verb meaning “to till the soil.” It describes the way in which people act on nature. For humans, culture is a set of learned mores, values, attitudes, and meanings that are shared by the members of a group. Culture often is one of the primary ways in which one group differentiates itself from another.

Culture can be viewed as the collective programming that separates one group of people from another.[1] One way to look at culture is as the hidden “scripts” that people use to guide their behaviors. These scripts are created by repeated interactions between members of a group. They are often not even visible to the members of the group that created them. Over time, they become second nature and serve as shortcuts for guiding actions and making decisions. Like an iceberg (see Figure 3.1), culture is often partly or totally hidden. It can, however, affect people’s assumptions, behaviors, and expectations about leadership practices, work habits, and team norms.

The Hidden Dimensions of the Culture Iceberg.

Figure 3.1. The Hidden Dimensions of the Culture Iceberg.

Three Categories of Culture ...

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