Cross Cultural Issues on Globally Dispersed Design Team Performance

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•Communication played an important role throughout the entire project. In ... •Patience and slow, calm explanations are crucial when overcoming communication ...

Cross Cultural Issues on Globally Dispersed Design Team Performance: The PACE Project Experiences

Authors: Eduardo González, David Guerra-Zubiaga, Pedro Orta Department of Mechanical Engineering Tecnológico de Monterrey Manuel Contero Department of Graphic Engineering Polytechnic University of Valencia

Objectives •To define a series of design practices related to cross-cultural interaction in order to achieve a better understanding of how cultural issues impact design team performance when working under collaborative engineering strategy. • Members of this research are educators and students from Tecnológico de Monterrey (ITESM) in México, Virginia Tech & Howard University in USA, Darmstadt University in Germany and Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China. These universities are participating in the Partners for the Advancement of Collaborative Engineering Education (PACE) program.

OBJECTIVES: The objective of this joint global course is to introduce the team members to both the theoretical and practical aspects of global collaborative engineering design across cultures, traditions, languages, and time zones. Hence it represents a first step towards developing true global engineering competence.

Methodology A two-phase research approach was adopted; the purpose of the first phase was to create a reference applying a Nominal Group Technique (NGT) dynamic and the Delphi method. During the first phase, a survey was designed to obtain the main factors and cross cultural issues that diminish collaborative performance in geographical distributed design teams. For this matter and in order to obtain results in a faster way a nominal group technique was combined with the Delphi questionnaire.

The steps for the NGT dynamic were: •The Mexican members from different design teams were divided into small groups of 3 or 4 members, and were seated around a table. •There was stated an open-ended question. •Each member was asked to spend several minutes in silence individually brainstorming all the possible ideas and wrote these ideas down. •The group then collected the ideas by sharing them round-robin fashion (one response per person each time), while all were recorded in key term, on a flipchart. No criticism was allowed, but clarification in response to questions was encouraged. •Each member evaluates the ideas and individually and anonymously voted for the best ones. •A group report was prepared, showing the ideas receiving the most points. Only Mexican students were part of this first exercise performed at the beginning of the design project. Their expressed ideas were voted and classified into these categories: technical, social, organizational and economical.

NGT exercise: Q1: What are the main factors that make difficult to have a successful engineering design teams? Q2: What are the main desired characteristics for a design teamwork and communication? Q3: What are the action/activities that have to be done to obtain the desired characteristics for a geographically distributed design teamwork and communication?




When students try to locate a partner from other university, they pronounce the name of the student they are trying to locate. However, in many cases the pronunciation of the names of that partner is incorrect due to different accents.

The local time changes (like summer and winter times) has to be had in count at the time courses are being proposed & scheduled. It is recommended to use a reference time.

Sometimes a team cannot listen to the others and this team has not the promptly possibility of knowing this. Apparently, there is feedback in the system that indicates this situation.

Participants are not fluent in English or don’t understand other local accent.

Sometimes the team members are not aware of the quality and quantity of the time their partners’ dedication to the project.

Sometimes drawings files that are stored in TEAM CENTER are not complete, or need plug-ins to open.

Lack of training on the “required software”.

Different computer/equipment speed connections between universities.

Lack of a well-established procedure to conduct videoconferencing meetings.

Lack of a document detailing the minimum set of software and hardware requirements for design teams.

Lack of information about “WHAT TO DO?”

Not all students count with computers at the time of video conferencing.




The incorrect use of the microphone from which is not participating in the video conferencing group conversation, inhibit a good communication, for example: put in automatic the mute function.

Although photographs of all team members are located in Team Center software students cannot easily locate their partners.

Difficulty in working on the collaborative scheme (personal performance)

Communication is confused during videoconferencing.

The presentation and identification of team partner are perceived like a very important issue.

Verbal communication interferences that occurs when Video Conferencing is taking place.

Communication is commonly overlap because the lack of a communication protocol and the role of a facilitator.

Ages and academic background of team members are perceived like important issues at the interaction level.

File storage seems to be difficult to track due to the lack of a common storage and classification structure.

Student’s expectations differ from one and other country.

Difficulty in working on different time zones.

Lack of leadership roll definition.

Undefined “RIGHT” Frequency of communication that is expected.



It is needed a Time zone for reference (Unified Time Zone for meeting & schedule).

In order to improve communication it is suggested the use of strong visual components that support communication.

The project scheduled sessions should be used for team meetings.

A way to confirm if what I said was understood.

Clarified information about : objectives, aims, milestones, etc...

The use of software, hardware and physical spaces should be well planed.


An easier and visual way to transmit ideas.




Allocate a project sessions time percentage for team meetings & agreements.

Improve the quantity and quality information.

It is needed that all team members have computer access at the videoconferencing time.

Create a good work plan.

Improve the structure and organization on the information of the “Team Center web page”.

The use of Visual Help (Drawings, Sketches, Schemes, Tables, ETC…) to assure good communication.

Define an Early Methodology.






Make sure, if ideas are well understood.

Nationality & number of members on each design team.

Nationality (percentage)

TEAM 1 Buick Excelle

TEAM 2 Adam-Opel

TEAM 3 Buick

TEAM 4 Daewoo













Mexican (20%)

Chinese (20%)

USA (50%)

German (10%)


We could synthesized some important contributions of the virtual teams: •The implementation of the Team Center Community system was helpful in the project planning and progress organization. •The project was a great chance for all team members to learn collaborative engineering design. •Communication played an important role throughout the entire project. In virtual meetings, the teams had to respect other countries’ time, holidays, and language differences. •Due English was the only language used to communicate, the teams faced some difficulties due to a wide variety of difference accents and colloquialisms. Those difficulties are barriers to conveying the real message that is desired to transfer. But this miscommunication is lessened greatly by using a instant messaging text tools available in Skype software.

•The planning materials and schedule were practical and helpful in understanding the true meaning of global collaborative engineering. •A good communication skill within multicultural teams, must be to learn how to express clearly, especially when technical terms are involved. •The importance of interpret and comprehend others’ ideas and points of view, which are much influenced by cultural background. •The need of proper scheduling, division of work, and exercise of collaborative tasks between team members. •The project was a good opportunity to develop design skills through the use of NX3 software and effective use of media. •Patience and slow, calm explanations are crucial when overcoming communication gaps.

Results and Conclusions •It is very difficult to structure cross-cultural issues as each individual finally acts differently. •Virtual team members behave in a tolerant way and they can overcome culturerelated difficulties. The present research indicate that team members can adapt their behavior in both spoken and written communication as well as allowing for social context and time zone differences. •If there is commitment to the common task, cultural differences are not an obstacle to accomplish it. •Collaboration tools such as desktop sharing applications for conferencing are recommended useful resource, due the capacity to express and explain complex matters through them. •Face-to-face videoconference meetings proved to be essential for an effective team building. •Successful integration is the key to successful cross-cultural design teams. Successful team integration required acceptance and understanding of cultural differences within the team while focusing on one common objective, forming an integrated, powerful and compelling team.

Thank you

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