Increasingly, engineering projects are crossing national boundaries. Groups working together are having to work in virtual, physically dispersed teams, making communication practices both more challenging and more essential to the success of a project. While the field is still young, communication researchers have started to catalogue challenges and identify key strategies for improving virtual communication across borders, such as Pam Estes Brewer’s book International Virtual Teams: Engineering Global Success.
Marjorie Rush Hovde’s 2014 IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication article, “Factors that Enable and Challenge International Engineering Communication” , provides a concise explanation of the nature of the challenges. From the literature in the field, she identifies cultural difference as one of these challenges, but breaks it down further into two categories:
- Assumptions, knowledge, etiquette: Cultures work on different sets of assumed knowledge and beliefs, and assuming a shared set of knowledge and beliefs amongst all members in an international team can be problematic.
- Communication styles: Cultures also have different communication styles, based on social conventions and accepted behaviours. Interrupting may be seen as rude in one culture, yet expected or even desired in another.
Her own research, observing engineering team meetings between a US and UK design team, revealed more specific differences creating challenges between groups.
Below are a selection of differences that you might not have considered: