Transcultural Emails

Three recurring frustrations among virtual multicultural teams are deadlines, division of work, and email communication. This simulation explores these topics.

Purpose
To improve transcultural communication.

Time
30 minutes to 1 hour.

Participants
Any number.

Flow

Brief participants.
Present the following scenario:
• You are a member of a virtual team with diverse cultural backgrounds. English is the language of communication among team members, regardless of your first language.
• You are frustrated with the performance of a fellow team member because she is not doing her share of work or meeting deadlines.
• This team member has the same national and cultural background as you and is on the same hierarchical level. However, you have not met her in person.
• This person—and the entire project—are of strategic value to you.
• You want to write an email note in attempt to change this person's irresponsible behavior pattern.
• In this initial email note, all you want to do is to start the feedback process.

Writing an email note. Ask the participants to write an initial email note to the irresponsible team member profiled in the scenario.

Mono cultural group discussions.
Organize participants up into different groups consisting of people from the same culture. Randomly select one email note from each group and give it to another group. Ask group members to discuss whether the email note would work, offend, or surprise within their culture. Ask each group to select a representative to summarize the highlights of their discussion.

Multicultural discussion. Ask the representatives from each group to present reactions from participants of their culture.

Revising the email notes.
Ask participants to repeat the email note writing activity, this time focusing on making it more acceptable to a team member from some other specific culture. Alternatively, you can ask participants to focus on producing an email note that would be acceptable across different cultures.

Follow-up. Conduct a debriefing discussion to explore best email writing practices that would work across different cultures. Also discuss how to select and optimize different means of communication. Some groups might claim, for example, that it would be rude to use email in this situation. They would prefer a telephone call or a face-to-face meeting.

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