Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Impact of National Culture on Collaboration

Thoughts & Insights
"The Impact of the National Culture on the Interactive and Collaborative Approaches to Knowledge Management: An Exploratory Study," by Pavel Bogolyubov, Prof. Mark Easterby-Smith, and Dr. Valerie Stead.  

  • We take national culture for granted.  Within NASA, when we talk about culture, it may refer to two things: 1) the NASA organizational culture, which can either refer to 1a) the aspects of organizational culture that were identified as contributing to the organization's most visible failures (Challenger and Columbia accidents); or 1b) the strong innovation and "can do" attitude; 2) the various organizational cultures (center-specific culture, scientist vs. engineering cultures) that exist within the organization. In the context of international partnerships, paying attention to cultural differences across nations would make a lot of sense.  I have a feeling that cultural differences tend to be seen as obstacles to be overcome.  One problem with this approach is that communication is perceived as the solution, yet -- beyond the potential for translation challenges -- communication is highly culturally sensitive.  So, when NASA engineers think they're making extra efforts to communicate because they're working with a foreign partner, the foreign partner may perceive that extra effort as an attempt to impose NASA views and practices rather than true collaboration.  In short, the NASA engineers can't help it.  What they consider best practices in terms of communications will be culturally determined and not necessarily the best approach in the context of an international partnership.  

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