MIT Sloan School, Research Paper No. 4735-09; Harvard Business School, Organizational Behavior Unit Working Paper No. 09-131
Globalization has helped companies decrease labor costs, reach new markets, and establish brands around the world, but it can also have significant drawbacks. Language barriers, a lack of mutual understanding, and widely dispersed working groups have been proven to damage team dynamics and erode trust between distant co-workers. The authors of this paper examined a large multinational chemical company with its headquarters in Germany, its R&D facility in the United Kingdom, and offices throughout Asia. They interviewed nearly 200 employees in seven countries, and found that firsthand experience — defined as spending time onsite observing the culture of a distant locale — is vital to ensuring a higher level of trust and collaboration among workers in globally dispersed teams. This firsthand experience, whether gained through office visits or expatriate business assignments, gave employees not only a better knowledge of their co-workers but also a deeper understanding of how workers from other cultures perceived them. This phenomenon, which the authors call reflected knowledge, can have a positive impact on trust and teamwork and can reduce misunderstandings.
Engendering knowledge and respect of other cultures has become increasingly crucial to ensuring trust among employees in global organizations.