enter into the long list of qualities that the company seeks in hiring and promoting
technical staff. HR staff can also enhance these skills with training courses in group
processes and in cross-cultural communication.
Distance considerations in organizational design
Some companies resist distance by design
Microsoft, the icon of the software industry, has long resisted distributed
software work, preferring to concentrate its R&D work in its large Redmond
campus in the Northwestern US. Microsoft is also keenly aware of distance
within its campus, frequently moving software engineers within ´¬‚oors and
buildings to create proximity.
Perhaps sometimes Microsoft goes too far. In 2003, it acquired a California
company called Placeware that creates software to help distributed workgroups
collaborate over distance. At the time of the acquisition some inside Microsoft
argued that precisely because of the nature of its products Placeware employees
should be left in California and be ÔÇťforcedÔÇŁ to work over distance with
headquarters 1000 km north in Redmond. But, Microsoft executives resisted
and, as has long been the custom at Microsoft, Placeware of´¬üces in California
were closed down and key employees were asked to relocate.
Not all companies can or want to resist distance by design. Offshoring forces you to
work over distance, with all its inherent dif´¬üculties. In offshore outsourcing, nodes of
people involved in the software project are dispersed around the world: the client com-
pany is often dispersed in several locations, the outsourcing provider often has staff in
several locations onshore and offshore. Most software product companies have dis-
tributed software R&D centers. Many projects are not only distributed across sites, but
may even be dispersed. This means that far-´¬‚ung individuals are assigned to the proj-
ect who are working ÔÇťaloneÔÇŁ in some other of´¬üce or may even be teleworking, isolated
from the rest of the project clusters.
172 Managerial competency
Overcoming distance and time implies that more attention needs to be devoted to
organizational design. There are two principles of organizational design for distributed
Ô—Ć Principal I: Reduce the number of project locations as much as possible. The number
of project sites is also correlated with overall project size. Herbsleb and colleagues48
found that the overall project team size matters; the single most important predictor
of problems in distributed collaboration is the overall size of the project team.
Ô—Ć Principal II: Reduce the dependencies as much as possible. A dependency occurs
when one location cannot make progress until another location ´¬ünishes its work or
otherwise solves a problem (whether that problem is large or small). By de´¬ünition
distributed collaboration demands that there be some dependencies.49 In some
cases collaboration will have highly dependent tasks. A better design is when tasks
are quite independent between distant sites. In such cases, the interfaces between
the sites are well de´¬üned (in other words the interfaces are ÔÇťwell architectedÔÇŁ), so
that the dependencies are minimized.
Clearly, high dependencies should be avoided, by design, because of the higher proba-
bility of breakdown, delay, and crisis due, in part, to miscommunications, language,
and culture. Yet in some software collaborations one ´¬ünds this type of organizational
structure. Such structures may result from big events, such as mergers or joint ven-
tures. The link between organizational structure and the software product architecture
is summed up in ÔÇťConwayÔÇ™s Law,ÔÇŁ which elegantly states that, in practice, the structure
of the software system follows the structure of the organization that designs it.50
Ideally, the opposite should hold.
In order to reduce the dependencies in distributed collaboration, there are a number of
organizational designs for distributing tasks across distant sites (illustrated in Figure 8.3):51
Ô—Ć By expertise: Keep work that requires similar functional expertise in one place.
Ô—Ć By product: Each site works on its own components. The organizational structure
follows the component architectures. Alternatively, the components are allocated
Ô—Ć By phase: Keep entire processes in one placeÔÇ“design, code, test. Each of these
phases ends with a hand-off to another site.
Ô—Ć Satellite customization: One site owns the core code for the product, while the
secondary sites are involved in customizing features for each client near the client
Yet, even in these organizational designs, which reduce dependencies, the point of
failure is often the dependency: the hand-off, or integration phase. These points of fail-
ure need the most proactive managerial attention.
We also note two other interesting designs to address some distance problems: mirror
organizations and onion layer teams. A mirror organization is a symmetric organization
at each of the distributed sites with identical structures and roles. This design makes it
easy for a member of one site to identify his counterpart in another site. The paired
173 Overcoming distance and time
By expertise By product
Site 1 Site 1
Functional expertise A Component A
Site 2 Site 2
Functional expertise B Component B
By phase Satellite customization
Figure 8.3 Four types of organizational design to minimize dependencies in distributed
individuals communicate, develop a closer relationship and problem-solve together. The
onion layer team appears in some Open Source teams.52 In Open Source there are few
developers that actually reside next to each other. Instead, a core team of three to four
developers interact intensely with each other. These developers represent the core of
the onion. Around them, in layers, are additional developers who review or modify
code and contribute bug ´¬üxes.
In conclusion, while mirror and onion models are rare and have drawbacks, they
point to the range of possibilities in organizational design to overcome distance. The
important lesson is to be proactive about such design and not settle for inherited orga-
174 Managerial competency
Overcoming the problems of distance require a mix of formalisms and informalisms:
formalize things that have traditionally been done informally and put more effort into
creating informalisms to nurture social relationships.
ÔÇ“ Create a rhythm of interaction between distant sites with regular real-time meetings.
ÔÇ“ Iterate for synchronization with frequent deliverables.
ÔÇ“ Standardize communication by shifting e-mails into work´¬‚ow tools and repositories.
ÔÇ“ Build an awareness infrastructure.
ÔÇ“ Create protocols for acknowledgments and urgency.
ÔÇ“ Create a cohesive team culture by nurturing social relationships.
ÔÇ“ Foster interaction by encouraging real-time interaction.
ÔÇ“ Put warmth into cold e-mail by the taking the time to create e-touch.
Overcome the problems of time through the following tactics:
ÔÇ“ Plan the work day using bunch-and-batch.
ÔÇ“ Enlarge the overlap window by working longer, shifting work hours, or always being available.
ÔÇ“ Create individual liaison roles who adjust/enlarge only their own hours.
ÔÇ“ Create regular overlap windows between sites.
ÔÇ“ Synchronize individuals who are working closely together (in paired tasks).
ÔÇ“ Break the e-mail chain by picking up the telephone.
Incorporate distance into staf´¬üng decisions. Hire based on proven ability to communicate
over distance and willingness to travel.
All distributed collaboration teams need to invest in a rich mix of collaborative technologies:
instant messaging, video-conferencing, high-quality audio-conferencing services, web-
based conferencing, rich application-sharing environments, group calendars, work´¬‚ow
tools, knowledge management systems, and integrated repositories. The investments need
to go beyond the assets and need to include specialists that customize the tools and train
Design the distributed organization to minimize dependencies across sites as much as
possible. Manage the points of weakness ÔÇ” the hand-off points and the integration points.
9 Dealing with cross-cultural issues
With more and more software professionals working in distributed teams across
cultures, four computer science professors decided to study the impact of cultural
orientations on performance.1 Computer science students from Texas and from
Turkey were assigned into collaborative groups in a controlled experiment. Each
of these virtual groups performed collaborative software design and programming.
The professors evaluated the quality of the tasks at the end of the semester.
The researchers found that certain mixes of cultural orientations effected
performance. If at least one of the members had a high power orientation
the groupÔÇ™s performance was less likely to be successful; if members had
different destiny orientation scores the groupÔÇ™s performance was less likely to be
successful; ´¬ünally, if at least one of the members had a high future orientation
score the groupÔÇ™s performance was more likely to be successful. (Each of these
three orientations is explained in this chapter.)
Many software developers that we meet are relatively new to the topic of culture. They
may have traveled and learned some of the super´¬ücial differences between some coun-
tries, such as greetings, but in order to become effective participants of global software
development organizations, a deeper understanding is vital. The ´¬ürst two sections of
this chapter serve as a mini-primer on this topic.
What is culture?
Culture, in the anthropological sense, according to Geert Hofstede, is the ÔÇťcollective
programming of the mind distinguishing the members of one groupÔÇ¦ from another.ÔÇŁ2
Every adult is a member of many cultures. He is a member of an ethnic/national cul-
ture; she is a member of a religious culture; he is a member of a professional culture
(such as a musician or architect or software engineer); she is a member of an organi-
zational culture (such as Microsoft or Sony); and he is a member of one or more work
groups and work teams, each with its own culture. Many of these cultural types, such
as organizational culture and team culture, can be re-programmed in our brains fairly
quickly (especially for those under 30 years old). However, national culture can not
(and by this we include ethnic differences). The focus in this chapter, consistent with
176 Managerial competency
DoÔÇ™s and DonÔÇ™ts
Values and beliefs
Patterns of thinking
Patterns of communication
Figure 9.1 Culture is like an iceberg, where most of it is ÔÇťhidden beneath the water.ÔÇŁ
the rest of this book, is on distance and cross-border issues, and therefore this chapter
emphasizes ÔÇťcross-cultural communications.ÔÇŁ
Our national cultures are very deeply embedded in each of us, passed from generation
to generation, and are largely programmed into us by the age of 10 years. Our cultural
orientations manifest themselves in some behaviors and in phenomena that can be seen
with our eyes. We may be able, with training and experience, to see some of these
behaviors, such as body language, different decision-making norms, gestures, and
business etiquette. Outsiders may learn some of the rituals, such as handshakes, or the
correct protocol for answering a telephone call.
However, much of what is programmed into our individual culture is invisible, driven by
deep values and beliefs which are very dif´¬ücult to change or observe, as Figure 9.1 illus-
trates using the iceberg metaphor of culture (90% of an iceberg is submerged and cannot
be seen). Values and beliefs include: good versus bad, ugly versus nice, dirty versus clean,
and rational versus irrational. In every culture these dichotomies are interpreted differently.
While cultural radicals in academe now tend to scorn them, the seminal works of Geert
Hofstede3 and Edward Hall, who ´¬ürst de´¬üned key cultural orientations, have been
essential to a generation of global travelers, business people, and virtual team mem-
bers. In this section we summarize nine orientations formulated by Hofstede, Hall and
other social scientists (there are still more cultural orientations and these can be found
in many books about cross-cultural communication).4
177 Dealing with cross-cultural issues
Table 9.1 Power orientation index
Country orientation index Remarks
Israel 13 Hierarchy is less important
The Netherlands 38
Hong Kong 68
West Africa 77
Russia 95 Hierarchy is very important
This is one of the most important orientations in the business context. It expresses oneÔÇ™s
emotional distance from subordinates and superiors. High-power orientation cultures
tend to have more autocratic managers, while low power orientation cultures use par-
ticipatory and consultative management styles. A subset of HofstedeÔÇ™s rankings for
this orientation appears in Table 9.1. Individuals from high power orientation cultures
are less likely to express disagreement with their managers, are less likely to be forth-
coming online, and are more comfortable with an autocratic/paternalistic decision-
making style. Managing in these cultures requires more authoritative communication.
Since feedback in such cultures is not forthcoming, one has to develop informal rela-
tionships for feedback or, as we learned from numerous offshore collaborations with
India, to train Indian employees to be more forthcoming (see the two case studies
about India later in this chapter).
This is often referred to as individualism versus collectivism. This cultural orientation
answers the question: How do you see yourself ´¬ürst and foremost ÔÇ“ as an individual, or
as part of a larger group? (see Table 9.2 for rankings). People from individualist cultures
have a high desire for personal freedom, privacy, personal time, and personal chal-
lenges. They are expected to look out for themselves. There is higher regard for
assertiveness and confrontation in work situations. There seems to be a strong correla-
tion between wealth and individualism. Wealthy nations are much more individualistic,
and as nations have become well-off their middle and upper classes rapidly assimilate
individualistic orientations. Such is the case, with some quali´¬ücations, with IndiaÔÇ™s
new class of software professionals.
178 Managerial competency
Table 9.2 Relationship orientation index
Country orientation index Remarks
USA 91 Highly individualistic
The Netherlands 80
Hong Kong 25
West Africa 20
Indonesia 14 Highly collectivistic
For collectivists group harmony is more important than personal ambition. The group
is the family, the extended family, the clan, the labor union, and the organization. The
group is the source of oneÔÇ™s identity. The group protects the individual who, in turn, is
loyal to the group. At work, collectivists have a higher dependence on the organization
and a stronger desire for non-´¬ünancial rewards, such as physical conditions and bene-
´¬üts. The interplay of the collective organization and the collective family means that
employees expect many special leaves for family events. Since relationships are essen-
tial to collectivists, then you must make a special effort to build friendships.5
Hofstede labeled this ÔÇťuncertainty avoidanceÔÇŁ and so many have reinterpreted this as
having to do with risk. This is not about risk, but about a comfort with ambiguity. In high
uncertainty-avoidance cultures, even when people hate their job, they will not switch.
They prefer rules be set out and not broken. High uncertainty avoidance is found in
Greece, Belgium, and many Latin nations.
Hofstede labeled this as Confucianism since the cultures with the strongest future ori-
entation were all in East Asia, including China, Japan, and Korea. Future orientation is
about delaying grati´¬ücation for the future and includes characteristics, such as savings,
thrift, perseverance, and persistence. The opposite of future orientation is an emphasis on
the present or the past. In such cultures there is greater emphasis on tradition, social obli-
gations, and more immediate satisfaction of material desires. Needs are grati´¬üed now,
rather than in the distant future.
179 Dealing with cross-cultural issues
Cultures treat time quite differently, even though time is an absolute. At one extreme
are those that see time as linear. Deadlines are ´¬ürm and strict; people are punctual to
meetings. Tasks are done one at a time. Germans and Americans tend to be in this group.
At the other extreme are those that see time as elastic. Deadlines are ´¬‚exible, meeting
times are advisory and arriving at them 20ÔÇ“30 minutes after schedule is acceptable.
Tasks can be done many at a time. Most cultures tend to cluster in this latter category
including Latinos, the French (to some extent), and Indians. These cultural differences
affect perceptions of the other. The linear time culture will tend to see the other culture
as slow and inef´¬ücient, while the elastic time culture see the other as cold and rigid.
This is often referred to by its two groupings: high- versus low-context communication.
Communication orientation focuses on whether our communication ÔÇ“ our messages ÔÇ“ are
speci´¬üc and explicit. Low-context cultures listen more for what is said rather than how it
is said. In high-context cultures, people consider the secondary, tonal, colorful, peripheral,
contextual information in order to understand the communication. Northern Europeans
and Americans are low-context cultures, while Southern Europeans, Asian, and Latinos
are high-context cultures. Communication orientation helps us understand the use of
e-mail as a communication medium. E-mail is more natural for low-context cultures, since
they logically look at the information contained in the text of the message. High-context
cultures, however, need the peripheral information, which is lacking in e-mail messages.
This refers to whether one believes that events are predetermined. This orientation is
also labeled as fatalism. For example, whether a person is good or bad is seen by some
as predetermined and oneÔÇ™s behaviors cannot impact this destiny. Cause and effect are