Managing international teams with geographically distributed participants is a complex task. The risk of communication breakdowns increases due to cultural and organizational differences grounded in the geographical distribution of the participants. Such breakdowns indicate general misunderstandings and a lack of shared meaning between participants. In this paper, we address the complexity of building shared meaning. We examine the communication breakdowns that occurred in two globally distributed virtual teams by providing an analytical distinction of the organizational context as the foundation for building shared meaning at three levels. Also we investigate communication breakdowns that can be attributed to differences in lifeworld structures, organizational structures, and work process structures within a virtual team. We find that all communication breakdowns are manifested and experienced by the participants at the work process level; however, resolving breakdowns may require critical reflection at other levels. Where previous research argues that face-to-face interaction is an important variable for virtual team performance, our empirical observations reveal that communication breakdowns related to a lack of shared meaning at the lifeworld level often becomes more salient when the participants are co-located than when geographically distributed. Last, we argue that creating translucence in communication structures is essential for building shared meanings at all three levels.
Bjørn, P., & Ngwenyama, O. (2009). Virtual team collaboration: building shared meaning, resolving breakdowns and creating translucence. Information Systems Journal, 19(3), 227-253. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2575.2007.00281.x