Intercultural Virtual Team Project

Business Communication Practices Across Borders


English 312: Written Communications in Business

Deborah C. Andrews

Department of English

University of Delaware, Newark DE, USA

Office: MEM 135


University of Delaware

EDEC 305: Communication in Management II

Doreen Starke-Meyerring

Centre for the Study and Teaching of Writing

McGill University, Montréal, QC, Canada

Office: Faculty of Education, Room 318


McGill University


In today’s global workplace, you will increasingly communicate in virtual teams with professionals from diverse contexts. Communication in such teams can be a lot of fun, but you will need to develop an important set of competencies to be successful. The intercultural virtual team project is designed to help you develop and refine those competencies while practicing the workplace genres involved in managing a project. In addition, the virtual team project will help you learn how an organization develops management communication processes and practices that accommodate its clientele, its location in a particular country and community, and its position in the online world.


This handout explains the project and its parts. You will find additional information about each part in the assignment sheets.


What is the virtual team project?

A team consisting of about six students—three from the University of Delaware and three from McGill University—will compare business communication practices in a company or type of business that exists both in the United States and in Canada. You will collaborate to analyze how the practices reflect and shape the particular environments in which the businesses operate. Based on this analysis, you will determine which practices may be transferable between these two environments and develop recommendations for enhancing business communication practices in each context.


What kind of business should you choose for your project?

Your choice of a business will depend on the interests and expertise of team members; on your access to such a business, your connections to people in such a business, and the comparability of the businesses in both areas; on the language of operation of the business (one that at least one team member understands and can translate into English); and on the potential of a report about such a business to serve the career interests of team members. Here are a few possibilities:


-        Home furnishings retail (e.g. IKEA)

-        Home improvement (e.g. Home Depot)

-        Coffee shops (e.g. Second Cup) or cybercafés

-        Fast food restaurant (e.g. Wendy’s)

-        Car rental company (e.g. Avis)

-        Fashion/ retail sale (e.g. the Gap)

-        Technology retail (e.g. Futureshop /bestbuy/ Circuit city)

-        Department store (e.g.Wal-Mart, Costco)

-        Public transportation company

-        Micro breweries

-        Real estate (e.g. Remaxx)

-        Travel agency

-        A dieting business (e.g. Weightwatchers)

-        A health business such as a commercial gym (e.g. Curves)

-        A retirement home

-        A hospital


Who is the audience and what is the purpose of the project?

As you conduct your research, consider who might be interested in its results. You may find an actual client at the businesses you are studying. If so, address your final report to that client. You might recommend practices that could be transferred from one context to the other to improve efficiency and customer satisfaction. Or you might recommend expansion of their business to Montréal or Newark. If an actual client does not emerge in your investigation, you may, for example, develop a profile of comparative practices in one business sector for a market analyst or professional association that represents that industry. Identifying an appropriate audience, and meeting that audience’s needs, are part of your work as a team in the project.


What are the parts of the project?

Managing a team project involves working within a system of genres, typified ways of communicating. By consolidating information in these genres, you help establish team norms, keep each other and your client (and instructors) up to date on your progress, share your research results, and more. To manage your virtual team project, therefore, you will produce the following genres:


-        A set of team policies and guidelines to ensure effective, efficient, and ethical communication practices

-        A brief project-planning proposal to your instructors in which you clarify your approach and organize your work as a team (e.g. scoping and scheduling your work)

-        A weblog (blog) in which team members introduce themselves to each other,  share research results (e.g. Web sites or articles about the industry/ company you are analyzing for your report), and post updates about your progress on your project task

-        A brief progress report to your instructors to explain the work that has been completed, the work that remains to be done, the challenges you have encountered, and your plans for addressing them.

-        A final written and oral report

-        A final reflective memo that captures the team’s knowledge about the processes and practices involved in completing an intercultural virtual team project, including an assessment of the strengths and limitations of the technologies you have used to collaborate

What are the project outcomes?

The project leads to clear outcomes for the audience of your report, for your team, and for yourself


Outcomes for your audience

Your audience will expect answers to some of the following questions as you help them consider whether to adopt or adapt business practices from another context or what adjustments to make in expanding into such a context:


Analysis of contexts

-        Industry Contexts. What are the key trends of the industry in the U.S. and in Canada? Is this a new industry? Do people trust the industry, or is the industry recovering from recent crises or scandals (e.g. Mad Cow disease, accounting scandals)? What’s the size of the industry? What demand does the industry meet? How did it emerge? Is the industry highly regulated? What else does your reader need to understand about the industry in each context in order to understand your recommendations?

-        Local Contexts. What are the local contexts in which the businesses operate (e.g. the country, the region, and the town)? What is the location of the business in the city (e.g. in relation to other businesses, organizations, parking, public transportation)? Who is the clientele? What is the public perception of this particular type of business? What role does it play in people’s lives? How does the business contribute to the local community?

-        Company Context. How does each business operate? What are the services or products being offered? How are they being provided? What is the business volume? What is the physical set-up of the business? How many employees are there? How many managers? What are their demographics (e.g. college students? Retirees? Educational background?)? What is the flow of business during a given day? What are the operating hours? What special features does the company present? What’s its market niche in the community?


Analysis of business communication practices

-        Staff Communication. How is internal communication structured? How formal or informal is communication among employees or between employees and managers? Is communication predominantly horizontal or vertical? What are the communication networks (e.g. wheel, chain, circle, all-channel)? What language(s) do they speak? How is performance recognized or encouraged? How do staff communicate (Written communication? Oral?) What are the most common genres used (e.g. memos, emails, bulletin board notices, notices in pay envelopes, progress reports, meetings)? What media are used most commonly (face-to-face interaction, e-mail, print, etc.)? How are these communication practices influenced by the contexts in which the businesses operate?

-        Customer-Company Interaction. How do customers interact with the staff and vice versa? What genres are used to maintain customer contact and to manage customer relations (e.g. face-to-face greetings, letters, emails, notices, menus, tent cards on a table top, blackboards)? How formal or informal is communication between customers and staff? Are there any standards for customer-company interactions (e.g. specific templates, specific greetings, etc.)? How much training do new employees undergo? What is the dress code (if any)? What is it intended to communicate? How are products or services communicated and promoted to customers? How are these communication practices influenced by the contexts in which the businesses operate?


Conclusions and Recommendations

Your report should present thorough and clear responses to questions appropriate to your goal and your audience. In addition, it should explain business communication practices that are not transferable from one context to another and recommend those transferable ones that can enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the businesses. Discuss, too, if applicable, what adjustments the business would need to make to expand into the other context.


Outcomes for your team and yourself

The project provides you and your team with a rich opportunity for professional development. Take advantage of it to learn as much as you can about managing projects, analyzing the impacts of cultural contexts on business communication practices, and managing project communication in intercultural virtual teams. The project is designed in particular to help you develop and refine the following competencies:


-        Produce communication products collaboratively

-        Assess the audience, purpose, goal, and outcomes of communication products

-        Use the genre system of project management to organize and complete your project successfully.

-        Recognize how various cultural contexts impact business communication practices

-        Negotiate the different cultural contexts, values, expectations, and communication practices your colleagues bring to your team.

-        Use digital communication technologies effectively, efficiently, and ethically

-        Critically assess how digital communication technologies enable and constrain communication in distributed teamwork.