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Speaking of global virtual teams: language differences, social categorization and media choice

Anders Klitmøller (Department of Language and Business Administration, University of Southern Denmark, Slagelse, Denmark)
Susan Carol Schneider (HEC, University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland)
Karsten Jonsen (IMD Business School, Lausanne, Switzerland)

Personnel Review

ISSN: 0048-3486

Article publication date: 2 March 2015




The purpose of this paper is to explore the interrelation between language differences, media choice and social categorization in global virtual teams (GVTs).


An ethnographic field work was conducted in a Finnish multinational corporation (MNC). The study included interviews, observations, and language proficiency assessment of 27 GVT members located in five European countries.


In GVTs, the combination of language proficiency differences and verbal media (e.g. telephone) tends to lead to social categorization, while a similar effect was not found when GVT members chose written media (e.g. e-mail).

Research limitations/implications

The qualitative study only consisted of GVTs from one MNC, and thus the empirical findings might not be generalizable to other MNCs. Therefore, quantitative studies that can add to the robustness of the exploratory findings could be a worthwhile endeavour.

Practical implications

Language training should be provided to GVT members, and virtual policies should be implemented to ensure the use of written media in GVTs characterized by language proficiency differences.


Although it is well established in the literature that language differences are detrimental to co-located team effectiveness no study has explored how the relationship between variation in language proficiency and media choice affects social categorization in GVTs.



Klitmøller, A., Schneider, S.C. and Jonsen, K. (2015), "Speaking of global virtual teams: language differences, social categorization and media choice", Personnel Review, Vol. 44 No. 2, pp. 270-285.



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Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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