Journal of International Business Studies

, Volume 45, Issue 5, pp 536–561 | Cite as

Language as a lightning rod: Power contests, emotion regulation, and subgroup dynamics in global teams

  • Pamela J Hinds
  • Tsedal B Neeley
  • Catherine Durnell Cramton
Article

Abstract

Based on an ethnographic study comprising interviews with and observations of 96 globally distributed members of six software development teams, we propose a model that captures how asymmetries in language fluency contribute to an us vs them dynamic common in global teams. Faultlines, formed along the dimensions of asymmetries in lingua franca fluency, location, and nationality of team members, were associated with subgrouping in some but not all of the teams. Our findings suggest that divisive subgroup dynamics occurred only in teams that also suffered from power contests, suggesting that power contests activate otherwise dormant faultlines. Our findings extend theory on subgroup dynamics in global teams by adding language as a potential faultline dimension, showing how power struggles activated faultlines and were, in turn, reinforced by them and documenting the emotion-regulation processes triggered by subgrouping and enacted through language-related choices and behaviors.

Keywords

ethnography qualitative research language (language design, silent language, translation) teams and teamwork geographic distance intercultural work relationship 

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Copyright information

© Academy of International Business 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Pamela J Hinds
    • 1
  • Tsedal B Neeley
    • 2
  • Catherine Durnell Cramton
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Management Science and EngineeringCenter for Work, Technology and Organization, Stanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  2. 2.Harvard Business SchoolBostonUSA
  3. 3.School of Management, George Mason UniversityFairfaxUSA

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