The Impact of Language Barriers on Multinational Teams

Dr. Helene Tenzer

Prof. Dr. Markus Pudelko

Since all multinational corporations are also multilingual organizations, language barriers affect almost all aspects of their management. Surprisingly, however, research on language barriers in international business has until recently been scarce. Especially their impact on multinational teams has so far been largely neglected. This is a striking gap, as large corporations depend on multinational teams to coordinate their complex operations. Since well-functioning communication is an indispensable prerequisite for team performance, language is of pre-eminent importance in this context.

Our research project is the first to address this gap. Our central objective is to study the relations between language barriers and multinational team performance. To achieve this, we will examine the impact of language barriers on different team processes, which have a decisive influence on team performance. Our first paper projects focus on team cognition, trust building, emotional conflict and leadership in multinational teams.

A qualitative multiple case study approach is applied, as it offers a powerful design for describing complex interrelations and provides a sound base for building robust theory. We so far conducted around 90 semi-structured interviews with multinational team leaders, team members, senior managers and human resource officials from three German automotive companies. This rich dataset will be coded in ATLAS.ti and analyzed using the Constant Comparative Method.

Our exploration of the impact of language barriers on teams will enable us to substantially extend existing team theory and to develop valuable recommendations for the efficient management of multilingual groups.