"Visions of World Benefit & Global Responsibility: Perspectives of McGill Students

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Cross-Cultural Management played as a Volley Ball Game

The Game of volley ball, is it that different from Cross-Cultural Management? Marie-France uncovers the similarities between the two.
In October 2006, the IFUS World Interuniversity Game, which assembles sports teams from all over the world, took place in Dublin, Ireland. I was fortunate enough to take part in this wonderful event, as the first ever venue manager of the volley ball competition. Throughout the week, many sports were represented, such American football, futsal, basket ball and off course, volley ball. The teams present came all the way from Iran, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Ireland and the United States among others and all came to compete and attempt to take home the championship title. Reflecting back on this multi-cultural event, I realized that the beautiful sport of volley ball is not that different from cross-cultural management.

Both volley ball and cross-cultural management are similar. Volley ball is a sport that is gaining in popularity world wide while cross-cultural management skills are growing in demand in many international organizations in today’s interdependent world. The skills required for both are similar; they both demand agility, patience, coordination, observation, team work, communication, understanding, hard work, perseverance and off course practice.

Through the aspects of cultural dimensions, communication, leadership and motivation the game of volley ball and the management of different cultures will be explored.

Cultural Dimensions

A country’s culture is often what serves as the bedrock of its societies. It can be defined in many ways. Using Hofstede’s model of cultural dimensions, a country’s culture can be defined in terms of power distance, uncertainty avoidance, individualism, masculinity and long-term orientation. When trying to forge bonds between individuals from different cultures, learning about the country’s national culture’s background can serve as the basis for building a long term relationship and learning how to effectively manage people from different countries. That will off course demand patience and hard work. For example an expatriate Canadian CFO who is trying to manage a team in Mexico will have to comprehend that the cultural dimensions of that country are different from his/hers. This will affect how that CFO will manage its employees and employees will also have to readjust to a different way of doing things. This is a two way process where both parties are affected. The relation to time, risks and interpersonal relationships are affected by these cultural dimensions.

Moreover, in a volley ball team, players can be defined in terms of their experience, personality and physical and mental strengths and also by the position they play whether it is middle, right, left, setter or libero. Knowing from what team a player comes from and in what position they were trained will help a coach understand how their players were trained and why some players act a certain way when facing a particular situation in a game. Players might have been raised in a team where offensive skills have been more strongly emphasised then defensive skills. Different players might also have learned different techniques through different coaches. New players in a new team will have to adapt to the new coach, the new team mates and the new way of doing things. Furthermore, the coach also needs to understand the background of that player and how to incorporate and utilize the player’s strength in the team. Therefore, whether it is in volley ball or in cross-cultural management, the cultural dimensions and background history are both important to understand to in order to manage a new team effectively.


Communication has always been a key to success in any organization and sports team and is even more crucial when discussing with individuals from other cultures. In attempting to manage a different culture, a manager needs to understand that both verbal (oral and written) and non-verbal (body language, facial expression, physical distance and kinesics), communication varies across cultures. They are dependent on perception, values, attitudes, personality and context. Patience and practice are therefore keys in attempting to build long-term understanding between two or more different cultures, for example between Canadians and Chinese managers when working on a joint venture. Observation will play an important role in this particular element.

Just as in cross-cultural management, volley ball resembles together various individual that need to build an understanding of each other and a way to communicate on the court in order to win and perform. The players need to understand the verbal and non-verbal cues they give each other. In a team, strategic plays are indicated by numbers the setter of the team screams in an offence play to indicate to the other players what to do. Non-verbal hand gestures are also used to do the same thing. Understanding these will effectively improve team performance on the court. In cross-cultural management and in volley ball, if there is no communication and understanding between the parties involved, then the building of long-term relationships and performance will be difficult.


This particular ability to influence and direct a group of people in the same direction in order to achieve the same goals and objectives is as important in a sports team as in cross-cultural management. In both of these areas, different of people might prefer to be led by different types of leaders. Additionally, there exist many different ways to define leaders but here we will say that the predominant types of leadership are named, paternalistic, authoritarian, and participative.

In cross-cultural management, a culture’s values will define what type of leadership is preferred and acceptable in a company between the three mentioned above. Even so, according to a study called ‘GLOBE Project’, there are some positive and negative attributes that are universally shared in a good leader. The positive characteristics are trustworthy, just, honest, charisma, inspiration and vision, team-orientation, excellence orientation, decisive and intelligent. On the negative side, a leader ought not to be a loner, non-cooperative, ruthless, non-explicit, irritable and dictatorial. This is true for a leader working abroad and for a captain and coach of a volley ball team. Players and individuals can all react differently to different types of leaders and leaders therefore needs to adapt there way of leading to the people working with them.

Motivation in a global perspective

Motivation can be essentially defined as a psychological process through which unsatisfied wants or needs lead to drives that are aimed at goals or incentives[1]. In a globalized world, personality, attitudes and again cultural background will lead people to want and need different things in their life.

More individualists versus group-oriented cultures will have to be motivated differently. A man in the United States is more motivated to stand out from his coworkers and will most likely want to shine alone after achieving a goal. On the other hand, in a culture like Japan, an employee will be motivated by group projects and will not feel comfortable if rewarded alone. The motivation in these two countries is very different. Furthermore, according to the need theories, different cultures will have different needs that they’ll want to satisfy. In the United States, the self-actualization need is the ultimate need to be satisfied according to Maslow’s pyramid of needs and in comparison, in Latin America, the sense of affiliation is the one that is the most cherished.

In comparison to that, you can find both individual needs and group-oriented needs in a volley ball team. Since this a team sports, obviously there will be a need for the team to perform together to achieve its goals. The group affiliation needs to be high. Because no player can touch the ball twice in a row and a team can do no more then three contacts before the ball has to cross the net on the opponent’s side, there is a strong motivation from players to learn to trust other team mates and want them to improve. Also, because individual performance is also praised, the need to outperform his/herself is also prone for the development of the player. Most importantly to understand, some players, depending on their personality will want to push themselves to their limit will others will try to improve themselves as a more supportive member of the team. In the end, understanding what motivates the action of individuals depends on their needs, personality and background.


In the end, volley ball and cross-cultural management are very much alike. The cultural dimension of a country and the experience and background of a player are both to be taken into account when managing a team abroad or a volley ball team. Furthermore, both non-verbal and verbal communications are very important to understand in order to have everyone working on the same page. As for leadership and motivation, the type of it required or more effective will again depend on the cultural characteristics of a country and the history and personality of the team. Finally, when trying to manage individuals from abroad or a volley ball team, practice, patience and observation will be great skill to have and use.

[1] Dr. Jacob Eisenberg, UCD, Quinn School of Business Cross-Cultral Management, Motivation in context

GLOBE project, http://www.google.ca/search?hl=fr&q=GLOBE+project&meta=

Hofstede, Geert, Cultural Dimensions: http://www.geert-hofstede.com/index.shtml

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