Catherine Cramton, an associate professor of management at SOM, is leading a team of researchers that recently received a $400,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant for their project “Culture and Coordination in Global Engineering Teams.” The grant will fund their research from September 1, 2010 through August 31, 2013.
Engineering work has become increasingly complex, and big engineering projects are almost always undertaken by teams of engineers whose members are multicultural and distributed around the globe. Effective coordination is crucial for success, yet recent research suggests that team coordination practices vary with national culture. Experts have warned that engineering education fails to prepare engineers for these differences.
“Cultural differences in coordination practices are understudied across domains of application, so our work will provide new knowledge concerning this central team process. We also offer a new approach to capturing the complexity of teamwork ‘an approach grounded in scripts theory’ that has the potential to influence research across disciplines,” says Cramton.
“While writing the proposal with Tine Köhler, a former student of mine who is a graduate of Mason's industrial psychology doctoral program and now on the faculty of the University of Melbourne, we decided to focus on the construction engineering context,” says Cramton.
“We made contact with Raymond Levitt, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University. He joined our project and also brought on board Dr. Renate Fruchter, senior research associate and lecturer in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford. We will also work with a large global infrastructure engineering firm.”
The research team intends to characterize the culturally-specific coordination practices of engineering teams and use this research to help engineers—and others who work in multicultural, multi-national project teams—become more adept in anticipating and working across different cultural expectations related to project coordination. They will develop recommendations for engineering education and practice.