"There is nothing that can replace a personal relationship": practicing intercultural competence in German multinational corporations in Australia
thesisposted on 28.03.2022, 22:53 authored by Sandra Blumberg
This PhD thesis examines how work in the Australian subsidiaries of German multinational corporations is affected by cultural diversity. The investigation focuses on employee experiences, the salience of culture in different contexts, belonging and identity formation, as well as the impact of the corporate environment on transcultural communication. The study aims to strengthen collaboration in the subsidiaries under investigation and their partnership with the overseas parent company. Identifying the key ingredients of intercultural competence in this specific context is sought to assist the selected organisations – and others – in managing cultural diversity more effectively. In a broader sense, this research aims to provide empirical data to further substantiate the value of developing an interculturally competent workforce in private organisations in Australia. Following a critical realist epistemology and ontology, this study uses an in vivo approach to theory building and relies on mixed methods multiple case study. Data was collected from three German multinational corporations. The sample represents the logistics, energy and power transmission industries. Empirical evidence is based on seventy-four survey responses, twenty-three semi-structured interviews and three focus groups in the Australian subsidiaries. Another semi-structured interview with a representative of the senior management was conducted in the headquarters of each case during a cotutelle agreement with the Europa-Universität Viadrina in Frankfurt/Oder (Germany). This research study argues that building meaningful relationships with people from different cultural and/or linguistic backgrounds is central to intercultural competence in working for a German multinational corporation in Australia, and that collective identity in a sense of membership in the larger organisation is the major contributing factor in the variation of this employee ability. Miscommunication and conflict based on language – which emerged as the major intercultural challenge across the three subsidiaries – occur less frequently and are solved more easily when the involved parties have developed a personal connection. Where employees in the subsidiary felt respected and included by the headquarters, cultural and linguistic differences were perceived as less impacting on collaboration than in those cases where employees in the subsidiary sensed inferiority. This research proposes the Interrelated Model of Intercultural Competence for MNC Management to strengthen collaboration in the subsidiaries of German multinational corporations in Australia and their partnership with the overseas headquarters. The study extends current knowledge about meaningful relationships in intercultural competence through the investigation of the German-Australian business context, and adds the notion of collective identity to contemporary understandings of the concept.