"A MIXED BAG. . . full of GOODIES!"

International Management and Intercultural Communication: A Collection of Case Studies: Volumes 1 and 2
(London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015)

Elizabeth Christopher

Reviewed by
William C. Frederick
January 2016

This compact, two-volume book explores and describes various dilemmas facing the managers and employees of organisations that operate across national and cultural boundaries. The book's editor, and author of one chapter, is Elizabeth Christopher of Charles Sturt University in Australia. Readers will find a total of 22 case studies in Volumes 1 (189 pages) and 2 (184 pages), averaging about 13 pages per chapter. The first volume is devoted to cases on "business, marketing and politics", while cases in the second volume focus on situations arising "in social and educational settings".

Authors of the case studies have quite diverse backgrounds, including management professors and doctoral students, language and communication specialists, a bookstore owner, several consultants , an anthropologist, and a university lecturer in philosophy and religion. This mixed authorial bag of academics, practitioners, and cross-cultural specialists, while unusual, may prove to be the book's strength, as discussed below.

In evaluating these two volumes, let's take them one at a time. Volume One's individual chapters describe in-company management (and employee) dilemmas arising from cross-cultural differences. Case examples include interviewing prospective employees from another culture; fitting such employees into an on-going but unfamiliar company culture; finding common ground in defining workplace problems and procedures; understanding and complying with official and non-official procedures in doing business across cultural boundaries; and the use of new digital technology in training employees. A couple of oddball cases also appear: internal communication issues in a single company's organizational culture; and installing electronic messaging in an Italian opera house.

Volume 2's cases are even more diverse: smoking in workplaces; varied effects and attitudes about opium usage; personal acculturation of foreign students in a university setting; supervisory management in bilingual situations; language usage among immigrant (called here "New Arrival") children; plus another couple of oddball cases: game-playing to reveal unrecognised behaviors and beliefs, and the impact of digital technology on learning within educational organisations.

Obviously, there is ample free choice of diverse cases for faculty members in a variety of global-wide universities.

One needs to ask if these case studies are well done and complete. The answer is "yes, probably", although several of the cases are relevant largely for advanced multinational corporations doing business "on the fringe" of non-Western cultures. That may result from Australia's geographic locale and its relative closeness to Asian cultures, although it is perhaps a growing problem on a larger global scale.

The book's way of presenting the case studies may have an unintended, and possibly negative, effect on student usage and learning. Unlike the classic Harvard-Business-School cases that describe a company's dilemma, followed by a series of questions that help students identify the cases' key issues, this book's editor puts the cases' descriptive information only after a longish explanation of the cases' key issues and problems. In other words, she gives or suggests the "answers" to the cases well before a student reads the case itself. The editor and one case-study author are aware of this problem, commenting on the somewhat restricted traditional HBS approach. Modern textbooks, while adhering to the HBS model, provide instructors – but not students – with comprehensive questions to be analysed in the classroom after students have read the case itself1. It is possible, of course, that both approaches can contribute to student learning.

The positives – or "goodies" – of this two-volume set far outweigh its mixed-bag classification and organisation of topics...

  • Without question, the book's most important concept – a multi-cultural perspective – is present in most of the cases, which emphases the need for today's corporate, educational, civic, and public-policy managers to factor this all-important perspective into their decisions, strategies, and daily work activities.
  • A few cases, especially in Volume 2, give insights into non-business, non-management social or ethical dilemmas, such as tobacco usage or opium addiction or adjusting immigrant children to a new language.
  • Two techniques – game playing and digital technology – are revealed to have, or to exploit, learning potentials not fully recognised or used previously.
  • Several kinds of ethical/moral dilemmas are highlighted: gender discrimination, corporate bribery and corruption, and fair treatment of employees.

In this reviewer's opinion, the book's most significant and far-reaching case comes at the very end of Volume 2: "Space to Learn: A Case of Distributed Space", authored by Andrew Harrison, a consultant on learning environments. This case is specifically about the impact and influence of digital technology on teaching, learning, and values in university settings, but make no mistake – it's also about the self-same digital effects that occur in all kinds of organisations, including business corporations, government agencies, and international groupings. The phrase, "distributed space", refers simply to the size and shape of the areas in which an organisation's activities occur. Or as the author puts it: "the distribution of space between virtual and real environments, and between public and private space". These "spaces" are expanding at warp speed and, indeed, even changing the meaning of space itself, including the space within which work, leisure, and socialising occurs. The Internet, computers, iPhones, e-mail, iCloud, texting, tweeting, e-books, are literally changing the "shape" of space in which human activities occur and the speed with which they happen. Using Google as an example, Harrison says "it provides an environment that blurs the boundaries between working, living, and leisure." (148) Such "co-working spaces" are expanding rapidly via Google, Microsoft, and Accenture "since individual work tasks can be done anywhere." (149) That's the remarkable world we now live in, so might-as-well get used to it.

Think for a moment: digital tech combined with multi-culturality. Wow!

Thanks, Editor and authors, for all of the "goodies" in these two volumes!


1 An excellent example of this case-study methodology is found in Anne T. Lawrence & James Weber, Business and Society: Stakeholders, Ethics, Public Policy, 14th Edition, New York: McGraw-Hill Irwin, 2014, and accompanying instructors’ materials.