National culture in practice: Its impact on knowledge sharing in global virtual collaboration

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Information Transfer


Kevin Crowston


National culture, Knowledge sharing, Virtual collaboration, China

Subject Categories

Library and Information Science | Social and Behavioral Sciences


Issues concerning global virtual collaboration have received considerable attention in both the academic and practical world; however, little research has been conducted on knowledge-sharing activities in global virtual collaboration, which is a key process to achieve collaboration effectiveness. Due to national culture having been seen as one of the most significant factors that global collaboration needs to address and as a major barrier to knowledge sharing, this study investigates its impact on knowledge sharing in global virtual collaboration. The research question was addressed within the context of the Chinese culture, due to its global political and economic importance. More specifically, the virtual collaboration between Chinese individuals and their American colleagues was investigated. Within this context, this study specifically investigates the impact of Chinese culture on Chinese individuals' knowledge-sharing activities in their global virtual collaboration with American colleagues.

Unlike most culture research, national culture was studied here within the context where the research subjects were located and was investigated on the level of the individual. A two-phase study was employed. In Phase One, an exploratory case study was used to examine what national cultural factors impact Chinese individual's knowledge-sharing activities in global virtual collaboration with their American colleagues, and how. It also sought to discover what factors may mediate the impact. A Chinese team located at the Shanghai site of a global corporation was used. The purpose of the case study was to understand the research questions qualitatively and to develop a set of hypotheses regarding the relationships between cultural factors and knowledge-sharing activities. In Phase Two, an online survey was used to test these hypotheses and to refine and generalize the findings from the first phase.

In general, the study found that four cultural factors impact Chinese individuals' knowledge sharing with their remote American colleagues. Language was the greatest, followed by technical knowledge, concern for face and technology infrastructure. Individuals' understandings of the cultural factors, especially the value-based one (concern for face) were influenced by different contextual factors such as organizational culture and individual characteristics. These cultural factors had different impacts on three kinds of knowledge-sharing activities: preference for different knowledge-sharing tools, and participation effectiveness in task-related and in social-related communication.

This study has both theoretical and practical implications. First, this work enhances our understanding of knowledge-sharing practices in global virtual collaboration. Second, it enhances our understanding of national culture by examining not only value-based dimensions. Third, this study introduces a distinction between national culture and national culture-in-practice, which emphasizes the dynamic and emergent nature of national culture in practices. The results also have practical implications, particularly for international businesses that currently have, or seek to establish, subsidiary operations in China.


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