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  • JoAnn Hackos
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    I’d never heard of this term until today, as I was reading an article from the Harvard Business School Weekly. The term refers to the use of English as a lingua franca or common language for a team that includes speakers of many different languages. Information-development managers are well aware of the challenges managing multi-lingual teams that are generally spread among multiple countries and time zones.
    Many people in our business environment speak English even though it is not their native language. However, the level of language fluency is varied. Tsedal Neeley, an associate professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, argues that teams can have problems because of different levels of English fluency among the team members. Her study shows that subgroups or cliques form based on language ability, which can cause problems for the team’s ability to collaborate effectively.
    Most often, groups coalesce around the speakers of the same native language. The Germans talk together, as do the French, and all the others. The languages groups detract from the ability of the team to work together.
    The manager needs to find ways to help the team work effectively and to overcome the language barrier raised by Englishnization. It helps if the company has a policy about language. A language policy might require that teams avoid side conversations in different languages while the team is interacting.
    In Neeley’s case study, the language problem is exacerbated by a senior team member who is intolerant. This team member makes racist and often derogatory comments, which creates a very bad environment for the team. On the other hand, this team member is also highly productive. How can the manager turn the situation around?
    A distributed work force is a fact of organizational life. Here is my question: How would you tackle the problem of Englishnization? Have you faced this problem? If so, what did you do?

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