Every challenge is an opportunity. This maxim is true among all types of groups including virtual, culturally diverse, and generationally diverse groups. Each of these groups presents its own set of special considerations for applying perspective taking; defined as the “cognitive ability to understand the world from another’s viewpoint.”
With regards to the disconnected nature of virtual teams the ability to understand someone else on the team can become a significant challenge. According to the NY Times, 43% of Americans worked remotely at some point during 2016. Yet Frey’s work clearly illustrated how virtual environments contain their own nuances for team groupness. As one of the first studies on the subject it was observed how technology impacted the group’s ability to understand each other’s viewpoint even though both groups were from the same company, had physically met in person, and were speaking the same language. The core of the issue identified in that study dealt in part with the natural delay of the technology at hand (Frey, 2003).
Culturally diverse teams exhibit similar challenges. In his book, A Thomas Jefferson Education, Oliver Demille presents the idea that having a national book helps to define a nation. His premise is based on the idea that having a common reference points serves as a starting point to relate to others and create a shared identity. Truly similar backgrounds help to create common ground among group members, but with those from different backgrounds this challenge can be more difficult to overcome. Based on my experience of establishing cross cultural groups in many countries, group members from different cultural background view their current experience as a good way to establish that common narrative then it can increase their successful interactions. It’s hard to consider someone else’s viewpoint when you don’t know what that is, but it’s a subject that most feel comfortable discussing, and that discussion can be the foundation to success.
Generationally diverse groups not only have the problems of an uncommon heritage, they also have the challenge of dealing with individuals of varying technical abilities. Language is very much a communication technology and older generations have impressed me by their ability to employ language with expert tone and inflection. In environments where tone and inflection are lost (such as email) their skills can fall below the required task for communication. This will often lead inexperienced individuals to judge those as older as less capable instead of valuing the skills they do have. Perspective taking is certainly apt in this situation as it forces those with potentially cynical perspectives to look for the good and contributions of others.
Regardless of the origins of the challenge in virtual teams, cross cultural teams, or gender diverse teams, perspective taking is an important skill to be applied to any group environment.
Frey, L. R. (2003). Group communication in context: Studies in bona fide groups. Mahwah, NJ: Routledge.