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Keywords:

  • global software engineering;
  • culture;
  • small enterprises;
  • knowledge sharing practices;
  • offshoring;
  • ethnographically informed studies

SUMMARY

The impact of culture on knowledge management in international teams is an important topic which is still not well understood. We contribute to the discussion by presenting two case studies of small software teams involved in distributed software development. In doing so, we illustrate how cultural and social issues influence the way knowledge exchange is performed by analyzing four knowledge sharing practices: status meetings and maintaining awareness, the collaborative use of shared artifacts and repositories, spending time at the other site and human ‘bridges’ that mediate between people and cultures. Our findings suggest that organizational culture is permanently re-negotiated and adjusted to fit the distributed collaboration, as the teams learn how to deal with each other. Socialization plays a significant role in this learning process, and people are more likely to draw on national stereotypes when breakdowns occur. The influences of national culture and site-specific organizational culture are subtle and not easy to separate from other factors. Based on our experience, we argue that in order to achieve an accurate understanding of knowledge sharing practices in globally distributed software teams, these need to be studied in context, longitudinally, and from both the onshore and offshore perspectives. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.