Sub-theme 40: Leveraging cultural dynamics: The roles of international assignments and intercultural competence

Yih-Teen Lee
IESE Business School, Spain
B. Sebastian Reiche
IESE Business School, Spain
Michael J. Morley
Kemmy Business School, University of Limerick, Ireland

Call for Papers

Creativity implies breaking away from routines and establishing new links among objects which are seemingly unrelated in the outset. The novel cultural encounter provides an ideal occasion for individuals and organizations alike to confront frames of reference different from theirs, and to challenge the status quo of well-established routines. Despite likely suffering in the adaptation process, cultural encounter can foster valuable possibilities of innovation for organizations. In this sub-theme, we would like to invite scholars to contribute to this line of thinking from the following angles: (1) international assignees as innovation agents across units of international organizations; (2) individuals using cultural competences to find creative solutions in bridging cultural differences; and (3) the combination of the two.

First, international assignees often play a role as agents for knowledge transfer and practice innovation. As international organizations increase their global scope by entering new markets and exploiting location advantages, they face the challenge of transferring resources that are developed or recombined in different cultural and institutional contexts to other parts of the interrelated network. International assignees have been identified as key facilitators of such cross-unit interaction and exchange by serving as information brokers (Kostova and Roth, 2003), boundary spanners (Au and Fukuda, 2002), knowledge conduits (Riusala and Suutari, 2004) and as critical nodes in the organization’s international network (Morley and Heraty, 2004). In their role as linking pins, international assignees face several unique challenges, including pressures for cultural adjustment at both organizational and national levels, as well as the need to develop social relationships with their new colleagues. As a result, assignees are forced to develop new ways of doing things and creatively cope with challenges that are not familiar to them. Success in managing multiple forms of international assignments – such as short-term assignments (Collings, Scullion and Morley, 2007) and inpatriate assignments (Reiche, 2006) – will be highly beneficial to assignees and international organizations in capitalizing upon this potential source of innovation.

Second, not only international assignees but all individuals may take the advantage of cultural encounters to act creatively and innovate in this highly globalized world. In fact, due to the increasing pace of globalization and international migration, it is not rare for individuals to work in organizations composed of members of different cultures of origin. Usually individuals need to develop skills and competences to deal with challenges related to cultural differences so as to negotiate and define appropriate ways of interacting with cultural others. In this regard, research has begun to identify sets of individual competences that help individuals to be effective in a multicultural environment (Earley and Ang, 2003; Thomas and Inkson, 2003; Johnson, Lenartowicz and Apud, 2006). Again, success in acquiring and mobilizing these skills and competences may help individuals to reach beyond their own cultural frame, facilitating broader creative thinking and innovation. Without doubt, individuals that are equipped with proper cultural competences will be able to better manage this coping process, thus playing a more effective role as agents for cross-unit exchange and innovation.

We would like to solicit papers examining:

  1. individual-level antecedents that influence assignees' boundary spanning and brokering activities,
  2. organizational and contextual factors that may have an impact,
  3. how international assignees' boundary spanning roles may translate into organizational outcomes, and/or
  4. key cultural competences that provide individuals with the capabilities to turn experiences of dealing with cultural differences into sources of creativity and innovation.

The following questions point to topics that conceptual and empirical papers may address:

  • What are specific competences that international assignees require in order to be effective cross-unit exchange agents? To what extent are these competences contingent upon factors associated with the individual assignment (assignment type, assignment culture, culture-of-origin, etc.)?
  • How does personal power influence individuals' ability to leverage cultural dynamics?
  • How do international assignees build social ties and social capital with host-unit staff? To which extent does social capital building differ across cultures?
  • What motivates international assignees to engage in cross-unit exchanges? What is the role of host-unit staff in the process of cross-unit exchange?
  • How can cross-unit exchange be maintained upon repatriation of the international assignee?
  • How can organizations facilitate the international assignment process? Specifically, what is the role of organizational support in assignees' cross-unit boundary spanning?
  • How can organizations develop cultural competences at both the individual and organizational level to creatively deal with cultural differences?

Contributions employing multidisciplinary approaches, novel research strategies, and/or relying on insights from multiple cultural backgrounds are particularly encouraged.


Au, K.Y. and J. Fukuda (2002): "Boundary spanning behaviors of expatriates." Journal of World Business, 37 (4), 285–297.

Collings, D.G., H. Scullion and M.J. Morley (2007): "Changing patterns of global staffing in the multinational enterprise: Challenges to the conventional expatriate assignment and emerging alternatives." Journal of World Business, 42 (2), 198–213.

Earley, P.C. and S. Ang (2003): Cultural Intelligence: Individual Interactions across Cultures. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Johnson, P.J., T. Lenartowicz and S. Apud (2006): "Cross-cultural competence in international business: Toward a definition and a model." Journal of International Business Studies, 37 (4), 525–543.

Kostova, T. and K. Roth (2003): "Social capital in multinational corporations and a micro-macro model of its formation." Academy of Management Review, 28 (2), 297–317.

Morley, M. and N. Heraty (2004): "International assignments and global careers." Thunderbird International Business Review, 46 (6), 633–646.

Reiche, B.S. (2006): "The inpatriate experience in multinational corporations: An exploratory case study in Germany." International Journal of Human Resource Management, 17 (9), 1572–1590.

Riusala, K. and V. Suutari (2004): "International knowledge transfers through expatriates." Thunderbird International Business Review, 46 (6), 743–770.

Thomas, D.C. and K. Inkson (2003): Cultural Intelligence: People Skills for Global Business. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Yih-Teen Lee 
B. Sebastian Reiche 
Michael J. Morley