Culture Clash! How Culture Trips Up Engineering Collaborations - and How to Fix It

Janet Vertesi, Kyra Garson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Every engineering company (private, public, governmental, or academic) has its own culture(s). And when multiple players collaborate on complex space projects, cultural differences come along for the ride. Since many engineers still view culture discussions as hand-wavey and/or imprecise, let's ask exactly what we mean by "culture"in the context of engineering? Which cultural factors trip up collaborations, no matter how well-meaning the participants are, and what can teams do about it? This paper draws on sociology and intercultural studies to identify four cultural factors that matter to technical teams - even when those teams are all based in one country. It shows how these cultural dimensions impact engineering teams' information-sharing, communications, decision-making, and risk management. When groups come together, clashes can produce technical confusion, attribution errors, and increased risk. A case study of intercultural training among two U.S. institutions on NASA's Europa Clipper mission demonstrates how teams can learn to communicate more effectively across divides and find joint solutions to technical issues. With precision, attention, and training, understanding of cultural factors in engineering communication can improve our collaboration experience and success across the aerospace sector.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publication2024 IEEE Aerospace Conference, AERO 2024
PublisherIEEE Computer Society
ISBN (Electronic)9798350304626
StatePublished - 2024
Event2024 IEEE Aerospace Conference, AERO 2024 - Big Sky, United States
Duration: Mar 2 2024Mar 9 2024

Publication series

NameIEEE Aerospace Conference Proceedings
ISSN (Print)1095-323X


Conference2024 IEEE Aerospace Conference, AERO 2024
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityBig Sky

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Space and Planetary Science


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