When we understand our own cultural preferences and the preferences of our team members it will become easier and more efficient to work in culturally diverse teams. As project managers, we need to identify our differences and know how to mind the gap culturally.
For multinational companies, it has become the standard to work in, and manage, teams that consist of members spread over different time zones and nationalities. This means that a project can run 24/7 and the top talents from the company’s different regions can be gathered in the same team, but it also means that potential challenges also increase for the project manager.
Some of the main challenges of cross-cultural project management:
• Managing meetings and project deadlines across multiple time zones
• Accounting for cultural biases and different communication and work preferences
• Getting clear agreement across boundaries
• Building a team culture with a temporary, globally dispersed project team
By understanding the cultural preferences of ourselves and our team members, identifying gaps and how to bridge those gaps, it will become easier and more efficient to work in these teams.
Besides our personality and personal preferences, we are also part of groups that shape or opinions, values, and beliefs which are a part of our culture. For instance, Danes and Indians differ in cultural dimensions. These dimensions lead to a great starting point in understanding differences in work and communication styles across the globe.
Hierarchical vs. egalitarian
In some cultures, the status of a person is emphasized. In countries like India, France and Brazil hierarchy is important and knowing where your place in it is in relation to the person you are interacting with. For a project manager, this could mean that you would need support from a higher-ranking manager, than yourself, and be more leading in your decision making. On the other hand, in egalitarian cultures like Denmark, they find it harder with people that rely on their status too much since people are more equal in the workspace. An egalitarian project manager can be perceived as a weak and lacking authority in other cultures.
Direct vs. indirect communication
In countries like Denmark and Germany, it is the norm to be direct and give constructive criticism in the moment. In indirect cultures, this could come off as rude, impolite and disrespectful to the receiver’s reputation. Consider what medium to use when giving input to team members that are less direct in their communication.
Monochronic vs. polychronic
In polychronic cultures like India and Indonesia time is relative and fluid, which means they work on many different things at the same time. This also means that they have a looser interpretation for meeting timelines and deadlines. Monochronic cultures like the U.S.A. and Denmark regard time as a linear and definitive. This shows in their preference for punctuality, back-to-back meetings and no time wasted.
Task vs. relationship
Task-oriented cultures like Denmark and Germany prefer to get straight to work, leaving little time to get to know the team members. The idea is that you will all get to know each other through the work process. In relationship-oriented countries, like China and France, they tend to leave space before work begins to get to know each other’s backgrounds.
How we perceive trust to be gained also differs from culture. In Northern Europe, they tend to give trust, until proven otherwise. But in most cultures around the world, they believe that trust is gained.
INTEGRATE CULTURAL AWARENESS INTO YOUR PROJECT MANAGEMENT
• Project team and organization
Map and consider the cultures of your team. Seek feedback from your key internal project stakeholders to ensure all needs are being met.
• Motivating the team towards a common goal
A well-formulated project purpose will serve as a uniting force. A common goal will help you to overcome individual differences.
• Communication management
Examine stakeholders, like costumers and end-users, to decide if you need to approach them with different strategies in your communication.
• Managing your project plan
If you have a team with monochronic and polychronic cultures, spend extra time on clarifying what you expect from each person.
• Risk management
Examine if there is someone in the team that approaches risk differently. Use frameworks and descriptions to set expectations regarding risks.
Managing culturally diverse teams can be challenging, identifying and understanding these gaps can make it easier to lead your team.
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