Managing projects in organisations consisting of employees coming from different cultures, who speak different languages and follow different values can be a great challenge for the project manager. Although we are bound to encounter some difficulties and obstacles in such a work, we can also find ideas and solutions we would not normally expect. All that because culture differences can be an accelerator for action. How to manage multinational teams and how to talk to partners who have a different value system?
How the best-of-the-best do it?
Some years ago, in one of interviews, the HR coordinator of Hewlett-Packard talked about what a multicultural work environment looks like. Why do we say “multiculturalism” and not “different cultures”? Because even if our team is composed of persons coming from different environments and regions of the world, at the moment of entering the group they become a part of one team that should and sometimes even has to overcome the barriers.
However, when we talk about two different enterprises, coming from different parts of the world and guided by other values, we can rarely avoid using the phrase “different cultures”. And although companies frequently need to establish relationships with other entities, inter-organisational barriers may often arise due to differences resulting from lack of understanding of the other side. This is why large companies cannot allow themselves for image bloopers and language misunderstandings. Hence, experts in image and behaviour in the given culture often take part in the meetings.
Let’s get back to the topic. Creating multicultural organisations and projects seems to be really valuable for the company. Just look at the biggest corporations in the world. Google, Amazon, Microsoft and many other enterprises create teams based on specialists coming from different regions of the world. In the modern world, the language barrier is becoming more and more blurred, but we cannot really say it does not exist. English has become common but project implementation often requires knowing it perfectly.
If we take a look at other companies, those who have no issue dealing with projects run by multicultural groups are: Disney, Mastercard, Coca-Cola, Marriott, or Sedexo. And this is just the beginning of the list.
Managing a multicultural team
On one of the PMI conferences, Anbari Khilkhanova claimed that project managers in the modern multicultural global business environment often encounter cultural differences which can improve or disturb the successful finalisation of tasks. Multicultural management studies conducted by Hofstede put forth a proposed set of dimensions along which we can build value systems. They influence the human thought, feeling and action as well as behaviour of the organisation and institution.
The said dimensions reflect the basic issues each society needs to handle themselves. However, solutions for these problems differ from culture to culture. The dimensions can be grouped into the following categories:
- human relations – i.e. individualism and collectivism;
- orientation and motivation – masculinity and femininity, avoidance, uncertainty and bossiness;
- attitudes towards time – long-term and short-term;
- control – internal and external, when the group believes that it controls its environment or that it cooperates with it;
- social and cultural dimensions – paternalism and fatalism. In a paternalistic relation, the role of the leader is to provide guidance, protection, civilization and care to his/her subordinate and the subordinate’s role is to be loyal and respect the leader in return. Fatalism is a belief that you cannot fully control the results of your actions and, thus, try too much to achieve something and long-term plans are not profitable;
- context – high-context cultures have extensive information webs and require minimum information while low-context cultures require more additional information before they are able to make a decision.
Obviously, these are just a few most important dimensions which allow the manager to manage the project and persons participating in it a way allowing to avoid internal conflicts and complete the task. Creating such teams and managing them requires not only high leadership qualifications but also behaviouristic, psychological and sociological knowledge.
Naaee.org states that when managing such projects, the leader has to take many tasks on his shoulders. The project involves commitment of not only funds and resources, but also people. Completion of the undertaking is to result with a completed task with satisfactory effects, etc. When working on the project, the leader has to be able to manage people and their relations, internal and external procedures, show clear goals, divide the team by tasks, structures and roles as well as reward the subordinates and solve conflicts.
There is no recipe for success
Working with people from many countries, communicating in different languages, who often have different working hours, habits, beliefs, behaviours, opinions can be, unfortunately, very tiring for the PM, and those with less experience – even stressful. Despite that, every other completed project is a reward for the work put into it. For those who want to read more about the subject of multiculturalism in the organisation, we recommend the PMI library.