How to Adapt Your Project for Global Teamwork

Team stacking hands

David Howard, PMP, knows what it takes to keep global teams connected. As a project manager for cellular network upgrades at Huawei in Markham, Ontario, Canada, Mr. Howard works with team members located in the company’s headquarters in Shenzhen, China, as well as another office in Bucharest, Romania. While technology increasingly makes it easier to work across borders, Mr. Howard says being flexible and developing the right people skills also can bridge cultural and logistical barriers — and widen the project management career path.

How do you bridge language gaps?

English is the official business language of the company, but much of the communication at company headquarters is in Mandarin. One way we get past this barrier is to buddy up with translators so team members on both sides can share complex ideas. For instance, during a recent project, having a Mandarin translator on overseas calls to China allowed our local client and me to effectively communicate the requirements and provide the necessary feedback.

But China is 12 hours ahead of you, and Romania is 7 hours ahead. How do you deal with that gap?

If a Canadian client is involved, then we accommodate the client by having team members in China or Romania hop on a call that’s late for them — maybe 8 p.m. Otherwise, I like to rotate the meeting times so that sometimes I adjust to their schedule and sometimes they adjust to mine. Nobody wants to spend their evenings working all the time, so sharing this burden between local and remote resources helps to build respect with remote team members.

What’s an overlooked challenge of managing a global team?

The biggest impact on projects is holidays. Many people want to take time off during the major holidays of their culture, which can impact your resource pool. Being aware of when these different holidays occur and which resource might be impacted can go a long way toward mitigating schedule and resource surprises. I put important national and cultural holidays in my calendar to remind myself to factor these holidays into the project plan.

How can managing a global team boost your career?

More projects increasingly require global teams, so being able to manage these types of teams will provide you with more opportunities as a project manager in the future. You have to learn to develop an understanding of local culture and customs. Also, adjust your communication so that team members are comfortable speaking their non-native language: Speak slowly and clearly; paraphrase to ensure they understand you; when they say yes to a request, have them repeat the agreement so it’s clear everyone understands it. These steps help build critical rapport and trust — and are some crucial people skills that will help you be a successful leader.

Any advice for those who hope to manage global teams?

Be patient and respectful — and take the time to learn about the other cultures you work with. Take time to celebrate various holidays. We do potlucks in the office for Chinese New Year’s, Christmas, Diwali or the end of Ramadan so we’re always learning about each of the cultures. Understanding your team will build relationships and trust that will get reflected in a successful project.