Project Management Institute

Erasing Boundaries

When Projects Span the Globe, Here's How to Keep Everyone on the Same Page

By Yasmina Khelifi, PMP

As more projects have a global scope and scale, it's increasingly common for project professionals to manage stakeholders around the world, juggling time zones, technologies, languages and other location-specific challenges. How can project managers work most effectively in this diverse and complex environment? Here are four tips to improve global projects’ efficiency.

REALIZE REMOTE CONSTRAINTS

Understanding any limitations your remote teams face from the start helps you tailor your requests and anticipate problems. In-person visits are best: While there, you can take part in your team's meeting with your home office to experience it from their perspective. Being in their shoes will give you insights about improvements to make.

If a visit isn't possible, use videoconferencing or instant message video (after checking that this is acceptable) so you can learn more about your remote team members’ environment. Is it busy? Do people seem to get along well? Do team members walk in and out of the meeting room without notice? This information is invaluable to understand what might influence productivity and responsiveness.

In addition, pepper those stakeholders (or any colleague who travels there) with questions to identify any tangible workspace pain points. For example, are there any technological constraints? Internet speed and reliability can vary from one country to another, so don't assume all locations have universal services and equipment.

COMMUNICATE TO BUILD TRUST

Establishing agreed-upon formats and languages for communication is a critical requirement to ensure an effective and uninterrupted flow of information across borders.

Communication on global teams often is done in English or a simplified form called Global English, but depending on the proficiency of project members, this can be an obstacle. Whether you are a native English speaker or not, articulating and slowing down helps to convey a clearer message and reduce the impact of accents. In addition, remove regional jargon and create a shared glossary of project abbreviations and common terms so all team members have a quick reference in a pinch.

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Remember that idioms and metaphors might not translate across cultures and can hinder your message's meaning. Similarly, while humor can help lower stress or conflicts, it can be counterproductive if the meaning isn't universally understood or appreciated. Hint: If you're the only one laughing, can the jokes.

Ultimately, one-on-one meetings ensure the clearest communication. But when, due to lack of time or resources, you have to deliver group messages, such as an email or presentation to the entire team, check later to confirm everyone understood it. You might find you'll need to present the slides again to a smaller audience where remote colleagues feel more comfortable asking questions. Reiteration makes perfection.

REINFORCE THE NEED TO COLLABORATE

Collaborative tools are great, because they help centralize information, bring everyone onto the same page and reinforce a shared understanding of the project. But before implementing any tool, make sure it aligns with local regulations and corporate culture. If training for the tool is needed, advocate for it to the human resources team.

Beyond the tools, collaboration also can involve highlighting the value and strengths of each team member in the global project and their unique contributions to project success. Celebrating birthdays or other important events is another way to help reinforce a trusting relationship.

STUDY THE CULTURE

Culture can be an obstacle, but don't let it derail you or your team—and don't make it a scapegoat for other issues. If you begin to work with a new country, you have many options for gaining knowledge:

  • Learn some words of the native language.
  • Talk to colleagues who have already worked with this country. Or contact your local PMI chapter or other community of professionals to find people who have worked with this country. Their insights can help smooth the transition.
  • Look into intercultural training. It can provide you with keys to decode others’ behaviors as well as prevent mistakes or faux pas on your part. This kind of training also helps you discover the areas where you can improve.
  • Do your homework. Look into local holidays to avoid planning important milestones during an important religious festival or national celebration.

Continuous learning and adjustments, as well as an open mind and perseverance, will reward you in the long term when working with global teams. In fact, overcoming the obstacles and delivering global projects can be a source of personal enrichment and pride throughout your career. PM

img Yasmina Khelifi, PMP, is a senior project manager at Orange in Paris, France.
This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

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