Project Management Institute

Focused communications for a global team

With the continued development of technology, in a global environment we have a huge advantage. We have immediate access to the best and the brightest people, and information. This ongoing evolution has resulted in the creation of project teams across multiple time zones, and multiple cultures.

Creating a cross culture vision

To the junior project manager, a team from various countries seems like a problem, more diversity and increased conflict. A seasoned project manager realises that it is through differences that we create the most innovative solutions, and expand our team's combined skill set, our combined value, delivered by both technical and personal skills.

It is the strategic value of a project that results in mixed messages. In different cultures the importance of profit, team building, motivation techniques, and conflict resolution vary. One thing does remain constant is a consistent technical project definition, understood by all cultures.

Techniques that work:

  • Define the project objective in two stages:
    • Technical objective to share with all stakeholders
    • Strategic objective to share with the business leaders

Creating a cross culture comfort zone

Keeping it simple is the best approach. There is a (high) risk that any effort to create added value may offend some cultures. Care should be taken with the selection of colours, terms, acronyms, personal space, seating arrangements, speaking/presentation order, hand gestures, business card etiquette, and of course jokes.

Techniques that work:

  • Get a quick guide on new locations, and contact the local embassy for information kits of doing business with their citizens.
  • Make this information part of a ‘kit’ that is available to all project team members

The role of the project manager in communications of a global team

A project manager retains the responsibility to create a team focus, to ensure all functional and cultural teams maintain a common vision, a common objective.

The team often feels alienated, out of sight, out of mind. Extra effort must be made to correct this misconception.

A nine to five mentality must become a thing of the past; it is always nine o'clock somewhere in your global team. Taking control of your schedule is a huge challenge. There are always team members who are getting access to you on their time schedule. Most project management concerns do not require immediate actions. Not being readily available, hopefully, results in your team learning to make timely decisions.

Techniques that work:

  • Define your (global) schedule, communicate this to your team, take control of your time.
  • Work a flexible schedule, be available for a longer time frame, but less total hours.

Developing a dynamic and flexible communications plan

A key to communications management is in the definition. Any definition is a good one when it takes into account the technology available, the available tools, and the knowledge levels of the extended project team. To do this requires a great deal of information gathering on the various satellite teams, their tools and processes.

Key considerations for your communications planning are normally:

  • Cost;
  • Timing of the communications;
  • Technology Available;
  • The team's knowledge of the technology;
  • The need for documented communications;
  • The amount of detail that is required;
  • The desire for interaction/feedback; and
  • The distribution of the communications.

Technology Tool Evaluation

Face to face communications will always remain the most effective communications method in (project) management. It provides immediate feedback, the ability of a meta-message, and interaction. It does not remain as the most common method. In a project team that is collocated, access to information is only a short walk away; in a global environment it must be a short walk in technology.

The access to advanced technology should make this easier to communicate and keep this objective in full view, however there is a risk that the team becomes dependant on the technology, when the technology goes down, so does the team.

Techniques that work:

  • Use the tools available, but have the KISS communications method as the backup,

Global Planning

During project planning, information gathering and relationship building are key success factors. This is costly and not always possible.

An emphasis to create and take advantage of any face-to-face opportunities is important. It is important that at least the Project Manager travel abroad to make a personal connection with each team. This ensures that in future telecons, there is always somebody on the other end of the phone that the satellite teams ‘know’.

Techniques that work:

  • ,Defined processes, roles and responsibilities are always a good idea in any project to ensure the team acts with consistency. This importance is amplified in a global team, this may be the only common thread among your team members.

Global Execution

Cost efficiency becomes the key factor as execution begins and there is a dramatic increase in communications volume.

As the team and their activities progress, conflicts arise. With a localised team, a mature project manager can ‘see’ or sense any problems arising. With a global team, problems may be open and apparent locally, but the project manager, thousands of miles away, does not see the non-verbal messages.

Increasing the empowerment of the team, a gradual passing of decisions to the satellite teams shows the project manager's confidence in the team, and improves their ability to work independently.

In addition to the kick-off meeting, a mid-project gathering and a final celebration are key times to get the entire team together. The mid-project gathering has the objective to strengthen the bonds created during the telecons and Internet communications. This decreases the possibility of conflicts during the upcoming critical activities in the project.

The final celebration is a motivator. The team works hard, knowing that at the end they are accountable and must ‘face the team’, this reinforces the need to succeed.

Techniques that work:

  • Be proactive and spontaneous in your communications. Augment planned communications with informal ‘chats’ either online or by telecon to try and get those messages that the team do not bring forward in planned and structured communications.



Bell Northern Research (1995) Multi-Site Teams, Effective Communication

Terence Brake (2002). Managing Globally. NY:Dorling Kindersley Publishing Inc.

Training Materials:

Beijing Modern Management Technology Exchange Center (BMMTEC). Integration Management course notes

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