Project Management Institute

¿Y ahora qué? = Now what?




After a series of economic crises strained several Latin American countries, stability has returned to the region. Global companies are coming back and are increasing capital investments, generating many new projects—and drawing in many nonnative project managers.

To the inexperienced eye, Latin America can seem a homogeneous region, especially if you consider only two languages—Spanish and Portuguese—are spoken throughout the entire region. Yet, although we Latin Americans share many values, beliefs and cultural trends, there are subtle and sometimes important differences that can make or break a project.

Leadership: Traditional Latin American managerial style tends to be authoritarian and paternalistic, although this does vary from country to country. For example, Central American and Andean countries tend to be more hierarchical than Southern Cone countries, especially Argentina. But overall, project managers can expect little verbal disagreement over their decisions from team members.

Power: The gap between the boss and subordinates is much broader in our countries. If you really want your team's input, keep pushing until everybody understands their point of view is appreciated.

Motivation: Latin Americans tend to be much more collectivist than Europeans or North Americans. Our life itself centers around a group: the family. To motivate everyone involved, always stress the importance of the team and use the collective benefits the group will obtain when the project objectives are met.

Relationships: It's a long-established fact that to succeed in business in Latin America, you need to establish rapport and trust with your counterpart. The rationale behind this is sometimes disappointing, however: The court and justice systems that back up contracts and business obligations tend to be slow, bureaucratic and in some cases corrupt. If we are to make business in the region work, we first need to know the colleagues we are dealing with are trustworthy. Chile and Brazil have more advanced justice systems in the region, but you'll have to socialize here, too.

Time: Not all meetings in Latin America start late, but most of them do. Don't worry though, meeting deadlines is completely feasible, as long as you realize that commitment to the group, recognition by others and pride in the work done are powerful motivating agents. Be precise about the importance of the deadlines and always explain the reason behind them.

Uncertainty: In general, Latin Americans are more comfortable than those from other cultures with a little uncertainty and chaos. We are used to it, so we perform well under those conditions. View it as an advantage while working on projects—which usually never go as precisely as planned in any part of the world. Try to leave your intolerance for ambiguity and the need for very strict rules back at home, particularly in places like Peru or Mexico.

Collaboration: Latin Americans are typically not very competitive. We value the art of compromise and commitment and follow a person who has moral courage and leads by example.

Latin America is a place where we work to live instead of live to work, but we greatly value our work and take pride in succeeding in a global environment. PM


Roberto Toledo, MBA, PMP, managing director of Alpha Consultoria, is a trainer and consultant who works across Latin America. He can be reached at [email protected].

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