All together now


A two-part plan to foster cohesion on multicultural teams


AS THE WORLD GETS SMALLER, our networks expand. An increasingly globalized economy has led to more multicultural work environments and opportunities for cooperation across borders. Organizations should recognize this for the advantage that it is: Global teams with varying professional perspectives bring fresh ideas and a competitive edge to projects.

Yet realizing these benefits requires a sound level of cultural competence. Each of us carries our own value and belief systems, and embedded within those are our attitudes toward professional norms. To effectively lead a multicultural team, we must establish rapport and a level of understanding between team members.


Understanding the people you work with and the location you work in is a cornerstone of effective leadership. When leading a team from varying cultural backgrounds, the only safe assumption is that there will be different perspectives. This can range from how team members view time to how they interact with hierarchy.

The United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) works to deliver sustainable and effective implementation of project management, infrastructure and procurement services, from Afghanistan to Haiti. Our projects succeed because we tailor our services to the development environment. We employ not only experts with technical experience, but also experienced leaders who are able to understand local needs and cultural norms, and actively engage with authorities and communities.

In our urban rehabilitation project in Haiti, for example, we hire local people for all of our initiatives—from constructing roads and schools to removing debris after the country's 2010 earthquake. Hiring local talent is part of how we foster cultural integration, and developing domestic capacity ensures that our projects deliver value long after the schedule is complete.

If you find yourself leading a multicultural team, don't default to a standard communication plan or team structure. Instead, ask yourself: Who are you talking to and what are the drivers this person needs in the professional realm? If you're unsure how to answer the second question, develop an information-gathering plan based on interviews with current team members and, if possible, past practitioners of similar projects.


Managing cultural dimensions necessitates that you, the project leader, also regularly question your own innate assumptions. This doesn't mean you need to negate your beliefs, but rather that you should be open to practices different from your own.


Across cultures, information is processed differently and business practices operate at varying speeds. This is why it is imperative to adapt your leadership and communication styles to local contexts.

Encouraging input from team members, local managers and community leaders helps earn respect and makes for happier, more motivated team members. At UNOPS, we do this through regular face-to-face meetings and team-building activities.

My team at UNOPS is made up of people from 14 countries. Its success and that of other teams owes itself to building transparent relationships among project teams through weekly meetings and establishing open lines of communication from the start. Project members also have the opportunity to rotate to different projects—we have more than 1,000 around the world—and everyone is encouraged to share his or her cultural experiences.

Cultural competence will help project leaders maximize employee productivity, efficiency and sustainable results. A motivated team will also attract new talent and earn the respect of stakeholders across the value chain. At the end of the day, creating a meaningful and positive difference is only possible when we engage with—and respect—those around us. PM


Ricardo Viana Vargas, PMI-RMP, PMI-SP, PMP, a past PMI chair, is the director of the Sustainable Project Management Group at the United Nations Office for Project Services in Copenhagen, Denmark.


Reader Sound Bite


“While reading the March 2014 issue of your fine publication, I was concerned about possible inaccuracies. On page 54: “Twice the size of the Titanic … the Costa Concordia is the largest capsized ship in history.” While researching this, I was astonished that, volumetrically, the Costa Concordia is indeed 2.5 times the size of the Titanic, even though it is only 8 percent longer.

Next, on page 28: “Despite delays, the overall [California rail] program remains on schedule and under budget.” Money that would have been spent on construction is on hold, so an earned value perspective would have been more helpful here. It is also difficult to reconcile the “on schedule” comment with the reported delays. The rail program spans 33 years from planning to completion, so it will be interesting in 10 to 15 years to see if the program is still “on schedule and under budget.”

—Stanley Rowen, PMP, Baltimore, Maryland, USA

From the editors: You make an interesting point about the California rail program. We agree; a follow-up article as the program progresses would be fascinating.




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