Project management across global boundaries


With the world turned into a global village, it is becoming increasingly common to have projects that span various geographical boundaries. Even in one single location, one works with stakeholders who hail from diverse cultures and hence subscribe to different beliefs and follow different values.

Project managers who have the experience and skills to deal with teams characterized by diversity are in high demand. The demand is driven due to the fact that more and more organizations are expanding across geographical confines to overcome shortages in local opportunities and also to leverage the intellectual capital available across the globe. This trend has made it mandatory for project managers to learn managing stakeholders across different cultures. Failing to do so may not only jeopardize project objectives but also make project management a stressful exercise. Along with differences due to culture, dissimilarity in personality types also makes it more challenging to effectively deal with different stakeholders.

This paper explains the differences between major cultures and their impact on the project outcomes. It also provides advice on the most effective ways to communicate with stakeholders from different cultures. We have used the Lewis Model of Culture to elaborate on classes of culture and areas of cross-culture misunderstanding. We also exhibit how to put the model into practice with focus on project management practice. This paper also describes Relationship Awareness Theory, which provides a model for effectively and accurately understanding the motives behind people's behavior.


Most project managers would agree that the two most critical factors leading to success or failure of any project or program are the stakeholders (people) and communications. When most of us try to study stakeholder management, we base our efforts on learning about the individual's conduct and often ignore the cultural aspects and personality attributes, which play a huge role in shaping a person's conduct. The three critical aspects that must be thoroughly understood for effective management of stakeholders are cultural background, behavioral attributes, and professional grooming. While an individual's professional grooming can be enhanced through different learning programs, the cultural upbringing and personality behaviour is difficult to change. The following sections provide a detailed analysis of cultural and behavioral aspects that can help a project manager in better understanding the stakeholders and hence plan better management strategies.

Cultural Analysis

Geert Hofstede defined culture as “the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one category of people from another.” The key aspects of culture aspects of human expression include both material culture and ephemeral elements. These include:

- Language and dialect

- Science and technology

- Cuisine

- Aesthetics such as art, music, literature, fashion, and architecture

- Values and ideology

- Social conventions, including religion, norms, taboos, and etiquette

- Gender roles

- Recreational activities such as festivals and holidays

- Commercial practices

Cultural Attributes

According to Richard D. Lewis, several hundred national and regional cultures of the world can be roughly classified into three groups:

  1. Task-oriented, highly organized planners (linear-active).
  2. People-oriented, loquacious inter-relators (multi-active).
  3. Introverted, respect-oriented listeners (reactive).

The classification helps in understanding the behaviors when dealing with people from different cultures. It also helps in avoiding the offenses and understanding the reaction of stakeholders. The attributes of the three classes are shown in Exhibit 1.

Attributes of Cultural Classes

Exhibit 1 – Attributes of Cultural Classes

A good understanding of the attributes of cultural classes can help with predicting an individual's behavior and knowing why certain people did what they did. A diagrammatic disposition of major nations into cultural classes is given in Exhibit 2.

Cultural Types Model

Exhibit 2 – Cultural Types Model

A key attribute, which is very critical in stakeholder management, is how different cultures collect information. In data-oriented cultures, a lot of research is done to produce information that is then acted on. The more developed societies turn to printed sources and databases to collect facts, which are then parsed through information systems to help in decision making. Dialogue-oriented cultures, on the other hand, rely more on their own personal information network. Dialogue-oriented people tend to use their personal relations to solve the problem from the human angle. Exhibit 3 shows a ranking of dialogue-oriented and data-oriented cultures around the globe.

Relative Ranking of Dialogue and Data-Oriented Cultures

Exhibit 3 – Relative Ranking of Dialogue and Data-Oriented Cultures

Communication Guidelines

Communication is a two-way process, which depends not only on the skills of the speaker but also on the listening habits of the intended audience. This section provides an audience profile of major nations that can help speakers in ensuring that their message is drafted and communicated in a manner which ensures maximum effectiveness.

United States

- Attention Span: 30 Minutes

- Audience Expectations include:

  • Humor
  • Joking
  • Modernity
  • Gimmicks
  • Slogans
  • Catch Phrases
  • Hard Sell

United Kingdom

- Attention Span: 30-45 Minutes

- Audience Expectations include:

  • Humor
  • A Story
  • “Nice” Product
  • Reasonable Price
  • Quality
  • Traditional rather than Modern


- Attention Span: 60+ Minutes

- Audience Expectations include:

  • Solidity of Company
  • Solidity of Product
  • Technical Information
  • Context
  • Beginning – Middle – End
  • Lots of Printed Information
  • No Jokes
  • Good Price
  • Quality
  • Delivery Date


- Attention Span: 30 Minutes

- Audience Expectations include:

  • Formality
  • Innovative Product
  • “Sexy” Appeal
  • Imagination
  • Logical Presentation
  • Reference To France
  • Style, Appearance
  • Personal Touch
  • Interruptions


- Attention Span: 60 Minutes

- Audience Expectations include:

  • Good Price
  • USP
  • Synergy with Corporate Image
  • Harmony
  • Politeness
  • Respect for their Company
  • Good Name of Your Company
  • Quiet Presentation
  • Well-Dressed Presenter
  • Formality
  • Diagrams


- Attention Span: 45 Minutes

- Audience Expectations include:

  • Modernity
  • Quality
  • Design
  • Technical Information
  • Delivery Dates

Mediterranean/ Arabs

- Attention Span: 20 Minutes

- Audience Expectations include:

  • Personal Touch
  • Rhetoric
  • Eloquence
  • Liveliness
  • Loudness
  • May Interrupt
  • Want “Extra” Talk Afterward


- Attention Span: 45 Minutes

- Message should include/focus on:

  • Modernity
  • Quality
  • Technical Information
  • Modest Presentation
  • Design


- Attention Span: 30 Minutes

- Audience Expectations include:

  • Matey Opening
  • Informality Throughout
  • Humor
  • Persuasive Style
  • No Padding
  • Little Context
  • Innovative Product
  • Essential Technical Information
  • Personal Touch
  • Interruptions
  • Imaginative Conclusion

Behavioral Analysis

It is part of human nature to attribute motive to others’ behavior. The Relationship Awareness Theory of Elias H. Porter provides a model for effectively and accurately understanding the motives behind people's behavior. The theory helps people to recognize that they can choose their behaviors to accommodate their underlying values, while also taking into account the values of others. It is a dynamic and powerful way of looking at human relationships and aids in building communication, trust, empathy, and effective, productive relationships.

Premises of Relationship Awareness

The Relationship Awareness Theory integrates quite diverse streams of psychological thought. In particular, in his theory Porter acknowledges the purposive behaviorism of Edward Tolman, the empiricism of Kurt Lewin, the client-centered therapy of Carl Rogers and the Neo-Freudian personality theories of Erich Fromm and Karen Horney. The theory itself is founded on the following premises:

  1. Behavior is driven by motivation to achieve self-worth.
  2. Motivation changes in conflict
  3. Strengths, when overdone or misapplied, can be perceived as weaknesses
  4. Clarity and face validity enhance self-discovery

Relationship Awareness Theory looks at how we go about establishing and maintaining relationships in order to have a positive sense of ourselves and our value as a person.

Motivational Value Systems

Relationship Awareness Theory identifies seven general themes or clusters of motives known as Motivational Value Systems (MVS). These are being enumerated in the following:

- Altruistic–Nurturing (Blue): Concern for the protection, growth, and welfare of others

- Assertive–Directing (Red): Concern for task accomplishment and concern for organization of people, time, money and any other resources to achieve desired results

- Analytic–Autonomizing (Green): Concern for assurance that things have been properly thought out and concern for meaningful order being established and maintained

- Flexible–Cohering (Hub): Concern for flexibility…concern for the welfare of the group…concern for the members of the group and for belonging in the group

- Assertive–Nurturing (Red-Blue Blend): Concern for the protection, growth, and welfare of others through task accomplishment and leadership

- Judicious–Competing (Red-Green Blend): Concern for intelligent assertiveness, justice, leadership, order, and fairness in competition

- Cautious–Supporting (Blue-Green Blend): Concern for affirming and developing self-sufficiency in self and others…concern for thoughtful helpfulness with regard for justice

Relationship Awareness Theory provides insights into the motives that are behind everyday behavior of people to others. By shifting focus from only looking at behavior to looking at the motive behind the behavior, project managers can gain a clearer understanding of different stakeholders.

In Relationship Awareness Theory:

- Behaviors are tools used to get some result or confirm our sense of self-worth. These tools are also used to ward off things we do not want.

- Motives come from our wish to feel a strong sense of self-worth or self-value.

- Our individual Motivational Value System is consistent throughout our life and underpins all of our behaviors.

- Traditional writing about motivation describes motives as something that can be inspired in others. In Relationship Awareness Theory, motives are thought of as already present in every person and readily available to be tapped.


Most organizations emphasize professional grooming as a means to project success and stakeholder management. While professionalism is important, organizations tend to underestimate the effect of personality behavior and cultural factors. Project managers can manage stakeholders better if they become aware of their cultural influences and behavioral attributes.

Lewis, R.D. (2006). When Cultures Collide: LEADING ACROSS CULTURES. Nicholas Brealey International.

Porter, PhD, E.H. (2010). The Development of Relationship Awareness. Retrieved from

©2013 Mohamed Khalifa Hassan, Muhammad A. B. Ilyas
Originally published as a part of 2013 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – New Orleans, Louisiana, USA



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