Project Management Institute

Common ground

TAKE the Lead

When leading a global team, the best way to work with multiple cultures is to create one of your own.

BY ROBERTO TOLEDO, MBA, PMP, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR

When you travel to another country—either for pleasure or business—your values, beliefs and manners sometimes come into question by locals. You might even find your personal concept of right and wrong challenged to the point of making you uncomfortable. If this is true for everyday activities, imagine how much more challenging it can be in a global project team environment, where people from diverse backgrounds and nationalities must work together.

In today's hyper-connected world of global companies, offshore sourcing, transnational economic regions and international migration, working on a multicultural team is more the rule than an exception. And while this is more a privilege than a burden, working on a multicultural team is nevertheless more challenging. For example, there may be differing points of view toward commitments or punctuality, shifting a project manager's focus from tasks to people more often than desired. That is why possessing cultural intelligence may be one of today's more sought-after project management skills.

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DIMENSION JUMP

Improving your cultural intelligence begins by analyzing the cultures and business environments of the country or region of each team member. You can do this by using “cultural dimensions.”

Cultural dimensions are abstract ideas of what is good, right or desirable in a society, expressed in widely shared norms, practices and ways of thinking. For example, think about how you approach communication. Are you direct and open, or do you tend to soften your point of view with politeness? You should average cultural values across individuals to reflect a desired code of conduct that will make everyone on the team feel comfortable or accepted.

A GUIDING SYSTEM

Embrace individual diversity, but also work diligently to establish the project team's distinct identity and set of values that align with an organization's culture. This system is above the different national cultures of its members, but is also respectful to the different cultural dimensions, particularly those regarding religion.

Perhaps more important is establishing a clear, specific culture with regard to commitment and work ethic.

For example, in the last year, I have worked with a German company that has been successful in executing projects in several countries. By working closely with different members of the organization who are currently active on several international projects, I quickly realized that no matter their nationality, everyone has the same company-specific, shared vision of work, problem-solving and decision-making.

Even though some people on the team are not completely comfortable with a structured process, they accept it as common ground that comes with the territory of their project culture, which is aligned with company's organizational culture. This shared vision enables the project team to work more efficiently to reach its goals and, at the same time, develop a harmonic work environment.

To establish your own project culture, begin by asking yourself, “What is accepted, desired and expected from my team?” The answers help develop your own set of norms and values.

Finally, don't leave your team members out of the process. Be open, careful and honest with them when it comes to cultural intelligence. The best way to know a different culture is through interacting and asking sincere questions.   PM

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Roberto Toledo, MBA, PMP, is managing partner of Alpha PM Consulting, and a trainer and consultant who works across the Americas. He can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter as @robertoledo.
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.

PM NETWORK FEBRUARY 2013 WWW.PMI.ORG

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