Cultural curiosity



Successful risk management in global projects depends on project managers’ ability to learn from diversity.

Defining culture by location or its majority population is a popular way to determine nuances of behavior or conduct. However, each culture represents much more than that: the properties of unique individuals influenced by circumstances and locations of birth, shaped by childhood and adolescent experiences, yet still individuals, singular and alone. Understanding individual cultures broadens our capacity to understand project risk and provides greater opportunities to discover alternative responses.

Gain confidence to broaden your choices, finding new, different, better ways to achieve goals.

As a project manager in a global community with the fortune to travel and work with people from around the world, I meet people with whom I have cultural affinity in the most unusual circumstances. Coalitions and collaborations are formed with individuals who each have cultures that seemingly are alien to me. However, our values are so well aligned they provide bridges that link our individual cultures and engender shared experiences and joy.

In Asia Pacific, I find affinity; across the pond in the USA, I find commonality; within Middle Eastern and African cultures, I find sameness; centered in Europe, I discover synergy.

Sometimes, I literally collide with an individual, finding myself in a “discussion” or even an argument or stand-off. There are circumstances when I have found myself withdrawing and attending to my wounds, and it's only during my recovery from such forays that I pause and reflect on the context of this collision. I think about the circumstances that escalated our encounter, our responses to those factors and how I can learn from them. Ultimately, the greatest strength in experiencing this curiosity is that I can choose to:

∎ Continue on my initial route without any learning

∎ Refute the other perspective and seek an alternative

∎ Seek to improve myself

∎ Try to understand the other perspective and the basis for it

∎ Ask more questions to further clarification/understanding.

While there are many more options available, as project managers we have the choice how we respond, every time. We can choose to engage in a new culture, meeting individuals in a range of contexts:

∎ Be curious enough to ask simple questions: What is the typical approach you use? How do you manage a particular project issue?

∎ Gain confidence to broaden your choices, finding new, different, better ways to achieve goals

∎ Share knowledge, increasing the awareness of those you work with in approaching things differently, assessing things from different perspectives

∎ Exchange ideas and reflect on values and beliefs, recognizing that there are many ways to identify, assess and respond to situations and individuals

∎ Tap into a network of like-minded people (a common culture), regardless of geographical location, racial origin, age, religion or organizational badge.

As I meet each new individual, I learn to be more of a nomad—explore, learn from the new culture, benefit from the advantages—and ensure that when I move on, I leave that culture healthier and with value added where possible. I continue my learning and share my journey from an enhanced, widened perspective.

Sheilina Somani, PMP, is owner of Positively Project Management and vice president, education, for the PMI Diversity Specific Interest Group.

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