Avoiding the Cultural Danger Zones in Global Project Management

October 2007
International project management consultant Bryan R. McConachy, Project Management Professional and principal of Bramcon Project Consultants in Vancouver, Canada, talks about the communication and cultural snafus that can derail global projects.

PROFIT: How hard is it to build communications with dispersed teams?

MCCONACHY: If it's at all possible to bring the group together at the start of the project, that will jump-start the communications process. Barring that, there are a couple of things you can do to help. The first is to build an inventory of communications practices by surveying each team member. By asking, "Do you use e-mail?" you might be able to circumvent delays or misunderstandings. Some people check e-mail constantly; others, only a couple times a day. Some prefer the phone. Once you know how each team member prefers to communicate, you can build a list for the entire team. From that, build a communications protocol of how the team will communicate.

The other thing is a little trickier, and that's to assess team members' language capabilities. Some people can speak a second language competently but with an atrocious accent. On a conference call, that can really prove a barrier. If that's the case, you need to find a diplomatic way to suggest that written communication might be more effective in this case.

PROFIT: How do you deal with cultural differences?

MCCONACHY: I hate generalizations, but there really are differences that tend to be visible across cultures, and you have to get a handle on these things in order to run the project effectively. I try to do it by asking people questions. Everybody is so different that I just ask people in the most nonthreatening way I can to find what they prefer, how they react to cultural norms of other team members, et cetera.

PROFIT: So it sounds as if doing your homework up front will pay off in improved communication throughout the project?

MCCONACHY: Right. If you set up rules at the front end that govern how the team communicates, you have a better chance of avoiding problems caused by misunderstandings or miscommunications.

 
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