As global economic interdependence increases coupled with advances in communications technologies and information sharing, multicultural business projects are fast becoming standard business practice.
But this poses a unique challenge for project management professionals. Cultural differences can and do significantly effect project communications often leading to costly mistakes or misunderstandings and ultimately project failure. Not only must project managers navigate differences in personalities, socio-economic status, and even occupation, but project professionals in charge of multinational teams must also deal with language barriers, time differences, and religious diversity as well as a slew of culture-specific standards of being, thinking, and acting.
Being able to effectively communicate project tasks and information is thus vital to the success of a multi-cultural project.
Tips for Communication Between Multi-Cultural Team Members
1. Cross-cultural project managers need to be culturally sensitive leaders.
The project manager of a cross-cultural team must act like a master conductor bridging the differences in culture, background, and personality and motivating everyone to work towards common project goals. As a leader, the project manager can help steer the team past misunderstandings and miscommunication by building a sense of trust and respect among the team members and by recognizing their unique strengths, knowledge, and potential.
It goes without saying that the project manager of a multinational team should be experienced in working with people from other cultures, must be articulate, and passionate about his or her work.
2. All project professionals should receive cultural sensitivity training.
All the employees who will be involved in the project’s front lines should receive training in cultural differences and effective cross-cultural communication. It is surprising how many businesses, big and small, neglect this vital step, whether for lack of money, interest, or out of plain ignorance. But in many cases it ends up being a costly oversight.
3. Empirical project data should be clearly presented and easily accessible.
One way to reduce possible misunderstandings among the team members in particular is to make sure that all the objective facts of the project are presented clearly and explicitly, and that this data is easily accessible to anyone who needs to see it. Not only will this help to keep everyone focused and informed, but it will allow each individual the space to process the information in their own way.
4. There must be a focus on building relationships not just on achieving project goals.
In a cross-cultural project, it is safe to assume that misunderstandings will occur along the way even with the best people and training. But how those misunderstandings are handled is what makes all the difference. When importance is given to maintaining respect for the individual team members and for what they have to contribute (and not just on meeting project deadlines) it will help to foster a vital sense of trust among them. Setbacks can then be turned into learning experiences.
In short, with a measure of sensitivity and forethought, cross-cultural communications can be effective within any corporate environment.