We are all the same… only different.
How many times on your project do you hear conversations of proclamations from team members that include something along the lines of “Why can’t they just do it the way I want“, or “That is not what I asked for“
These comments are usually followed closely by a similar statement demonstrating that the speaker really does not understand or empathise with whoever they are talking about. Typically the speaker did not take the time, nor even recognise the need to take the time, to consider that they need to understand the views of others to get their requirements met in the way they want.
Understanding your project partners
When you embark on an international collaboration for the delivery of your new project, one of the first things you need to consider with your new partner is how your respective cultures will relate to the way you interact, and the way you interact is what determines how you structure and manage your communications.
Leveraging existing experience
Ideally, you will have people on both aides of the relationship who have experience with the partner’s culture, or at least with working with other cultures. If you are fortunate enough to have this, utilise these people for all they are worth; have them participate in workshops and information sessions to convey their experiences to the rest of the project team; engage them in the development of much of the project communication strategy and, above all, listen to them. They have “been there and done that”, first hand experience will trump assumptions, theory and conjecture every time.
If you don’t have anyone with cross cultural experience in your team, the next best option would be to have some people from each of the partner organisations spend some time on a facilitated workshop, often participants seem only to be HR professionals as they typically recognise the need before the rest of the organisation, but I would advocate that there should also be technical project people involved, since, the project people are the ones who do most of the interaction. Use these sessions for both parties not just to plan the work but to getting to know each other and how you all think.
Build in feedback
Along with all of the above, regardless of experience and planning, I would highly recommend a constant feedback loop, to monitor peoples experiences and thoughts during the project, as well as conducting ongoing research and development of approach through reading some of the following resources;
- Geert Hofstede‘s work, particularly in my view his book cultures and organizations. Hofstede was a pioneer in the field of cultural understanding and set the benchmark, standards and lexicon for many who follow his work. His work is, in my experience at least, probably the most commonly referenced in Project Management literature for cultural impact. I will attempt to expand on some of his concepts in future posts but it is still best to refer to the source.
- The books “Culture and Leadership Across the World: The GLOBE Book of In-Depth Studies of 25 Societies” and “Culture, Leadership, and Organizations: The GLOBE Study of 62 Societies” which draw on and expand much of Hofstede’s work and combine extensive research into cultural differences between countries and societies
- This website and others like it, where people with experience on the field share their thoughts and observations in a reflective and hopefully helpful manner.
Above all, however, there is nothing like personal, in country, reflective experience, we really are all the same in the end, regardless of country, culture or values we all have similar drivers in our lives and generally we all want the best for the projects we are involved in, we just need to learn that we need to understand others before we can really communicate.
Share your experiences
Do you have any experiences with establishing an international project relationship you would like to share? If so, we would love to hear from you.
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