We live in a world with an increasingly globalised workforce, and many Project Managers are now leading international projects that span different time zones, continents and cultures. As a result, knowing how to overcome the intricacies associated with managing global teams is becoming a key element of a Project Manager’s skill set. Many of the Project Managers we work with often speak about the challenges of managing international projects and what happens when teams are in different parts of the world. Here are three of the most prominent issues they’ve experienced and how to manage them effectively.
Culture is Everything
National cultures are at the epicentre of every workplace and managing cultural differences astutely can make all the difference in uniting your teams successfully. High-performing Project Managers develop a sensitivity to the local customs and lead with an open mind. This approach will help address the challenges of cultural differences in a pragmatic way.
When managing cross border teams, cultural diversity can manifest in numerous ways, including language, views on leadership, customs, the importance of time, your role in the project, how people collaborate and even the meaning attached to ideas or words. It’s essential for Project Managers to learn about these cultural nuances, as they can offer an insight into how a team member may interact with others.
One way to gain this cultural knowledge is to discuss it with a local expert in the early phases of the project. You will find there is no shortage of people who enjoy talking about their country and its conventions. Similarly, informal team meetings are ideal forums to share backgrounds as well as communication expectations and working styles.
Once the differences and expectations are on the table, the Project Manager can establish “norms” for moving forward. Some issues that could be considered include timelines for emailed replies, communication templates, frequency of meetings, reporting structures and more. Don’t forget about local public holidays and other days of cultural significance, and be sure to plan ahead for these dates. It’s vital to get everyone to contribute to developing these standards, as their buy-in is essential for improving cooperation, motivating the team and enhancing performance.
Dealing with Different Time Zones
Managing cross border teams doesn’t just mean that those involved are spread across multiple locations – they’re often in different time zones too. Although technology has reduced many barriers, conducting real-time meetings continues to pose a challenge. Who is going to be the person/team that gets up in the middle of the night, or early in the morning? With this in mind, it’s important for Project Managers to think about how to accommodate the international constituents. Rotating meeting times regularly will ensure the burden isn’t always on the same individuals.
In addition, technology can help lessen other drawbacks of managing global teams across time zones, such as by adopting software that automatically converts project deadlines to the time zones of your team’s devices, rather than modifying a project plan to suit the various time zones.
One of the greatest challenges of managing international projects is ensuring a timely, seamless flow of information. Digitisation has greatly improved communication with overseas team members, however, there is still a risk that the lack of face-to-face interaction can often lead to confusion or lost information, particularly where cultural or language differences are a factor. Being successful in this area relies heavily on the soft skills that Project Managers bring to the table – the ability to listen, read between the lines and communicate clearly is paramount.
When managing global teams, many Project Managers incorporate instant messaging or web conferencing as beneficial tools. Likewise, using video as much as possible will help to preserve some of the non-verbal expressions that would otherwise be lost and minimise misunderstandings. With time, you will ascertain the limitations of each option and determine the most suitable choice for your project team. The key is to make everyone feel included – even if they’re on the other side of the world.
Our global village is becoming smaller, and Project Managers have to carve out new skills for managing global teams. By incorporating some of these tips from the Project Managers we have partnered with, you will be in good stead to overcome the challenges of managing international projects. You will be rewarded with a collaborative, high performing project team, no matter which continent they are working from!
What are some of the challenges of managing international projects that you have experienced, and how do you deal with them? We’d love to hear from you.