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Challenges in Project Management

Graduate Level: Please provide examples or direction on what are some challenges of managing projects involving teams with members from multiple ethnic and sociopolitical backgrounds. Thanks.

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1. Please provide examples or direction on what are some challenges of managing projects involving teams with members from multiple ethnic and sociopolitical backgrounds.

Let's look at several examples.

EXAMPLE 1: Managing Multicultural Teamwork

David Trickey TCO - International Diversity Management

The technical ability to communicate with anybody, anywhere in the world both simplifies and complicates our lives.

Technology, market pressures and improved transportation links are thrusting professionals together across distance and culture. There is growing pressure to achieve business results in an interdependent work environment where individual technical brilliance is no longer enough. We are compelled to find success through working with others. These 'others' will increasingly not share our language, not share our 'local' way of thinking, not even share the same building, city, country or continent.

Being a successful team-builder in this new environment means building teams in a lingua franca - probably English; building teams across functional, corporate and cultural differences; building teams at a distance.
One of the critical components of building international teams is the creation and development of trust. Trust provides the invisible glue, which can hold a dislocated team together. However, it is more natural to trust people in whom we can identify a level of positive predictability in their actions and words. Working with other cultures leads to a stressful level of unpredictability in our interactions. As Percy Barnevik (ABB's ex-CEO) remarked, there is a natural tendency for human beings to stick to their own kind: "We are herd animals. We like people who are like us". Other team members from different cultures can leave us puzzled and frustrated by 'inexplicable' comments, behaviors, needs and beliefs.

In traditional national teams we often know what motivates the members and so can try to create the necessary conditions for them to work together. In global virtual teamwork, we know even less about what we don't know and how it may show up. Understanding people when we share a common corporate culture, using the same mother tongue and meeting frequently and informally is in itself challenging. The international dimension often removes these unifying factors, leaving us struggling once again to fathom 'incomprehensible' reactions, to communicate our intentions clearly with imperfect linguistic resources and to build team spirit across cyberspace.

It is not surprising that international teamwork promises so much but in fact creates new frustrations in its wake.

The promise is often portrayed as a means to manage the problems of adaptation to a business environment where:
? Skills and knowledge are widely distributed across cultural borders
? Quick responses are required to dynamic changes
? Rigid hierarchical systems and ethnocentric attitudes are breaking down as the pressure to compete moves from 'product' and 'price' to 'people'

Often these teams are 'multi-cultural' in the sense that they are drawn not only from different national cultures but also from different company, functional and professional cultures both within and outside the organization. Such 'multicultural' teams have a clear intuitive appeal. The benefits can include:
? Providing a greater range of perspectives and options
? Enhancing the quality of decisions taken
? Developing the 'global awareness' of team members, and improving relationships with key partners through working together.

However, there are a number of problems that inhibit the rewards that teamwork can bring. Firstly, multicultural teams are often formed less as a deliberate attempt to promote better decision-making and more as an inevitable consequence of the geographical compression caused by globalisation. Secondly, and more importantly, while potentially solving problems linked to external adaptation, multicultural teams bring their own problems of internal integration. Indeed they have been shown, as can be seen in the diagram below, to be highly effective or highly ineffective when compared to culturally homogeneous teams.

Team builders of the future will need to 'struggle with a strategy' rather than rely on improvisation and instinct. Instinct tells us that our own values and norms are the most reasonable and correct ways to operate and therefore what is good for us is also good for everyone. Instinct is fundamentally ethnocentric. This clearly makes handling international group dynamics more complex.

A strategy will have to include answers to the following questions: (1)


1. What is the degree of difference or similarity between the cultural norms of the individuals within the group?
2. How much do these individuals manifest their cultural norms?
3. How much of an issue is English language fluency?
4. What different expectations are present about precisely what constitutes effective group behaviour and communication styles?
5. What leadership styles are preferred and valued within the group?
6. What different stages of intercultural sensitivity has each member of the team reached in 'managing diversity' (within the team, in their local area and in relation to the Head Office cultures)?


7. What is the relative status of different cultures and sub-cultures within the team?
8. How will geographic spread affect the group?
9. How will the similarity or difference between functional and professional cultures affect the group dynamics?
10. What impact does top management have on the success of the team?

If these factors can be managed there is a high likelihood that multicultural teams will be much more effective rather than much less effective than single culture ones.

As a facilitator of multicultural teams, I have found it is often difficult at the outset to predict which of these factors will affect the team most. However, my own experience and corporate research suggest that:

1. Legitimising differences and discovering similarities is a key part of preparing a team to work together. Large differences, such as between Italians and mainland Chinese, enhance the potential for richer solutions, but they may also lead to greater communication difficulties within the team. Equally important is the acknowledgement of difference between cultural cousins (e.g. Italians and Spanish), and at the individual level in terms of personality types.

2. Some members of the team, owing to their life experiences or international exposure, may be 'cultural marginals' and not behave in a recognizably standard way for their culture. Others may overlap strongly with their co-nationals' norms.

3. The team needs to be sensitised and find solutions to the different communication preferences present (quantity of speaking, fluency of speaking, attitudes to 'talking at the same time', thinking before talking vs. thinking as we talk, etc). These are unlikely to be shared across culturally diverse groups.

4. The team will need to bring to the surface differing expectations about the most effective way to work together. This can include different attitudes to showing emotion, handling (or avoiding) conflict, communicating information, concepts of hierarchy, the need to be relationship or task oriented. Once the issues are in the open they need to be reworked and agreed upon so that everyone is involved and committed to negotiated group 'guidelines'.

5. The team will need to discuss and agree on an appropriate style of leadership. Some may have expectations of a more directive style based on norms in their home culture, others a more consultative style. Some may be chosen for their level of influence within the organisation, others for their technical or managerial expertise. An effective leader from one culture may be considered incompetent in another.

6. Different members of the team are likely to have developed different beliefs about diversity. Some may deny any differences exist and express superficial statements of tolerance while believing that the others in the team are somehow less real because they are different. Others will think in 'us and 'them' categories and try to either defend they dominant culture or feel their non-dominant identity threatened. Still others may minimize differences by saying that everyone is essentially the same (i.e. like them!). These members who show ethnocentric behaviours will have to be coached by the more interculturally sensitive 'mediators' in the group.

7. Team members will have to be aware of the different perceptions of 'status' within the group. Some national cultures may be considered more or less 'dominant' and people who seem to have the 'ear' of the dominant culture will be deferred to irrespective of their competence; resentment may exist owing to different 'treatment' of managers because of differing expatriate or local contracts. There may be subtle perceptions that some are better educated or more experienced. This will affect participation, motivation and creativity in team meetings.

8. The geographic dispersion of the group means that an appropriate choice of available communication technology and channels will have to be decided upon if meeting times are to be used effectively. Initial research (2) is suggesting that productive global teams use more face-to-face meetings to focus on handling 'hot issues' and for developing group understanding and commitment on a personal level. In fact, these teams depersonalize differences at a distance and openly discuss them when they meet, focusing more on task-based communication when apart. Best practices are beginning to emerge.

9. With differing functions present there is the risk of forming distinct professional groups. There may also be key terms used habitually by people, which are part of the national or corporate culture. This terminology along with some basic words like 'meeting', 'report', 'presentation', 'discussion', 'autonomy' or 'involvement' may need to be clarified since each bring their own culturally-based and unconscious interpretation but may assume others understand the term in the same way.

10. The ability of a team to function successfully can be dramatically affected by the attitude of top management. If no sympathetic sponsor exists among executives, the team will be negatively influenced by the existing corporate culture. The ad hoc needs of a global virtual team means that unique processes should be developed to optimize working practices. Corporate culture tends to ...

Solution Summary

Referring to challenges in project management, this solution provides examples and direction on some of the challenges of managing projects involving teams with members from multiple ethnic and sociopolitical backgrounds. It addresses diversity issues.