Good global project managers develop their own competencies, and those of their team members. We can use technology to bridge distance, but also focus on the human aspects of culture, work habits, management style, English as a mandated language, communication, and uncertainty. Perform a self-assessment and assess your team members, then look for on-the-job and other improvement opportunities. A good way to learn more about how to overcome these challenges is to become involved in the international community.
Don't Be Complacent
Early in my career, I was managing a global project. It included 20 countries: Japan, Australia, US, Canada, and countries in Western Europe. Our core team was based in Denmark. Every day I would walk into the office and say, "Hi, how are you doing?" as I passed people in the hallway. This went on for several weeks until a team member asked me, "Tom, why do you come into the office every day and ask us how we are doing, when you have no interest in what the answer is?" Embarrassment would be an understatement. Thus began my journey to understand how to better manage global teams.
Culture Makes a Difference
There are two ways of securing cooperation in human action. You get cooperation by controls or you can get it by comprehension. -Winston Churchill
The concept of culture pervades every aspect of our lives. It is based on a set of values that a society deems to be important, and demonstrated in our individual and collective behaviors and thinking our individual and collective behaviors and thinking. It represents the shared traditions of the members of a society. A society's culture is revealed through its language, beliefs, cuisine, arts, humor, and social and work habits.
It is difficult to fully appreciate a culture unless one is embedded in it. When we look at a culture from a distance, there is a natural tendency to compare it to our own, identifying the relative strengths and weaknesses. Instead of focusing on differences, we should try to leverage cultural diversity on global projects.
Hofstede's six-dimensional model is a theory of cultural dimensions that describes how a society's culture and values affect human behavior. The six dimensions are:
- Power distance is the extent to which less powerful members accept and expect that power is distributed unequally.
- Individualism versus collectivism is the degree to which individuals are integrated into groups.
- Uncertainty avoidance is tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity.
- Masculinity versus femininity is the distribution of emotional roles between genders.
- Long-term orientation vs. short-term orientation is the degree to which a society focuses on the future, the past, and the present.
- Indulgence versus self-restraint is the degree to which gratification is indulged or suppressed.
We can use the model to discover high-level differences between American and Japanese cultures that affect the workplace.