An expanding global market has forced businesses to widen their aims, hunting opportunities in diverse locations and tackling projects of a scale once unimaginable. As they piece together teams of people scattered across the globe and oversee projects spanning many time zones, project managers face ever-increasing challenges for delivering results.
Though instantaneous global collaboration is now possible, this doesn’t eliminate all the challenges of performing a project on a global scale. The barriers of language alone present a serious obstacle to project success, but the less tangible differences between cultures and the practical constraints of distance present their own challenges as well.
Though new generations may not experience the same obstacles that we face today, the current business generation has been thrust into an entirely new world of global collaboration with no choice but to confront new challenges head on. Project managers are forced to blend new technology (the tools which have brought us to this era of business) with old tactics, the tried and true elements that constitute business as we know it. To prepare for a global project, the manager should be prepared to handle the following challenges.
Understanding Cultural Differences
Whether you’re heading off to manage a project in another region of the world or you’re tasked with managing a team spread across multiple locations, you’re probably going to deal with people of cultures different from your own. This subject is too comprehensive to cover in much detail, but a few tactics should help you tackle the initial barriers.
To begin, it’s crucial that you erase any notions of superiority that you may hold; your approach to business and life are not inherently better than any other, not everyone functions as you do and your method for tackling business isn’t necessarily the right way to approach things. Remain cognizant of these facts and you will go far. Work with others in your group, compromise with their strategies and use their lens as a new and equally vital way for examining your project.
It’s always beneficial to invest a little research into a region or culture before working in a new area. Likewise, when working with a new person, you may want to spend some time getting to know his or her background. Though you won’t be able to fully grasp all the subtle differences between cultures, an expression of interest and an attempt to learn new customs may take you far.
If you’re heading to a new location for a lengthy period of time, you may want to hire a cultural or community involvement specialist to show you around. These aids will help adjust you to the new location and teach you the essentials on how to behave according to regional customs. Only by embracing differences and working together will you be able to manage a project successfully.
Developing a Work Culture
Establishing a common work culture for your team is a good way to get everyone on the same page. Though you shouldn’t attempt to eliminate differences between your team members, setting group standards for meeting conventions, status updates and work expectations will save both you and your team members significant time. You may find that some of your team arrives five minutes early for every meeting while others stroll in 10 or 20 minutes late. Clearly demonstrating your desires will bridge simple differences such as these without causing much abrasion.
At the same time, stay aware of cultural differences and work to bridge these differences in the most positive manner possible. Not every issue is as clear-cut as establishing appropriate meeting times, so tread carefully. Let everyone bring their unique strengths to the table.
Finding a Common Tongue
Teams spread across the globe often count multiple native languages, but in most cases they will be tied together by at least a rudimentary understanding of English. Though proficiency may be low, this will probably have to serve as the basis for most of your communication.
Oftentimes, individuals with little speaking proficiency can get along through the written word. With the assistance of online translation services, most team members should be able to at least get by in writing. By sending emails, chatting with others online, or even texting, you’ll be able to converse with all members of your group as well as possess written documentation of everything being said.
This is also a great way to bring quiet team members out of their shells. I’ve encountered many people who are afraid to speak in group settings but will chat away without restraint through electronic means. Though face-time is always important, sometimes the easiest communication is achieved through new technological outlets.
Working the Universal Calendar
It’s quite possible for global project managers to discover that their entire team will very rarely be working all at the same time. With different time zones and calendars, your schedule will have to cut through different natural and religious holidays, varying weekly hours and even different weekends. In most Muslim-majority countries, for instance, Friday is an observed day of rest, with either Thursday or Saturday off as well. Without a strong grasp of your team’s calendar, meeting project deadlines may be nearly impossible.
Meeting with Your Team
With modern project management tools, email, online chat and video conferencing, some project managers may find they don’t ever need to meet with the whole team in person. While these tools are invaluable to the global management process, I wouldn’t recommend using them as your sole form of interaction with your team. Pick up a phone and talk with your members, and when at all possible find the time to go to their locations and meet with them in person.
It may be quite challenging, but it’s also important to periodically get your whole team together to boost their sense of the communal effort and to enhance communication. Though plane tickets and setting the time aside to achieve this may be costly, the investment far outweighs the potential damages from a delayed delivery.
Accommodating Time Zones
Finding a convenient group meeting time for everyone in your team may never be attainable. If you’re working with a development engineer in China, an engineer in Los Angeles and a programmer in the United Kingdom, you simply won’t be able to find a time that works for each region. The only solution is to face this problem head on and share the inconvenience equally.
By having some of your team come in early and some stay late, you should be able to accommodate most time zones and project members without too much difficulty. Occasionally a member of your team may need to meet in the dead of the night, but as long as you shift the meeting hours and lay this burden on everyone fairly, you should be able to pull it off without upsetting too many of your collaborators.
No matter how distant your team members may seem, it’s important that you think of each member of your team as an individual. Sometimes you forget this when your only contact is through email or project management tool, so it’s important that you spend time getting to know everyone individually. Invest time researching cultural differences, foster a sense of collaborative effort, and assign work according to individual strengths and weaknesses. As with any project, understanding your team’s mix of skills, experiences and personalities will give you the power to adapt the project to your team’s unique DNA.
Though global project management may present significant challenges, you have all of the tools necessary to overcome these obstacles. With a little flexibility and the willingness to step out of your comfort zone, you shouldn’t experience much difficulty in bringing the global project to completion.
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