Successful projects do not occur by luck or by chance. In fact, many projects do not achieve their organization’s goals. This is especially relevant considering the trend of globalization within many sectors and the increasing need for project management professionals who can proficiently lead projects involving global participants. Between 2010 and 2020, 15.7 million new project management roles will be created globally, and the project management industry is slated to grow by $6.61 trillion (Source: PMI).
There are many pitfalls to avoid when engaged in an international project. Project delays are a likely outcome when miscommunication is prevalent or when communication is not timely. Project execution may be disjointed if there’s not a dedicated project manager to help facilitate communication across project geographies – including borders and time zones. Team members may be confused and feel out-of-the-loop if there’s not an efficient communication cadence in place. There could be team conflict from not understanding or respecting cross-cultural differences, such as international holidays and typical work hours among countries or across time zones. Also, translation issues and other language barriers may result in project goals and benefits not being clearly communicated and not having a shared understanding of the scope of work before project initiation.
These are examples of some common challenges and risks inherent in global projects:
- Cultural differences among team members
- Writing style, perception and interpretation issues
- Understanding when to use native languages
- Language differences (even English to English – British English vs. American English)
- Cultural norms (e.g., written vs. verbal agreement, change adverse vs. flexible)
- Different perception of urgency and work-life-balance
There are many effective approaches to maximize the value of international projects. Most of these approaches are centered on helping global teams communicate better. Don’t just send emails and expect the message to be translated, interpreted and understood completely. Take the additional step to communicate interactively (chat or pick-up a phone and call them) when the message is particularly important because it is easier for the other side to understand through more direct communication. You should also encourage openness and trust among team members to foster shared understanding through dialog that clarifies the message.
These are some simple strategies and key thoughts to improve communications among global teams:
- Know your audience – become familiar with the project team and know when to use certain resolution techniques, such as smoothing vs. collaborating
- Know when to choose certain communication methods, such as e-mail vs. phone/conference call
- Collaboration tools – what tools are available and best considering dynamics of the team – across geographies, cultures, languages, etc.
- Stewardship – know when to involve each team member and stakeholder to foster inclusion and mutual respect
- Simplify communications and other interactions as much as possible – understand and seek to be understood
There are many challenges and risks inherent in international projects. Project managers who lead international projects can leverage proven approaches for global teams to more effectively manage change and communicate to maximize the value of international projects.