How to Avoid Cross-Cultural Project Management Problems
While the Digital Age may have helped erase national borders, it is possible that it has also brought cultural boundaries into sharper relief. People can now communicate so much more easily and directly with each other.
This presents additional challenges for project managers. Cross-cultural communication is a key component of the traditional linear project management model that includes conception, definition, planning, performance, control, and completion.
Multi-cultural teams are valuable because of the differences in approach and point of view between cultures. Combining different perspectives often leads to innovative solutions. If not managed well, they can lead to frustration and confusion.
Cross-cultural project management requires an understanding of how people communicate and the steps to minimize miscommunications.
There is a lot of potential for miscommunications when two people speak the exact same language. Churchill famously stated, “The UK is two countries separated by a common tongue. “.
Miscommunications and misunderstandings can multiply exponentially if one or more participants doesn’t speak the same language. Let’s look at ways we can avoid this.
1. Decide on a Project Language Upfront
You will need to determine the default language for communication. This does not mean communication in small groups cannot be done in another language, but it establishes a standard for documentation and larger group interactions.
Given the number of people who speak English as a second or third language, English is generally the language of international business. However, that doesn’t mean it has to be.
The ability of team members to speak or learn the language will be part of their assessment. This will allow them to engage with the rest of the project team. Language training is an option if key members of your team cannot speak the language on longer projects.
2. Communication skills are a key deliverable
Respect for other team members and the situation is something that all team members must be aware of. This is especially true if one member of the team is a native speaker and could be tempted by others to “Aoblame” the person who is not working in their native tongue for not understanding.
Encourage everyone to communicate clearly and concisely. It is a good idea to point team members to useful web articles.
3. Encourage Written Communication
Written documents allow recipients the ability to review information at their own pace. If they wish, they can also translate the document into another language. Encourage them to use more written communication than you would normally.
4. Encourage positive communication
Confirmatory questions are a good way to clear up any miscommunications in cross-cultural projects. This means asking people to clarify their understanding of the meeting.
It is important to stress that multiple, clarifying questions should be allowed. This will help to avoid miscommunications from becoming bigger problems.
5. Encourage the use of visual aids wherever possible
In any language, a picture can speak a thousand words. Encourage people to present graphically, as it is less likely to be misinterpreted.
Even if the tool is very basic, make sure everyone in your team knows how to use it. Online training is a good investment of time and money.