Cultural Awareness

More and more companies compete in the global marketplace. As a result, project managers with multinational experience are increasingly in demand. This requires a heightened awareness of cultural influences and customary practices of the country where they're temporarily residing.

If you are used to working in the United States, for example, you know that the culture tends to value accomplishments and individualism. U.S. citizens tend to be informal and call each other by their first names, even if they've just met. In some European countries, people tend to be more formal, using surnames instead of first names in a business setting, even when they know each other well. Their communication style is more formal than in the United States, and although they tend to value individualism, they also value history, hierarchy, and loyalty. The Japanese, on the other hand, tend to communicate indirectly and consider themselves part of a group, not as individuals. The Japanese value hard work and success, as most of us do.

One thing I've witnessed when working in foreign countries is U.S. citizens trying to force their own culture or customs on those with whom they're visiting or working. That isn't recommended, and it generally offends those you're trying to impress. Don't expect others to conform to your way of doing things, especially when you're in their country. You know the saying "When in Rome, do as the Romans do"? Although you might not want to take that literally, the intent is good. For example, a quick kiss on both cheeks is a customary greeting in many countries. If that is the case and it's how you're greeted, respond with the same.

Culture Shock

Working in a foreign country can bring about an experience called culture shock. When you've spent years acting certain ways and expecting normal, everyday events to follow a specific course of action, you might find yourself disoriented when things don't go as you expected.

One of the ways you can avoid culture shock is to read about the country you're going to work in before getting there. The Internet is a great resource for information such as this. Your local library is another place to research customs and acceptable practices in foreign countries.

When in doubt about a custom or what you should do in a given situation, ask your hosts or a trusted contact from the company you'll be working with to help you. People are people all over the world, and they love to talk about themselves and their culture. They're also generally helpful, and they will respect you more for asking what's expected rather than acting as though you know what to do when you clearly do not.

Diversity Training

Sometimes you might find yourself working with teams of people from different countries or cultures. Some team members might be from one country and some from another. The best way to ensure that cultural or ethical differences do not hinder your project is to provide training for all team members.

Team-building activities are ways to build mutual trust and respect and bond team members with differing backgrounds. Choose activities that are inoffensive and ones in which everyone can participate.

Diversity training makes people aware of differences between cultures and ethnic groups, and it helps them to gain respect and trust for those on their team. Provide training regarding the project objectives and the company culture as well.

Respecting Your Neighbors

Americans tend to run their lives at high speed and get right down to business when working with vendors or customers. It isn't unusual for a businessperson to board a plane in the morning, show up at the client site and take care of business, and hop another flight to the next client site that night.

You'll find that this is not that common in many other countries. People in other countries will often expect you to take time to get to know them first, building an atmosphere of trust and respect. Some cultures build relationships first and then proceed to business. And don't expect to do that relationship building in a few hours. It could take several days, depending on the culture. They might even want you to meet their family and spend time getting to know them. Resist the urge to get right down to business if that's not customary in the culture because you'll likely spoil the deal or damage relationships past the point of repair.

Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

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