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The 5 W's of Successfully Working on a Global Project

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Due to the global nature of projects, nowadays it's quite common for project managers to have project teams that include members of different nationalities and cultures.

Rather than making positive or negative conclusions about a culture, project managers need to build awareness and understand that cultures exist relative to each other. The challenge is to determine the actions that will enable them to successfully manage projects and reconcile the relative differences.

Project managers should consider the five W's to successfully work collaboratively on a global project.

Who: Who is working on the project? Everyone. It is rare to find a stakeholder or team member working on a project that has little or no contact with people from a different culture of their own.

What: What skills do project managers need to develop that will make them credible in another culture's eyes?

A project manager may be fluent in one or more foreign languages, for example. While that will help him or her communicate with others, it will not give the project manager the understanding on how a culture understands deadlines or other aspects of business. Project managers must listen and observe while working in a global setting to learn these things.

Where: Where is there opportunity to learn? Project managers should interact with people of different cultures inside and outside of the business world to navigate through unfamiliar cultures. Next time an intercultural opportunity arises, seize the moment to observe, reflect and learn.
When: When is the best time to collaborate with a multicultural team? Select an activity where all or most of your team members participate, such as a project status meeting. Does every culture respect a set meeting time, for example? In some cultures, there are no written rules of time etiquette, and a single event can be interpreted in a multitude of ways.

Why: Why should you care about multicultural traditions? As a project manager, you will have to manage teams that are partially collocated and across time zones. You should be somewhat comfortable in foreign environments and cognizant of local customs to continue learning and effectively conduct projects.

As a global project manager, how do you apply the five W's?


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I believe we are missing an important component - How (although it does not rhyme with 5Ws).

How a work gets done is as important as knowing the global team that works together to deliver a common goal i.e. Project. Different cultures have different work practices that are easily misunderstood and thus are slotted into different categories. For instance, one culture might be more interested in strategizing than implementing what is documented (for implementation), another culture might challenge conventional thinking and might want to evaluate alternatives, further more there are cultures that are more adept in following instructions and might not ask lesser questions with the assumption that the strategist is always right

Great article. I find that the team itself is an ideal place to learn about each other's cultures. This helps to go beyond the stereotypes to understand the team members for effective collaboration. Often an external facilitator can bring out the hidden assumptions and provide a common language to discuss a very personal topic.

There are many ways to research cultural norms, such as surfing the internet or reading up on the country. From the stakeholder information, a project manager can get somewhat familiar with the cultures they will be working with.

I agree that using some of the meeting time and other events to get to know about team members is a good way to learn as well.

This is a good article. Thanks for sharing.

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