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Managing Multicultural Project Teams – A Journey of Three Decades

By Gordon Stewart 04 Aug 2023
Managing Multicultural Project Teams – A Journey of Three Decades

My name is Gordon Stewart, and I have been leading technology-focused projects for over 30 years. In the 1990s, I worked in the banking sector for large merchant banks in London and Paris. After the Year 2000, I moved into consulting for 13 years, working and travelling with a Big 4 company. Subsequently, I spent six years in the Middle East before returning to Europe. I am once again engaged in Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics projects for the Big 4 company. These periods have involved collaborating with multi-national teams across multiple time zones and with diverse corporate cultures.

Q. What are the main things you have learned from leading global projects? 

Language: In my experience, most international business meetings are conducted in English, even in countries where English is not the first language. It is important to recognise that non-native English speakers may need more time and support to understand the discussed issues and actively contribute to conversations (especially if the meeting is fast-moving and involves many people).  

Conducting a round-robin session within the team, ensuring everyone has the opportunity to speak, can be beneficial in addressing this. Slowing down the conversation and avoiding the use of slang or jargon also helps.  

Culture: There are several advantages to having geographically dispersed teams from multiple cultures (e.g., differing perspectives and avoidance of groupthink). Local team members possess a better understanding of their local needs and the resources available to them. However, there are also some disadvantages (e.g., challenges in remote team building and additional effort required to navigate differing perspectives).   

It is essential to maintain a strong team structure. We can achieve this by having a transparent system that outlines each team member's roles and responsibilities. I prefer using RACI charts (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed). Additionally, a clear and robust governance structure is necessary; PRINCE2 provides a solid model. 

Tools: Leaders are tasked with making crucial decisions regarding how the team communicates using the available technology. It is vital to ensure that all team members have access to the same technology and feel comfortable using it. 

We should also refrain from using overly complex or new tools that team members may not be familiar with. Many 'good' systems get abandoned because the team cannot use them. Keep It Simple.  

Q: How do we lead sizeable global project teams? 

You will encounter challenges if you are working with a large global project team. However, several tips can help make the process smoother.  

Communications: Firstly, it is essential to establish clear communication channels and protocols to ensure everyone is on the same page. Video conferencing and instant messaging tools can help you stay in touch and share information in real time. 

Expectations: Secondly, define roles and responsibilities, project deadlines, and deliverables upfront to prevent confusion and ensure that everyone is working towards the same goals. It is essential to set clear expectations from the beginning. 

Ways of Working: Thirdly, embracing cultural differences and respecting different working styles is crucial. Being open-minded and willing to learn about other cultures helps create a positive work environment.  

Transparency: Fourthly, establish trust with team members by being transparent, delivering on your commitments, and remaining responsive. This approach helps build a positive work environment and fosters collaboration. 

Technology: Finally, take advantage of available technology to effectively manage global project teams. Project management software and document-sharing tools can streamline communication, track progress, and ensure everyone remains aligned. (But, Keep It Simple) 

By following these tips, you can effectively work with large global project teams and achieve your project goals.