This is part 2 of a 3-part series about managing cross-cultural and international teams. Missed part 1? Read it here.
Project managers taking on international projects face a variety of practical challenges. For example, time zones are important. How will you conduct real-time team meetings? Who is going to be the person who gets up in the middle of the night for a call with the Australian development team to go through the testing results? In the absence of incentives for the project team, the project manager will find it difficult to recruit volunteers.
Protecting the interests of the UK-based team also falls to the project manager. A project sponsor who doesn’t appreciate that you have just spent half the night on a web conference with the manufacturing supplier in Japan will criticise a team that then goes home at 2pm. Project managers with international responsibilities not only have to educate team members in how to work well together, but also have to manage upwards and ensure that senior stakeholders understand the constraints of this type of project. In reality, international projects take longer and involve higher travel costs than projects where the entire team is co-located – and that isn’t always a welcome message to the senior team.
In fact, co-location can be a problem even with projects completely based in the UK. A project team that is split across several locations can also be difficult to manage. If you have the choice, opt to have your team in the same building, preferably all together on the same floor. Research done by the US Civil Engineering Research Foundation shows that co-location contributes to effective decision making, attention to detail and helps the team form a partnership. Projects where the team was not based together suffered from poor communication, procurement problems and lack of direction. Whether you are split across multiple UK sites or multiple countries, getting together at critical times in the project is a sure way of moving forward with the minimal amount of miscommunication.
Involving another country in a project is a wider concern than just finding ways of working with the people involved. The project environment is typically much more complex than a UK-based project. While I was working in France, my Indian colleagues rang in to tell us they were being sent home after office buildings in Bangalore were damaged: the death of Indian film legend Rajkumar prompted spontaneous violence amongst mourners on the streets.
Another time, French commuters (and me) found it impossible to get to work after strikes about pensions meant more than 90% of high-speed trains were cancelled. A project manager leading an international team needs an international view of the different legal and political environments, in order to successfully navigate unforeseen difficulties or changes.
Having looked at what the problems are, next Monday I’ll write about how you can tackle them.