By Mark Muzinda
Due to globalization and the nature of projects being temporary organizations, projects are being implemented in diverse organizations, some transcending borders, and continents. Multi-country project teams and virtual project teams are becoming the norm rather than the exception. This requires an extension of the breadth of skills-set required of Project Managers to enhance the success of their projects. Failure to manage this diversity arising from this multiculturalism may spell failure to the project.
Culture can be defined as a shared set of attributes of any group by which this group organizes its living together, its environment, and its solutions to society (Olatunji, 2002). National culture can be defined as a particular pattern of thinking and acting, espoused by people in a society modeled around collective values, beliefs , symbols and practices and inherently differently from the systems of other groups and societies (Hofstede,2001). Taking the definition down to the organization/corporate, organization culture is the unique beliefs , attitudes, and values that members of that organization share and set them apart from other organizations.
There is cultural diversity within various organizations. Projects being implemented in a private blue chip will face a totally different culture than one being implemented in government department with its associated bureaucracy and hierarchical structure. A project manager managing a project in North Africa will be faced with a different culture than one in Asia or East Africa. Project managers need to be cognizant of the impact of culture on the success of their projects. Project managers should have a deliberate plan to manage this diversity on their project teams.
In managing culture diversity to enhance project success the project manager needs to do following;
- Identify and map the diversity on the project. The project managers need to identify the various members of the team from different cultures. These could be members of different nationalities, minority tribes, women (relevant in highly traditional settings), religions etc. Being cognizant of the diversity on the project team is a start in managing it.
- For a project manager that is set to manage a project in a different organization or country, it is important that they take the necessary time to research the culture in that organization or country. What are the power dynamics in the organization? Is it a hierarchical organization or a flat one? How are decisions made? Are decisions made through consensus or is it a top down approach? The Project Manager can leverage this information for the successful management of their project.
- The Project Manager should determine the type of communication preferred for each individual project. Some organizations prefer lengthy documents, others prefer flash reports, face to face, others a combination with face to face updates etc. The project manager should also determine what values or criteria are most important; in a precious metal mining company, the ability to execute works on a plant in the shortest time may be more valuable than say costs. Uptime of their equipment is much more important to them.
- Conflict is an inevitable occurrence within a project setting. Issues that could be easily resolved, may be worsened by cultural misunderstandings. This is why it is imperative that project managers be aware of the differences in culture within a project setting in order to mitigate against those. This will enable him to manage the conflict better and enhance the relationships required for continued productivity on the project.
- For a diverse project team that is geographically separated with some in different time zones, the project manager should as much as is possible arrange for a face to face meeting preferably at kick-off of the project. It is important that project team puts faces to names, team members get to meet discuss their preferences, share stories, this breaks down barriers and eases the cultural tension. For project teams with diversity but within the same geographical setting, the project manager can use interactivity, and team building sessions to tear down the cultural barriers. The goal is for the project team members to be more culturally aware of their colleagues and hence have more acceptance and tolerance.
As demonstrated above its imperative that project managers have the skillset to manage cultural diversity on the project either occasioned by members from different cultures, execution of projects in different organizations, or geographical locations to enhance the success of these projects.
Mark Muzinda holds the position of Senior Consultant at InnoLead Consulting offering Management Consultancy and Corporate Training Solutions. He can be contacted on +267 3909102 and firstname.lastname@example.org