In conventional collocated teams, trust is developed through social interaction and information sharing over a period of time. The virtual team does not have this interactive dynamic and therefore must rely upon virtual interaction and information sharing to develop trust (Goodbody, 2005). The following factors are aimed at enhancing an environment of trust and collaboration. Given that the right team has been selected and sensitivities related to language barriers, culture, and geographic or political issues are considered, the team will focus on promoting consistent communication which meets the individual needs of the team.
The following points highlight the recommendations from Goodbody (2005). Contemporary work in the field of project management considers not only the geographical and time differences global teams may face, but also strives to recognize the relationships, professional and personal needs of the team members. Managing Projects Involving Team Members with Multicultural Backgrounds Communication barriers, unwritten rules, inflexibility, and cultural bias may cause problems that can jeopardize successful teamwork in multicultural environments.
Project managers have to deal with these challenges in an appropriate way to avoid and resolve conflict. Communication problems are among the challenges multicultural project teams face, as members speak different languages. To overcome the problem, project managers need to clearly define language requirements for an effective communication. New team members who are not able to communicate fluently in the declared “team language” need to be trained before entering an international team. This requires good planning and scheduling. Unwritten rules are work behaviors that arise without being discussed.
Every multicultural team has its own set of unwritten rules about how members interact and communicate. This can be confusing to new team members of different cultures who have not the self-confidence to ask about specific roles, how best to make contributions and how to be recognized for their efforts (Tayeb, 2005, p. 33). Unwritten rules such as acknowledging birthdays, sitting in certain places at meetings, or the meaning of capital letters in an email can be a source of confusion, tension and low productivity (Denver Business Journal, 2001).
Most organizations provide mentoring programs where senior employees are assigned to newcomers to explain unwritten rules. Clear policies on diversity should be implemented by the project manager in order to avoid confusion and tension in the team. Inflexibility is another difficulty that project managers face when team members from different cultural backgrounds work together. Inflexibility refers to resistance to change or an individual’s inability to respond to changes. Inflexibility is caused by a lack of education, narrow-mindedness and ego. Conflict caused by rigidity can jeopardize the success of the whole team.
Excellent team players are flexible; they respect individual attitudes of team members, try to avoid escalations, and know that team goals have priority. Personal matters and private goals do not influence the work of the team. Flexibility cannot be achieved over night. Knowledge through education is one of the fundamental ways in which organizations can deal with inflexibility. Other methods include critical thinking and negotiation skills. However, flexible people are characterized by their ability to make changes immediately and react in an appropriate way.
Flexibility is a key qualification that has a significant impact on the efficiency of teamwork and a multicultural workforce. Cultural bias occurs often when people from diverse cultures work together According to Cox, (1991) cultural bias is comprised of two components: discrimination and prejudice. Webster’s Dictionary defines discrimination as the act of looking at something categorically rather than individually. In terms of prejudice, Webster’s Dictionary states that prejudice is a pre-conceived opinion that is reached before gathering sufficient knowledge.
Cox (1991) recommends that teams should go through a bias-reduction training to modify negative attitudes towards people from different cultures. Encouraging team members to arrange cultural events such as art exhibits, lectures, dance performances or other types of cultural shows. These activities help all employees to increase their knowledge of other cultures and ethnic groups. Participation in such activities help to overcome prejudice attitudes (ABA Banking, 1991). Empathy and willingness to understand individual differences are essential management skills, especially when managing global teams.
Project managers need to understand and value team members. A good working atmosphere is one in which every team member is able to retain his or her own personal characteristics. Recognizing individual differences and cultures of team members is a management responsibility. Differences between team members are not just a burden and challenge, they are opportunities as well. “Diversity on a project team can be an asset. ” (Miller, Fields, Kumar, ; Ortiz, 2000, p. 18) Competitive versus Cooperative Alliances Globalization, specialization, fierce competition, and downsizing are increasingly gaining importance in today’s business world.
Today’s global marketplace has been opened up to more players than ever. Highly specialized-diversified workforce along with the emerging need to be focused on the core competencies have made project management increasingly important and challenging. In such circumstances, businesses have realized that no company has monopoly on all innovation which exists within an industry. Consequently, companies have recognized that taking action towards sharing resources, knowledge, and expertise will allow them to better focus on their core competencies in order to eventually improve the end-results.
Ansoff (1965) describes the positive effects of such cooperative strategies by introducing the concept of synergy to the management world for the first time. Ansoff’s explanation of managerial synergy simply indicates that under the right circumstances business ventures can achieve; (2+2 = 5). Within the context of project management, organizations can achieve synergy through implementation of outsourcing, contracting, partnering, joint ventures, or other forms of cooperative alliances.
Technological advances, globalization, and shorter product life cycles have caused the organizations to become more multi-project driven. Hence, in order to successfully manage projects in this emerging multi-project environment, project managers have to work with various people from different organizations. According to Gray and Larson (2005, p. 383), “a recent study indicates that the average large corporation is involved in around 30 alliances today versus fewer than three in the early 1990s.
” Reducing the administrative costs, increasing the utilization of resources, improved communication, improved innovation and performance are among the most significant advantages that the organizations can achieve by implementing several cooperative alliances such as a partnerships (Gray & Larson, 2005). Organizations and project managers can significantly benefit from the cooperative alliances. However, the final success of an alliance is dependent upon the internal and external factors that should be addressed during and after the implementation process.
According to Goold et al (1994), in reality the benefits of economies of scale and synergy will not exist unless the overall strategy of the venture is in alignment with the individual business strategies. In addition, cultural awareness and the ability to effectively manage the cultural differences among the partner organizations, such as the degree of bureaucracy and hierarchy, the decision making speed, and different perceptions of quality, are extremely important (Thomas, 2005). Furthermore, effective communications are crucial to the success of any partnership or alliance.
Neglecting the importance of interpersonal relationships and stressing solely the formal communications, will not allow the stakeholders build strong collaborative relationships. A successful alliance requires spending adequate time and resources planning, clarifying, team-building, and aligning strategies. “To be effective, there should be clarity from the outset about what will be done, who will do it, what information will be shared, the standards of work expected, and how charging regimes will work. ” (Thomas, p. 8)