Problems of cross-border projects
This is the final part of a 3-part series on managing cross-cultural and multinational teams. Are you missing the previous posts? The first and second posts are available here and here. The latter is not something that can be easily solved by a software program. It depends on the emotional intelligence of project managers, their leadership skills, adaptability, and ability to train and inform the teams.
Communication is also dependent on the soft skills of a project manager.
These include the ability to listen, understand and respond clearly to the other person’s concerns and messages.
Technology can help you put these soft communication skills into practice. Before the project manager’s emotional intelligence can really be put to use, people must be able communicate with each other in some form.
Technology can help alleviate cross-border problems, even if it has its limitations in terms of the interpretation of messages sent using it.
Project managers have many options. Instant messaging (IM), which allows project teams to communicate informally even though their status is online, gives them the opportunity to do so. This allows team members to quickly and easily ask questions of each other, rather than waiting for a formal meeting.
Communication is a key factor in building trust and understanding among team members. This facility can be used to improve working relationships, provided it is not misused. It only works if all users are in the same time zone, and the difference is not more than a few hours.
Web conferencing is the next step beyond one-to-one communication. Multiple users can join the same online conference. Packages like WebEx and Sametime Unyte make it possible to hold a virtual meeting. Web conferencing allows you to make changes to documents and show product demonstrations to your team members without everyone being present in person.
Some packages allow you to record meetings or presentations so that they can be replayed later. This is useful for colleagues who don’t have the time or are not able to participate in meetings in their native language.
Web conferencing and instant messaging allow for synchronous communication. However, asynchronous communication is also important in building a cohesive international team. A shared Microsoft Outlook calendar could be an option. This will allow everyone to view the project milestones and team meetings. Outlook will automatically show you the meeting when you connect from a computer that is set to a different time zone.
Investment in project-specific software such as @task will provide more comprehensive capabilities. Packages like Primavera offer collaborative working options for fully online projects.
A project team workspace online where you can store documents and track progress, and even upload photos of team members, can make it easier for a team to work efficiently. However, it is important that everyone understands the rules and follows them. The project manager will decide how the site should work and ensure that everyone understands it.
No matter what software you use to manage cross-border projects you will quickly see its limitations. Poor workmen blame their tools, but a good project manager will know when to use the tools and when to put them aside. He will also be able to lead with understanding and intuition. Projects are expanding in a shrinking world. The keys to success in international projects include savvy use of technology and cultural awareness.