Minimizing the “Culture” Gaps
As originally published on May 1, 2013
Managing Projects Overseas
The “Culture” gaps are not something that one would face when they work projects overseas. We can and are facing culture gaps here in our own nation. So what is this culture gap we refer to all the time? Are we referring to the food, or greetings, or the way we live our lives or anything on the civilization aspect. I wish it were as those aspects of the culture are much easier to adapt and adopt over time.
The “Culture” Gap:
When we say “Culture” we refer to the variance between ourselves in a given group and then variance between us and the team overseas. The variance is defined as the variation in the following areas:
- The way we think and articulate
- The mode of our behavior to a given situation – expected or unexpected
- The form of how we communicate the message.
If you take our situation, say in a job we have ourselves running projects and then our boss. We have two types of variances as part of this culture.
- First the variational differences between myself and the boss and then
- Second, the variational differences between my boss and his upper management or his boss
So if I wish to have a successful career in the time period with my boss I have to align with his culture in a way that results in the least differences between him and I (culture) and a much lesser difference between him and his boss. If at any time long enough I let his difference with me become larger than his difference with his boss, I am probably looking for another assignment or a job to be more specific. So long as I am able to manage or minimize the “culture” gap between him and I to a level that is far below than him and his management, I at least have a chance to be in his good books assuming I also perform well in the job assignments delegated to my accountability.
Let us talk about some factors relating to “culture” gaps while managing projects overseas.
You may want to consider some tips provided here either to help you cope or even handle it successfully. So going beyond the pond” what should I keep in mind? These are all very general observations and so please do not try to name brand people or ethnic groups based on this discussion. They are just some feelers for you to be cognizant of. Your equivalent there also has some issues they want to bring to light and so be open, but not nervous.
- Speaking Style (Not Accent):
- While some of us insist not to name each of our children with the same starting letter, those of us who did it realize how difficult it is to remember that when we try disciplining them or get their attention. Imagine this situation – we cannot even remember our children’s names right and so why should we expect to remember the team members’ names right, let alone pronounce them correctly?
- They told me once when I just landed here, “You all look the same” and for a while it angered me and then they started calling me with the names of other people. I then found that they never meant anything offensive but were actually showing me how they need to put a greater effort in remembering faces and names.
- Message with Speaking:
- Know their background – LinkedIn is a great place to get some small talk going (Less than 30 seconds).
- Get the names right each time even if you have to say it slowly – never use another person’s name on the same team.
- Speak slowly so that they can get your message and comprehend it and then respond effectively
- Relate to their local events/news/the world around them, challenges they face and how they have overcame it
- Integrate project execution within this framework of your speaking to make it fun
- Build the foundation and once you have done that, the variance becomes a noise rather than a signal
- Conference call etiquettes – One person speaks and all listen – Easier said than done!
- Message with Speaking:
- Leveraging Technology Tools:
- You know what happens when you assume Email etiquettes would be followed.
- Internet speed and line bandwidth stability are constant hassles to deal with outside the US.
- Texting, Calling, IM Chatting, Emailing and Meeting – Ensure you choose the preferred one.
- Same City – Definitely Meet; Same State – At least Call; Same or Different Country – Email and call for sure;
- MS Office (Excel, Word, Power Point and others) are all fine, but most prefer word/email or ppt to avoid Excel.
- Cloud for information compilation as opposed to emailing file attachments
- Are their reports telling you what they did for you or what they did that made a difference to your top and bottom lines?
- Do they have any sensitivity toward the global traits of leadership (discussed in Part I)
- Marching Orders Vs Socratic Approach:
- Do we tell them what to do and get it done or do we draw a preferred behavior?
- Telling them will cause lack of ownership
- Drawing them to make a decision will take a toll on your project time
- Documentation of Meeting Actions Items (Not Minutes)
- Linkage of Project Execution to Pay and/or Performance:
- What gets measured gets done (Peter Drucker)?
- What gets improved gets rewarded?
- You can and should only work with a central command
- Keep the responsibility and accountability with one person
- Let the local commander-in-chief handle the local army
- Don’t get bogged down with the local politics
- Pull Vs. Push Methodology:
- Create the needed pull to get results by drawing out the right behaviors
- Avoid pushing by taking a pilot project
- Establish a pattern of work culture acceptable to you
- Increase the project complexity and volume accordingly
Minimizing these known “culture” gaps will help you increase the success of your projects overseas and add significant value for your customer and organizations. Creating success with teams beyond the pond is an experience and something that will make sense when you leverage the experiences of other PMs.
Good Luck with your ongoing and expected overseas assignments!
In Part-III, we will talk about “Process Simplification” in the role of a PM as they manage projects beyond the pond.