This is part 2 in a 3-part series on managing cross-cultural and multinational teams. Have you missed part 1? You can find part 1 here. Project managers who are involved in international projects face many practical challenges. Time zones are an example of this. How do you conduct real-time team meetings in real time? Who will be the one who wakes up in the middle night to call the Australian development team and go over the results of the testing? The project manager will have difficulty recruiting volunteers if there are no incentives for the team.
The project manager is responsible for protecting the interests of the UK-based team. If a project sponsor doesn’t understand that you have just spent half of the night at a web conference in Japan with the manufacturing supplier, he or she will criticize a team that returns home at 2pm. International project managers must not only teach their team how to work together but also manage up and ensure that the senior stakeholders are aware of the limitations of this type of project. International projects are more expensive and take longer than projects where everyone is together. This is not always a good message for the senior team.
Even though projects are based entirely in the UK, co-location can pose a problem. It can be difficult to manage a project team that is spread across multiple locations. If you have the option, consider having your team in the same building. Ideally, they should be on the same floor. The US Civil Engineering Research Foundation has found that co-location can improve decision making and attention to detail, and help teams form partnerships. Poor communication, procurement problems, and lack of direction were all common in projects where the team wasn’t based together. You can move forward with minimal miscommunication, no matter how many countries or sites you are located in.
It is more than just about finding ways to work with the people involved that involves another country in a project. The project environment can be more complex than one that is based in the UK. My French colleagues called me to inform us that they were being sent home following damage to Bangalore office buildings. This was in response to the sudden violence that erupted amongst the mourners.
Another time, French commuters (and myself) found it difficult to get to work due to strikes regarding pensions. More than 90% of high speed trains were cancelled. To navigate unexpected difficulties or changes, a project manager for an international team must have an international view of the legal and political environment.
I have identified the problems and will write next Monday about how to fix them.