Project management is not the same job across sectors and it’s certainly not the same job across cultures.
Each country (and company) operates differently and in order for projects to run smoothly, there are important aspects to keep in mind while working across borders. Here are the top five elements of project management that we focus on to ensure success:
When it comes to cultural differences, emotional intelligence and soft skills are the keys. These differences can be interesting and sometimes surprising.
1. Be aware of different workplace cultures
For example, we’re used to a Western type of work week, and while many non-Western countries have adopted those hours and working days, there are still countries where the work week is not necessarily Monday to Friday. The concept and perception of time differ greatly among work cultures as well – in many countries, being a few minutes late still counts as “on time”. National and religious holidays are different as well, and many countries honour the same holidays in different ways.
Our expert tip: Take timing into account: always ask for days and hours worked at the start of each project, along with verification of any upcoming national or religious holidays that may impact your fieldwork.
2. Understand that everyone has a different level of English
While English is used as an official language in most business contexts, not everybody is proficient enough to discuss complex issues. Misunderstandings happen very easily and can lead to lost business or damaged relationships.
Remember to use simple and concise language. All details must be clear and formulated in a way that everyone involved in the project can understand, and any key details should always be put down in writing to allow for evaluation after live discussions.
Our expert tip: Use clear and concise language in every exchange. Before you send your email, read what you’ve written a few times and try to identify anything that could be unclear for the other party. If you have the slightest doubt, rewrite your paragraph or add more information. Attention to detail here is paramount.
3. Put everything in writing before and after calls
Everyone’s calendars are packed with calls. It can be easy to lose track of the agenda, what you need to prepare for the call ahead, or what happened on that call a week ago. It’s always better to liaise as much as possible via email so there’s a written trace of everything. However, there are times when calls are necessary.
Our expert tip: It always helps to put everything in writing before AND after. When sending invites to project kick-off calls (or even a simple check-in call), include the call agenda in just a few bullet points so participants know what to expect and how to come prepared. After the call is over, it helps to send a quick summary email and action items for people involved to make sure everything is on track and no key details are missed.
4. Recognize the importance of time zones
It’s easy to overlook this aspect of international work. Maybe you just finished your coffee and croissant for breakfast in Europe but partners in the U.S. are still fast asleep. You can’t always expect an immediate response – they will answer during their business hours. This will require another level of coordination and planning. Even just one hour’s difference can cause confusion!
Our expert tip: Tap into technology to master time zones. Try the Time Zone Converter website, where you can find the time difference between several time zones and cities around the world, or install the Clocker extension (for macOS) and customise what you want to see in your menu bar with multiple clocks.
5. Confide in your local colleagues
When it comes to cultural differences, emotional intelligence and soft skills are the keys. These differences can be interesting and sometimes surprising. For example, in some markets, your fieldwork might take seven working days, while in others you can do it in three.
Our expert tip: Have an open mind and ask for advice. Ask open-ended questions – you might discover some helpful insights along the way. At some point, you’ll work with cultures you don’t deeply understand, so it’s important to have a good relationship with your local PMs. When in doubt, ask them: they are familiar with local customs when culture-specific issues emerge. They should also be very happy to share their knowledge and culture with you.
Working internationally is exciting and highly rewarding. It might seem daunting at first but it’s important to embrace, discover and enjoy this global world we live in!
With that in mind, we’ve collected 13 Golden Rules of Global Research to ensure that your research gets you closer to the consumers you need to understand across cultures.
Download the guide here or get in touch with our experts below.