Project Practitioners > Aligning People on Multi-Cultural Project Teams

Aligning People on Multi-Cultural Project Teams

By Jeff Richardson


Many directionsDoesn’t it feel like sometimes the deck is stacked against you?
  Project success seems elusive as business complexity reaches a tipping point.  I miss the days when technology innovation was the primary hurdle to overcome.  In today’s environment, project leaders are dealing with complex set of variables that make their work more unpredictable than ever.  Matrix structures, cross-cultural members, distributed locations, short term mindsets and unrealistic expectations are the norm in many companies.  Managing these compounding factors isn’t as hopeless as it seems, provided you get the team aligned in moving in the right direction.  Neuroscience experts are confirming insights on a set of principles and practices that can help you managing the one common factor you’re dealing with – humans. 

Knowing a few things about team and personality dynamics can be a huge advantage in staying ahead in this game of project management.  Regardless of where they come from, where they have worked or what they do, people have a few things in common that David Rock highlighted so succinctly in his book Your Mind At Work.  His SCARF model resonates with what I’ve been experiencing in my work with hundreds of teams over the past 15 years.  Launching a cross-functional startup initiative for a large defense contractor in the mid 90’s, I experienced the challenges of managing cross-functional complexity while facilitating over 35 multi-million dollar program teams.  Despite a common corporate culture, the language and mindsets of the various members made me wonder if some were sent in from another planet to participate.  Our success in delivering predictability led to a multi-company merger exposed me to a new phenomenon; cross-company complexities.  My masters degree in Organizational Development couldn’t adequately prepare me for navigating the political nuisances that came with each of the unique styles of leadership that were in throw at us.  More recently, I’ve worked with many Japanese companies who are struggling to adapt to a globally distributed reality where “the Japanese way” just won’t work.  In each situation, we were able to overcome the communication chasm that divided the groups and led to disagreements, mistrust and poor performance.



Mc teamAs it turns out, regardless of what form of cultural diversity you are dealing with (we can add gender or generational cultures too), it’s possible to bridge the gap that separates teammates and get everyone ‘bought in’ to a shared project vision and plan.  The neuroscience research is backing up the wisdom we gained through years of experience – addressing the individual needs in concert with the project needs is essential for overcoming the fear and misunderstandings that face every multi-cultural team.  The following set of blogs and templates will provide a framework that can dramatically change your project team’s results by reducing conflict, ensuring proper handoffs and aligning goals and roles to ensure milestones are met.   Underlying these project success criteria are a set of human elements like stronger relationships, improved job satisfaction, less stress and more fun for all members of the team – including YOU. 

Incorporating these tools during your next project launch can get you started on the right foot, but they can also be used individually to address a specific issue that is plaguing a current project team RIGHT NOW.  Start small and build slowly is my suggestion, which is also supported by brain science, as a strategy to change optimism in your current project situation.  

Jeff Richardson, MS OD
Chief Transformational Engineer at Empowered Alliances



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