To manage a project successfully at one location is not always easy for project managers. It becomes even more difficult if project groups are distributed across multiple locations or even across different continents and time zones. To supervise a project with international staff is an additional challenge for project managers, but it also offers advantages.
International Project ManagementSabine Pfleger, Friday 10 August 2012 | Reading time: unknown
The combination of different kinds of expertise of the different project team members and working in different time zones even enables the team to work on a project around the clock. This can lead to an increase of working speed. Nevertheless, cultural differences and the absence of regular face-to-face meetings can result quickly in misunderstandings and problems. The following tips can help project managers to lead an international project team and to complete the project faster and more successfully.
To be a successful manager of an international project, you should be open to new methods and procedures. This allows you to stay flexible in the project time planning, to analyze problems quickly and to find the appropriate solutions. You should also familiarize with the working culture and mentality of the participating countries. German managers for example are sometimes said to be very businesslike and brisk – traits that co-workers do not always consider as very pleasant. In specific cross-cultural training, you can prepare yourself for situations in the international business world. Profound research about the project environment inside and outside the company as well as the legal conditions of the project also prevents negative surprises.
The communication within the project group is crucial for efficient project work. Therefore, project managers should define goals, tasks, competences and responsibilities clearly before the project starts. Often problems are caused by apparently self-evident facts which are perceived and handled differently by team members from different cultural backgrounds. It may be helpful to establish communication rules, so that people are able to talk openly about problems and so they do not conceal them because of cultural courtesy.
A decisive point of project work is to lead the team and to control the fulfillment of tasks. It is recommendable to give detailed instructions and to assign responsibilities and competences at the beginning of the project. Check regularly if the project team members understand the instructions properly in order to avoid confusion later on. It is useful to talk with team members in detail about their planned next steps and their personal progress. You should also define benchmarks and standards, and review them regularly.
As the project team is internationally scattered, it is especially important to build group cohesion as quickly as possible, so that the team can work together towards a common goal. Also, regular feedback to each individual and the group is essential to strengthen the motivation and to identify potential complications early. It has a positive effect if the team members have met in person at least once during the project to establish trust and to reduce cross-cultural prejudices.