Projects in China: A Challenge?

Linh Tran, Tuesday 08 February 2022 | Reading time: 4 min.

Implementing projects in China or other emerging markets requires knowledge about the way of working in these cultures and understanding that the choice of project manager is crucial.

In order to implement projects in China or in other emerging markets, knowledge of how things work in these cultures is crucial. The choice of project manager for such projects is considered highly crucial. Non-Chinese project managers will face some challenges during the project. They will be managing an international team in a foreign market without direct staffing authority. In addition, they will have to conduct negotiations with Chinese partners, suppliers or authorities. The cultural characteristics of China also influence the work style in that country and it is very important that the project manager is familiar with this work style.

Since China is a very large country, the following are of course strong generalizations where stereotypes cannot be completely avoided. This blog post is only intended to provide a rough guideline to show what project managers leading a project in China should be aware of.

In the following, we will go into some specifics of Chinese project management:

Role distribution and hierarchy levels

Relationships, team membership and role distribution are particularly important in Chinese project teams. Based on role distribution and hierarchy levels, for example, the order in which team members receive important information is determined.

Interpersonal relationships and trust

If these rules are not observed, this is considered impolite and can very quickly lead to subliminal conflicts. It is evident that relationships play a major role in China. Building relationships and trust is therefore a prerequisite for newly formed project teams before they start working together. Getting to know each other can be achieved, for example, through a workshop in which everyone tells something about themselves.

Chinese people attach great importance to interpersonal contact, which is why this is also considered a strong motivation in the Chinese working world. Previously, subliminal conflicts were mentioned. In China, a project manager needs the ability to recognize underlying conflicts. This is because non-observance of the social rules of the game quickly leads to slight tensions in China. However, people avoid addressing these directly and are not proactive in clearing up misunderstandings as they expect that others will understand their implicit requests. This is where the project manager is called upon to identify tensions and resolve misunderstandings within the team without offending either party.

Clear regulation of work processes

As a logical conclusion, it is of course not only the relationships within the project team that are crucial, but also all other relationships with Chinese contacts and partners. Project managers should allow additional time for maintaining contacts and relationships, both internal and external. It is also important for the collaboration in an international team to have a clear work process regulation. Ideally, team members should be able to follow a clear guideline on working methods and discipline from the very beginning.

If we look at just a few of the peculiarities of Chinese culture and working methods, we can quickly see that intercultural competence is imperative for projects in China. Project managers without prior experience in China should prepare intensively for their assignment in order to create the basis for a successful project.


(Original German text by Kathrin Jungwirth; English translation by Linh Tran)

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