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Managing global projects and multicultural teams: 5 benefits, 5 challenges and 5 actions

Why and how you can (and should) effectively manage global projects with multicultural teams

Author Thomas Friedman, in his book “The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century”, talks about globalization — how companies are becoming more and more global by adding branches in other countries, buying and selling internationally and hiring people in/from other countries. 

A key complexity of this globalization of business is managing different time zones and different languages, which can make leading these projects and teams difficult. Done right, however, it can bring great success to projects and organizations.

At Pivot Strategies, we have witnessed time and time again the importance of having consultants who are experts in managing global projects and working with multicultural teams to ensure project success. Here are some learnings we’ve gathered on the subject.

Benefits of well-managed multicultural teams

  1. Increase performance

    Companies managing multicultural teams effectively outperform homogeneous cultural groups by 2.3 times, according to Tony Byers, PhD, Global Diversity and Inclusion expert (APBSpeakers, 2016 – 03:33 – 4:20).

  2. Enable more innovation

  3. Capture new markets

    Diverse companies are 70% more likely to capture new markets, since local professionals understand their own culture, market, ethics and communication styles better than those from other locations or geographies.

  4. Improve decision making

    Compared to individual decision makers, diverse teams make better decisions 87% of the time. Decisions made and executed by diverse teams also delivered 60% better results.

  5. Increase employee engagement

    When companies foster a more inclusive work environment, 83% of millennials are actively engaged in their work.

Tatiana leading a class on working with multicultural teams

Challenges of global projects and/or dealing with multicultural teams

  1. Time zones

    As a best practice, teams should be aligned at times that are most convenient for the majority, and meeting recordings should be provided to those who are unable to join meetings due to the time difference. 

  2. Communication

    • Language barriers: English is not everyone’s first language. Even when people are fluent in a second language, the way people are taught their primary language and culture will influence not only what they say, but how they say it and how they interpret what others say.
    • Direct and indirect speech:  In some cultures, people speak directly, while other cultures might interpret such directness as rude. On the other hand, cultures that are used to direct speech might feel like those who speak indirectly lack focus and are unable to get to the point of relevance. 
    • Gestures: Body language, in particular hand and arm gestures, can have completely different meanings in different cultures. Some gestures considered nice and acceptable in the U.S. are considered rude and disrespectful in other cultures, and vice versa.
  3. Differing perceptions and attitudes

    • Uncertainty: While some cultures are very accepting of uncertainty, other cultures have a high aversion, which can cause the same situation to be perceived very differently by people from different cultures. 
    • Individualism: Individualism and competitiveness are not traits that are valued in every culture. Some cultures are more collective and collaborative. Individualism can sound selfish or rude to those that are oriented to a collective approach, and collectivism can sound like an inability to make decisions without consulting or involving others to individualistic people.
    • Hierarchy: It’s important to understand what hierarchy means in the culture where you are working. Some cultures have a flexible perspective of hierarchy and expect managers to participate in day-to-day tasks. Other cultures demand a certain level of respect and treat people differently depending on where they are in the hierarchy – this may even extend to the community, family or larger organization. Varying levels of autonomy and decision making are granted to people differently, and it can be challenging for people from another culture with a different perspective to know what to expect from a person in any level of hierarchy.
    • Culture: Knowing the cultural norms and religions practiced within a new location or geography is important. Take time to understand when people may need to take breaks during the day, days they can and cannot work and when they observe holidays.
  4. Laws and regulations

    Laws can be very different from country to country (e.g., laws pertaining to labor, pricing, marketing, taxation). Lack of understanding towards other countries’ laws and regulations can often cause misunderstandings when working on global projects or managing teams that work remotely from different countries. 

  5. Ethics

    Different cultures may have completely different concepts of what is or is not ethical, moral and acceptable. Lack of this knowledge can cause the perception of disrespect or disregard.

Diagram detailing benefits and challenges of working with multicultural teams

How to succeed in global projects and/or with global teams

  1. Use global standards

    Use globally accepted standards. Follow Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) guidelines to manage global projects, which is globally recognized as the standard for project management. 

  2. Respect and appreciate the differences 

    Focus on team members’ qualities, skills, abilities and performance, rather than their differences. This builds a more effective, engaged, motivated and productive team. Respect each individual by trying to understand what respect means to them based on their culture, location, etc. 

  3. Practice cultural intelligence

    Be open to learning from others. It is unrealistic to have a good understanding of every individual’s culture, but having the ability to relate and work effectively across cultures is what is defined as cultural intelligence. Learning to adapt and tolerate ambiguity are among the most important skills culturally intelligent people must have.

  4. Remember cognitive dissonance is normal

    When managing multicultural teams, we are often introduced to concepts that are foreign to us or that contradict our own understanding of how things work. Just because something is true to you and your culture doesn’t mean the opposite of that can’t be true somewhere else or to someone else.

  5. Have an open mind

    Having an open mind towards differences is key when managing multicultural teams. Different cultures will often introduce different thought processes to projects and organizations. Avoid judgment and you will find an easier path to innovation.


Need help tackling global projects and/or managing multicultural teams?

At Pivot Strategies, our clients depend on our leadership to help them drive change and clarify complex messages for their internal audiences. Our consultants have a proven track record of navigating complex working environments and problem-solving to reach global and diverse audiences through a multi-channel approach while providing expert support to help them succeed.

Are you managing global projects and multicultural teams? Pivot Strategies can help you develop a communications strategy that will effectively reach and resonate with all team members. Let’s connect.

About the Author

Tatiana Paolini BelottoChange Management Consultant

Tatiana is a project management master and an accomplished change management professional. She has global experience working for organizations such as Deloitte, ADP and Cirque du Soleil. Her extensive areas of expertise include culture transformation, immigration processes, HRIS implementations, mergers and acquisitions, diversity and inclusion initiatives and HR projects.

Connect with Tatiana Paolini Belotto on LinkedIn →

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