Cross-Cultural Project Management: Recognize, Respect, and Reconcile

Geraldine O'Reilly
By | Updated June 30, 2017 | 4 min read
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Today, project managers need to be prepared to work with and manage multicultural teams that can span the globe. As Thomas Friedman’s book “The World is Flat” states –  if we are to remain competitive in a global economy, we must all be on a continuous journey of learning and curiosity.


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Many project managers believe that cultural differences can be as detrimental as outdated or inefficient technology is. The members of your project team live and express their culture every day. Instead of avoiding cultural differences, managers and teams should embrace them in a proactive manner.

Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner describe 3 steps to help you steer your multicultural team in a triumphant direction. Here are the steps:


Cross-Cultural Project Management: Recognize, Respect, and Reconcile

1. Recognize and allow for cultural diversity

Every human being is different with unique traits, skills, likes, and dislikes, which should be acknowledged from the outset.

As the project manager, aim to understand the business culture of each member of your project. Research your team members. Find out the business culture they are used to working in. Have you worked with them before? Do you know someone who has or someone who can give you tips on how the team member works?


2. Respect cultural diversity

There is a reason why each person is on the team – never forget this. Encourage fellow team members to also work to understand and respect each member’s cultural differences. It’s also important to remain sensitive and careful with stereotypes. Everyone has different perspectives and should not be categorized.


3. Reconcile cultural diversity

This is the merging and blending of opposing cultures to create a stronger outcome, leading to true collaboration across the team.

This final step cannot take place without accomplishing the prior two steps; recognize and respect cultural diversity.


Good Communication is Essential

Culture and communication are a two-way street. In fact, communication is one of the most significant areas of difference between cultures.

For example, some cultures have strict work hierarchies in which open, blunt discussion is discouraged whilst other cultures embrace and encourage candid, outspoken debates.

How does a project manager fairly and openly communicate with a team that may consist of individuals from both sides of the yard and all the in-betweens? It is not as simple as demanding honest and open input from the team. You must create an environment and procedures to capture all input, not just the input from the individuals who shout the loudest.

Here are some tips and examples:

  • Set up protocols for communication such as frequency, times, and methods. The obvious issue here is time zone differences; aim to cater for all team members. Stay reachable and keep an eye on how fellow team members are communicating with each other.
  • Never assume that what you say or send is completely understood. A way to combat miscommunication is to ask team members to recap what it is they think you meant or what they understand the next steps as being. A lot can get lost in translation.
  • Use questionnaires with very direct and clear questions to get a clear picture of different situations. Some people who would shy away from speaking their mind publicly on a call may be more honest in this format. Likewise, those that are more ostentatious in meetings will be forced to tone their responses down and truly think about what they are reporting.



Preparation Questions for Cross-Cultural Project Management

If you want to be successful as a project manager, whether that be on a cross-cultural team or not, you should know the answers to the following questions:

  • Do you understand your team members?
  • Do you understand what motivates your team members?
  • Do you know what skills and expertise your team members bring to the project?
  • Do you know how your team members communicate best?


Be prepared and be prepared to adapt. Just as technology has made it easier for teams to function across geographies and work more efficiently on a global stage it has also opened up the cross-cultural oceans for project managers to swim. Grab a life jacket!



FRIEDMAN, T. L. (2005). The world is flat: a brief history of the twenty-first century. New York, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

TROMPENAARS, F. & HAMPDEN-TURNER, C. Reconciliation method.


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Geraldine O'Reilly
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