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Eric Nielsen: How to answer those Professional Responsibility Question? 2/2

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Cultural Competencies

As modern business continues its evolution to becoming a world community, project managers increasingly find themselves managing multicultural teams. Many projects today are even global in scope, with project teams working from different locations around the world.

Today’s project managers must add ‘cultural competency’ to their long list of general management skills.

To become truly expert and fluent in cultural competencies, you could spend a lifetime studying and traveling. For our purposes, maintaining a professional sensitivity to cultural differences and knowing a few basic ‘rules’ should be adequate.

There is no need to study this material meticulously. Simply read it to develop a general feel for the subject.


Differences exist, not only between countries, but within a country’s own borders as well.

Some key differences between countries

  • Physical time
  • Perceived time
  • Monetary policies
  • Procurement practices
  • Negotiating practices
  • Language
  • Body language
  • Education
  • Governments
  • Management styles
  • Trust
  • Risk thresholds
  • Quality standards
  • Travel constraints (country infrastructure)

Some key cultural differences within a country’s borders

Social groups
Class structure
Local laws

Some key cultural differences in perception and behavior


Control cultures say “Go for it!”
Harmony cultures say “Don’t rock the Boat.”
Constraint cultures say “It’s Fate.”


Single-Focus cultures say “Let’s get down to business.”
Multi-Focus cultures tend to multitask, even in the middle of meetings.
Fixed cultures value punctuality. “Every second counts.”
Fluid cultures define punctuality in loose terms.
Past/Present/Future “Past” cultures place value on historical sensibilities.
“Present” cultures aim for quick results.
“Future” cultures trade short-term gains for long-term future results.


Doing cultures emphasize measurable accomplishments. Being cultures stress affiliations, character, personal qualities, quality of life.


High-context cultures are relationship centered. Low-context cultures are task centered. Direct cultures meet conflict head-on. Indirect cultures avoid conflict or use third parties to resolve. Expressive cultures openly display emotions. Instrumental cultures keep emotions hidden. Formal cultures value following business protocol and social customs. Informal cultures value change.


Public space cultures tend to have large, open offices with few partitions. Managers may sit amidst their employees. Private space cultures work within individual offices or cubicles. Permission is needed to enter.


In Hierarchal cultures, power and authority is highly centralized, structured and controlled. In Equality cultures, managers may be viewed more as a consultant figure than as an authority figure. Organizations are flatter and power is more decentralized.


Individualistic cultures say “Everyone for themselves.” Collectivistic cultures put group interests above individual interests. Universalistic cultures view the world as their marketplace, with a one-size-fits-all approach. Particularistic cultures value uniqueness, exceptions and differentiation.


Competitive cultures are materialistic. “We live to work.” Cooperative cultures value quality of life. “We work to live.”


Ordered cultures shun ambiguity, uncertainty, conflict and change. Flexible cultures tolerate unknown situations, people and new ideas.


Deductive cultures stress abstract/symbolic thinking, theories, principles, and concepts. Inductive cultures value fact, statistics, methodologies and measurements. Linear cultures dissect problems into small pieces to evaluate cause and effect. Systematic cultures approach problems in a holistic fashion, focusing on relationships between the parts.

Global Priorities

? First world countries are generally characterized by excess … and a drive for ‘continuous improvement.’ ? Second world countries are generally characterized by a drive to ‘catch up’ to first world countries. They typically maintain balance between resources and needs … no excess. ? Third world countries are characterized by the drive to meet basic necessities. Their needs tend to exceed their resources.

Global Competency Skills

Here are a few practical ideas to help enhance your understanding of global/cultural competencies, presented as four short article reprints from the pmProfessional newsletter:

Dos and Don’ts in Managing Global Projects

In managing global projects, it is essential to develop cultural self-awareness. The first, and most important, step is becoming aware of your own cultural orientations and the impact they can make in managing projects across cultures.

You must prepare for cross-cultural project encounters with purpose and thoroughness. Here are a few dos and don’ts to consider …

• Develop your cultural self-awareness.
• Set realistic expectations for yourself and others.
• Accept that you will make mistakes, but remain confident.
• Be patient. • Slow down. Make relationships.
• Keep your sense of humor.
• Keep your integrity.
• Stay objective … minimize blame.


• Assume similarity.
• Try to adopt the orientations of the other culture. Adaptation does not mean adoption.
• Dwell on comparing the other culture with your own.
• Evaluate the other culture in terms of good or bad.
• Assume that just being yourself is enough to bring you cross-cultural success.

Adapted from: Doing Business Internationally, The Guide to Cross-Cultural Success, by Terence Brake, Danielle Medina Walker and Thomas Walker, McGraw-Hill. www.books.mcgraw-hill.com.

Make Your Audio and Video Conferences Work In today’s rapidly evolving global environment, project teams are often geographically dispersed. To facilitate good project communications, it is increasingly necessary to select and use effective communication technologies. Voice mail, video conferencing, bulletin boards, project web sites, electronic mail, web-based meeting systems and audio conferencing are all in widespread use today.

To benefit from the use of these technologies, it takes more than technical mastery. Appropriate facilitation knowledge and skill is also essential.

Here are eight proven facilitation tips to help you get the most from your next virtual audio conference:

1. Distribute an agenda and pre-work beforehand.
2. Limit agenda items to important issues only. Less important items may be discussed using a less formal platform.
3. Assign and announce a conference facilitator.
4. Ask everyone in attendance to introduce himself/herself at the beginning of the conference.
5. If an attendee has to leave, ask him/her to let the group know beforehand.
6. Ask that mute buttons be used when an attendee is not speaking.
7. Limit active participation to six or seven attendees. Others can listen.
8. Summarize the meeting at the end. Document and distribute minutes within two days.

Video conferences? Apply the same tips for audio conferences, adding these four:

1. Display monitors are likely to be different. Resolve potential display problems beforehand. 2. Bandwidth differences are often different. Reconcile potential bandwidth problems beforehand. 3. Have all participants test their equipment beforehand. 4. Make sure all participants have access to the meeting materials database or have hardcopies. Adapted from: Mastering Virtual Teams by Deborah Duarte and Nancy Tennant Snyder. Jossey-Bass. www.josseybass.com

How to Develop Multicultural Excellence in Global Projects

As we rapidly evolve into a global community, many project managers find themselves managing project teams across vast geographical landscapes. To improve your success probability in such environments, it is essential to develop multicultural competencies.

Here are four things you can do to help develop multicultural excellence:

1. Multiple languages. Recruit core team members who speak multiple languages.
2. Multicultural experience. Provide core team members with multicultural experiences.
3. Cross-cultural experience. Arrange cross-cultural experiences for extended team members.
4. Continuous improvement. Acknowledge the continuous need to improve cross-cultural experiences for all team members.

Adapted from: Global Literacies, by Robert Rosen, Patricia Digh, Marshall Singer and Carl Phillips. Simon & Schuster. www.simonsays.com.

Across the Miles, Keep Team Members Feeling Connected

It is important to let offsite project team members know they mean more to the project than just deliverables, an email address or a teleconference voice. Although personal events have little to do with work, make it a routine practice to acknowledge events such as birthdays, weddings, births and graduations. This level of thoughtfulness sends a powerful message and helps to enhance overall team performance.

Adapted from: The Distance Manager by Kimball Fisher and Maureen Duncan Fisher. McGraw-Hill. www.books.mcgraw-hill.com.


1. Understand that perceptions and behaviors are different between cultures.
2. Maintain a professional sensitivity to these differences.
3. Respect these differences.
4. Be fully truthful in all of your professional activities.
5. Maintain high integrity in all of your professional activities. Follow through on your commitments.
6. Respond to ethical challenges by choosing to ‘do the right thing.’

1 comment to Eric Nielsen: How to answer those Professional Responsibility Question? 2/2

  • Personalities vary within every culture. However, knowing what to expect of a given culture could give one a great starting point, saving time in adapting and reducing risk of misunderstanding. Does anybody maintain a matrix or database of the characteristics listed above?