Saturday, October 20, 2012

            4.2.3    Interview Results

            The interviews conducted on a face-to-face session were captured on a mobile phone recorder and transcribed verbatim with some corrections in grammar and vocabulary.  There were common insights which were summarized and grouped into themes, and presented in the table below. Only the salient common responses are summaries and presented.
1.      What do you think are the most important qualities of a project manager in a multicultural project management setting? And why?
Interviewee: 1, 3, 4, 8 and 9
Team management skills are the most important.  The PM has the duty to steer the team towards delivering expected outcomes, like a sports team manager, only the demand is greater since you have several nationalities involved. As a PM, the overriding requirement is to lead a ragtag team in fulfilling expected deliverables.  A people-centric attitude that values the insights of team members is another quality since how you communicate will depend on this attitude.  We're talking about implementing a project by people, not machines.  Motivating them towards a common objective is knowing their interests and dispositions and harnessing these towards a common purposive action can make a big difference in the success of a project. Integral to this is the ability of the PM to understand non-verbal communication among other nationalities as they often go beyond what is spoken or the literal meaning of word
The ability to foster teamwork through a people-centered appreciation of one’s team members is the common theme among interviewees in this question. This is one quality that involves communication skills to enable the PM to understand the dynamics behind team development so that a common understanding about what is important in a project can be achieved. The skill is not limited to communicating in a language that everyone in the team understands such as English, but is also about understanding the social implications of non-verbal language cues that transcend structural limits of language.
Interviewee: 2, 5, and 7
Communication skills are the most important. Information is the lifeblood of any organised effort working to achieve a common object.  Information dissemination through sufficient communication skills makes the PM a facilitator and a conduit to achieve and maintain smooth information flow that is important in any project management effort.
Communication and information go together as  the smooth flow of information being sent, processed and received by a person is what communication is all about.  This flow becomes even more difficult to maintain in a team made up of various nationals speaking in various tongues but have to understand each other as they work together.  Information is circulated and generated in project activities, from objectives, plans, issues, risks, problems, deliverable expectations, timeline, failures, and project status, a good PM should be able to communicate the relevant information to all team members as applicable.   

2    With team members from various countries, do you think a second language is a prerequisite to get the project working smoothly?  And Why?
Interviewee: 1, 3, 5, 8 and 9
In today's globalized industries where we operate, it can't be helped that English becomes part of the communication skills of our management staff that have to deal with our foreign principals and counterparts in many of our construction projects.  We deal with workers from a few countries most of which have already a working knowledge of English. We also coordinate with several suppliers in Europe and America and English is an international language.
Interviewee: 2, 4, and 7
A second language is a must.  Depending on the project’s team composition, this can be English. French or Spanish. We have a project management staff trained in these languages and are deployed accordingly.
Except for one interviewee whose company prefers to use interpreters in their projects, all interviewees share the same sentiment that a second language is necessary in conducting their project management efforts. They recognize English as an international language and even require it among their management team whose key members are also trained in ESL.  Others not only have PMs trained in ESL but also French and other languages as required in their projects.

3    What problems do you generally encounter when managing multicultural workforces in a project?  And what solutions should be in place to address or prevent them from occurring?
Interviewee: 1 and 8
Enabling the team to gel as one towards a common objective takes care of 90% of the work needed to succeed in project management.  To this end, we embark on team building exercises which, depending on the hierarchies of a project team, can take up to a month prior to actual project work.
Again the issue of teamwork emerges but this time, the solution is about embarking on team-building where issues and potential conflicts can be identified and addressed right at the start of any project engagement.  Such sessions are communication-intensive and often conducted by a 3rd party resource that is trained in developing human capital in an organization to work as team.
Interviewee: 2, 5, and 9
A second language is great but one has to distinguish between the ability to speak and understand the language for everyday causal use and the ability to digest complex technical documents.  This is often the problem we encounter and it often takes a few meetings to explain verbally in more casual linguistic style what a document contains and how its details relate to the project. 
Interviewee 4
Misunderstanding occurs when the PM fails to listen attentively to questions and issues raised by foreign team members, especially in matters of complex technical natures.
This reflects the various levels of communicative competence that starts with conversational skill and progresses to the ability to read complex content in a language.   The two go together can the ability to read complex technical documents is a must for multicultural projects that are have high technology content.

Depending on the project, I have to say that some nationals are more problematic than others. In addition, it also depends in what functions they are assigned. Those in management and consultancy positions offer little problems but those in the contractual labor groups have the most, especially among cantankerous Indian nationals who can't seem to get along with other nationals.  Filipinos as great and they offer the least problems.  The solution we adopted is to limit ethnic involved to Chinese, Filipinos and Pakistanis who, based on experience, have given us the least headache.
This problem may be subjectively perceived and the solution adopted can be seen as biased against certain nationalities or ethnic groups.  But one cannot argue over experience when the post-project assessments point to observed empirical difficulties in multicultural projects as being caused repeatedly by certain nationals more than others in a project team. The solution adopted has been to choose the set of overseas contractuals and expatriates that have presented that least problems to the project team. Hence, a level of culture favorites have emerged with prejudices against certain nationals. 

4.    In your opinion, do you think there is a need to improve the communication skills of project managers in the country to meet the challenge of Vision 2021?  If so, in what areas?
Interviewee: 1, 6  and 8
Projects share similarities that allow some degree of predictability and we don’t need to add to the uncertainties by not structuring and formalizing the communication process so that cultural awareness and teamwork are in place right from the start. Misunderstandings are normal but if we train our PMs to be acute aware of cultural nuances within a procedural framework, projects can sail through the communication barriers emerging from cultural diversity. That’s what we do to give us confidence in meeting Vision 2021.
The issue of fostering cultural awareness and teamwork surface again but the concept here is to overcome the challenge through a structured and formal approach to communication  which can be done through procedural methods such as regular meetings, teambuilding sessions and form-based reporting. 
Interviewee: 2, 3, 4, 7, and 9
The ability to communicate goes beyond casual oracy and into comprehending complex technical documents and writing detailed reports that can be understood by target stakeholders.  It is important that we train our people in the technical aspects of writing and comprehension skills to complete their second language literacy they have acquired from university education. Either that or we get consultants and interpreters who can do the work for us.
Reading and writing skills that go beyond oracy is one area that need improvement and project managers who are new in the field can benefit from in-house training to further hone the 2nd language skills.  The alternative to use 3rd party interpreters and consultants is always there and may be used to augment the translation or writing of reports depending on the exigencies of the project.

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