Most training programs on leading global teams tend to emphasize unique aspects of each culture. By this I mean they train on what you can do and can’t do or how you can act within the boundaries of proper behaviors in a particular culture. This is useful to understand a culture but not sufficient to actually work and lead people from that culture.
In my experience, the fundamental skills that make a successful project manager in your culture are the same skills that make you successful in leading teams from other cultures. These are a deep respect for people, minimizing uncertainty, maximizing autonomy, building connections, and being fair. These skills are universal and are the key to successful leadership whether you are managing people from your culture or from other cultures.
But I think there are 3 key ingredients that you will need as you learn to work with people from other cultures. Think of these as skills/mindsets we need more of when we lead globally:
A deep appreciation for diversity: No two brains are alike. A deep respect for the value that each person brings to a global project is mandatory and it can’t be faked. This deep respect will come across thru everything you say and do on the project. If it is not there, you will get compliance but not engagement.
A diagnosis mindset: You are not going to know the answer or the solution to every problem you will face on a global project. A diagnostic mindset will help you look at situations from a “researcher” lens to try to determine the factors at play so you can experiment with different solutions or interventions. You will try something and it may or may not work. You then diagnose the situation and see what else you can try. This is an iterative process.
Mindfulness: To be able to see situations from different lenses, you will need to pay attention and paying attention is not easy. Most of the time, we are operating on auto pilot. Being present and aware and in the moment is a must to be able to observe how you are thinking, feeling, and behaving and to do the same about the other people’s mental states. This is the input you need for your diagnostic mindset.
Knowing the proper etiquette for being a good guest of Southeast Asian host for example is helpful but it will not be enough to know how to lead people from that culture. With time and experience, leading with a deep appreciation for diversity, a diagnostic mindset, and mindfulness, will help us develop the resilience, agility, and stamina to learn how to navigate the complex and ever-changing landscape of global projects.
What has been your experience leading global projects? what works and what does not work on global projects?
I would love to hear your take on this topic.