For project managers a collaborative environment is inherit to the job, and there is perhaps no resource more important for achieving results than your team. As such, a crucial project management skill is the ability to develop your team. To put things in perspective, imagine a conductor directing an orchestra – each musical instrument plays their specific part, knowing when to contribute and not to contribute to the melody, all while being in harmony with the other instruments. Achieving this harmony as a project manager takes time and a passion of working with people.

This passion of working with people is sustained by the diverse contribution each team member brings to the team environment; everyone is different, and working with people from a wide variety of backgrounds on a new project can help project managers and their team members sharpen their personal skills in the quest for a harmonious work setting.

I manage projects that want to engage local resources as much as possible, but sometimes, the projects are much larger and more complex than is the norm for the local professional community.  In these situations, the options are as follow: engage non-local resources with the appropriate expertise but at a higher cost, or work with local professionals, building on their current expertise, helping them grow professionally with the new project.

As a project manager I work to provide consistency with my projects, because while there may be circumstances outside of my control, the project management concepts are the same and I want to make projects predictable in this regard. Part of this consistency and predictability is to go over the rules for communication and set expectations up front with every new project team member I onboard. Working in a different country, one would think that as long as we speak same language and communicate clearly, there is no reason to get an unforeseen outcome.

Germans say “Ein Mann ein Wort” which means quite literally, “a man / person keeps his commitments” but can also be read to say, “I mean what I say”. In other cultures, people may verbally confirm what you want to hear but in fact, they meant something else.

One of the project team members I worked with is a very good professional whom I would go to anytime I would need his type of expertise; however, what I didn’t see up front were the differences in how he understood the project expectations, especially the ones related to schedule constraints. In some cultures, tasks are expected to be performed at each individual’s own pace, and more so, tasks can take even longer to reach completion if the local authorities with jurisdiction are a very deep bureaucracy. Evidently this is not an ideal working situation.

I am used to working at a pace driven by project constraints and supported by the project team’s dynamic. This particular project made me reconsider the tools I needed to achieve the same goals in this different environment. In the end, we agreed to use more written communication and I asked the team member to provide written updates for major milestones, while allowing status of small tasks to be communicated verbally. This resulted in more interaction between both sides, albeit by email, and I learned that it helped develop the project team members, while also getting us closer to the harmony needed for a successful project.

Project managers document and review the lessons they learn from each of their projects. In this case, the lesson I learned was to open my eyes see more than just the professional I’m working with –it’s important to understand body language and local customs, and to hear more than what you want to hear.

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