In times of corona (in virtual projects anyway always) communication within the team and also across close team boundaries (entire project environment) is essential for project success, but difficult to ensure. Telephone conferences can cover planned topics, but cannot bring up the spontaneous ideas that would otherwise arise in the coffee kitchen. We are all in more web conferences than ever before, but the coffee conversations are irreplaceable and therefore a few hints how to use them in virtual space.
How to do it
Just send out an calendar invite with webconference details and remove the ticks under Response Options for “Request Responses” and “Allow New Time Proposals” so that you are not bothered by replies. But leave “Allow Forwarding” ticked. But send it only to a random sample of team members and non team members ofter the wider project enviornment. Ideally initially to ~ 10 team members. Further will be receiving the invite by others. See sample text below.
With following text suggestion for the invite:
I currently have many more telephone calls than I do have meetings on site in London and I don’t get “real work” started until the evening. This is certainly not only the case with me. Nevertheless, I notice that we have far fewer contacts across provider boundaries and also across tower boundaries. That’s why I think we need more conversations that just happen to occur by chance. So please get involved in the following.
We just meet at the coffee machine in building C1 6th floor by chance and have a little chat. See rules and hints below.
You must join with your web cam turned on.
You need to have a coffee or tea prepared for yourself before joining.
You may forward this invite only to one further member of the Apollo program after you have participated yourself in the “coffee break.”
The first topic of conversation after you join the videoconference must not be business (instead, for example, homeschooling, weather in your home town).
The 10th or each additional participant leaves the coffee kitchen (the call) due to overcrowding and arrives a little earlier for the next appointment.
I myself will probably not be around very often, but you can meet yourselves. When I’m there, I’m not going to host. Everyone should enforce the rules themselves.
You can run away from the coffee machine with everyone and chat in a small circle in the hallway (by making your own phone call).
I have set up 3 similar appointments. As it is known that these are distributed naturally, I am curious which of the colleagues has all 3 appointments in his calendar first. If you have all 3 coffee appointments of me in your calendar, take a screenshot of each of them and send it to me. The 10th entry receives a bottle of wine from my personal wine cabinet.
If somebody finds this idea stupid –> delete appointment in your calendar, but do not complain.
I would be interested in your experiences with such or different kind of virtual non-organized sessions. Please comment below.
You come to a new company and take on a new role or you take on a new project? How you plan a good handover was described in handover of a program in 6 phases. Now you are in a conversation with one of your new colleagues to determine where the shoe pinches or what needs to be tackled first. Since you will usually not only have an interview with a single colleague in order to have an overall view of the situation, it is advisable to conduct these interviews in a structured manner. For this purpose, I have collected a few questions over the years that are suitable for each interview and can raise interesting aspects.
How do I organise the interviews?
You should always differentiate between team-related and individual questions, because in the beginning it is easier to talk about the team or the overall situation than directly about your own sensitivities.
Team or overall situation
What is the biggest challenge we face right now or in the near future?
Why are we facing this challenge?
What are the most promising and untapped growth opportunities?
What do we have to do to realise their potential?
If she were me, what would you focus on?
How satisfied with your task? In which direction do you want to continue?
What do you expect from your job in the short / medium term?
What do you expect from me?
What are your strengths / what do you want to contribute to the team?
Which work processes can be improved?
What is the cooperation/productivity in the team/team atmosphere like?
What do you / the team / the department need to perform better?
Wishes to the genie in a bottle? A question that often brings up ideas that have not yet been expressed is the question about the three wishes to the fairy. Specifically this means which 3 wishes would you put to the fairy in the given context. Surprising and often very helpful answers come up. These often round off the picture or bring out completely new aspects.
How do I ask?
If the flow of conversation comes to a standstill, you want to recognize a clear priority or you want to find something out more precisely, then the following questions are appropriate.
Conversation fit It is very important to find out whether something is depressing the other person and whether the conversation is not meaningful at the moment.
Alternative or comparative questions
What’s better: this or that? Either way? Here or there?
If that, then what? If not so, by what means?
Scaling questions: On a scale from 0 to 10, how do you deal with this situation?
Determination of causes If you believe that the mentioned cause or reason is not yet substantially addressed, then follow up like a small child with 5 times “Why? If you don’t dare to use them, the 5-Why-method is also popular with scientists. Asking for the “why” can also reveal the reasons for the behaviour and the motivation of the behaviour.
Paradoxical questions or worsening questions can help in the event that creative solutions are needed or a new perspective is to be adopted. Example is, what do I have to do to make the product a flop?
Circular questions help to look at situations from different angles. For example, what would Mr Müller say?
As an alternative to the genie in the bottle question, you can also place the wonder question: The initial situation is that, as if by magic, all problems have been solved and you ask what would be different, how do you know that the problem is gone, how did the cooperation change or which other question of change can be helpful?
Carry out such discussions immediately after entering the new role or task and, above all, regularly. This will keep you on the ball. If you want to record changes early on and across the entire workforce or the entire team, my contribution to team spirit and early indication is ideal. The questions are also a good basis for an employee interview.
Transformation is not a change process, but a small crisis. 80% of people prefer stability to change. Change is a necessary evil for this type of person to move from one stable state to another. The change agent or project manager must therefore change old rules, which allow the no longer desired action strategies. In order to change a project culture, the patterns of thought and behavior of all participants must be changed. Project culture is the sum of all thought and behavior patterns of all people in the system. It is a misconception that managers or project managers should give fewer rules and instructions so that the team can and will become innovative.
Transformation is a crisis
Transformation is not a change process, but a small crisis. Therefore, a change agent does not have to admonish that certain actions are no longer desired or that others are desired. On the other hand, he should consciously take old patterns of thinking / possibilities of action as the basis for application through other rules. The “Change Agent” does not carry out change, but limits or expands room for maneuver. And he coaches consciously, but does not monitor. He must ensure that the old strands of action are not used for 90 days in order to make a new pattern of action possible for the colleagues involved. In this period new patterns of thinking are sought, old habits are thrown overboard and the new patterns of thinking are finally applied without effort.
So much for the ideal world.
Stability is the dream of most people
80% of people prefer stability to change. The reason for this is that people want to use as little energy as possible to achieve something. A change needs more energy and is therefore unwanted. Changes are a necessary evil for this type of person to move from one stable state to another. This is also seen by these people as a criticism of their previous attitudes, actions or whatever is to be changed. In today’s complex world, in which stable states – if at all – arise only very briefly, constant change is rather the normal state. I assume that today’s environments therefore perceive people as more stressful.
Project managers or “change agents” should change something over which you have no influence: Thinking patterns and attitudes of participants. As I said, the agent must therefore change old rules that allow for strategies that are no longer desired. With the new rules each participant in the transformation will then acquire new patterns of behavior and thinking.
If I want to change something, I must consciously plunge myself and my organization into a crisis in order to bring about a change.
Changing the project culture
In order to change a project culture, I have to change the patterns of thought and behavior of all participants, because they shape the project culture. Project culture is therefore not a centrally defined guideline, but a sum of all thought and behavior patterns of all people in the system.
The well-known leadership models and project organizations are often based on very old models such as military and church structures. These models create stability, but no change. This is because the limits for patterns of thought and behaviour are set. In leadership it becomes more and more important to forget the existing (patterns of thinking or behaviour) in order to make innovations possible.
The misbelief as a leader should be given fewer rules today
It is therefore a misconception that managers or project managers should give fewer rules and instructions so that the team can and will become innovative. In order to enable innovation, the project manager has to set different / new rules so that the team changes from the “comfort zone” (old thinking patterns and actions) to a new state and can create something new.
You know Germans have more words to say something similar but different. There is always a “sound” connected to similar words. An “Einsatzmittel” as an earlier DIN term and a synonym for the current term “resources” for the project. Resources in project management are personnel and material resources that are needed to carry out processes, work packages and projects. Many people say that to describe personnel or project staff as “Einsatzmittel” or even resources is not adequate. As already noted in my article “Six Interdependencies” resources / resources are limited available for a project.
In the planning phase of the project, the resources are displayed on the timeline in which they are available to the project. The aim is to anchor the resources in the project as briefly, evenly and as little as possible. Because the use of resources causes costs and above all also as with “Six Interdependencies” noted deficits in the line organization or in other projects.
Qualification for personnel and specification for material resources are the decisive characteristics of resource characteristics in resource management and the determination of demand.
The relation to agility
In agile project management, resource planning is just as relevant as in classical project management. Even if, for example, SCRUM teams are usually available full-time for the entire sprint length, they still represent a critical factor, since their capacity is to be used just as “optimally” as in classic PM by selecting the relevant user stories. Even in agile projects, factual resources such as available mainframe time slots are regarded as critical resources with the same dedication.
Resources and their sound
The introduction of the term resources and resource management has met with much criticism in the German speaking project manager community in connection with sounding lack of appreciation of the employees in the project and its qualification. The qualification required for project employees is subject to constant change and is certainly viewed differently today than it was when DIN was amended in 2009. The orientation towards employees has also changed considerably since then. Nevertheless, it can be stated that if the term “resource” is seen in connection with “one time usage”, this is inhumane and in any case cannot be seen as good. It would be careless and degrading. On the positive side, since it is regarded as inevitably lost, the term “resources” on natural resources such as crude oil or nature as such has had a positive impact in recent years on the term resource in German language. This also gives rise to hopes that a pure view of resources as labour/worker will increasingly lose ground. For the awareness that it can represent lost lifetime for any human, as long as it sees no sense behind the given task. What makes sense for the individual person, but also for society as a whole, will become an essential factor in resource management in project management, because even today, personnel for many tasks can simply no longer be found on the “market”.
Team composition and understanding of roles are a success factor for successful project implementation. The Belbin model can be used to analyse and define an optimal mix of colleagues in the team with a wide variety of characteristics. My observation is that in international teams the mix is often easier to achieve due to the different cultural backgrounds. In teams without clear leadership authority it is even more elementary that the team members are deployed according to their strengths and the composition of the team is “optimal”.
The origins of intercultural effectiveness with regard to team composition are determined by the cultural dimensions (e.g. according to Hofstede) and thus the stronger or weaker character of the people involved.
What does Belbin say?
Meredith Belbin presents nine roles in 1981, which should be taken into account when putting together a team. These nine roles are divided into three groups.
Implementer = implements ideas and plans
Finisher = Ensures quality-conscious work and ensures that deadlines are met
Shaper = Encourages the team to improve. Eliminates problems.
Co-ordinator = Coordinates the team and promotes results orientation.
Teamworker = promotes team building
Resource Investigator = Promotes the exploitation of opportunities and forms a network in the project environment.
Plant = Shows ideas and possible solutions.
Monitor-Evaluator = Analyzes options for action for their feasibility.
Specialist = Brings in his expertise.
How does it work?
Team members and managers can identify the respective strengths and weaknesses in their own team by looking at the various roles and reflecting on them in order to use the potential of the individuals as well as the potential for the composition of teams. The team can be “balanced” through a mutual understanding and awareness of the characteristics. Surely the above mentioned roles will never be found in their pure form, because everyone assumes different roles depending on the project context or the project task, but nevertheless the understanding at least about the tendencies in the role characteristics for team cooperation helps.
– Bridge between old and new forms of project organization –
The central skill of our time: lateral leading, i.e. leading without authority to give instructions, will require more attention. While the classic project organizations are based on technical authority to issue directives or even disciplinary authority to issue directives, the lateral leadership and the (new) project organization, which has not yet been named, is based primarily on trust and understanding through the creation of a common thought construct in order to emotionally connect the possible divergent interests of the participants, at least for the duration of the project.
A former project of the author cannot be typified according to any of the classical forms of project organization such as pure (autonomous), matrix or staff organization. A mixed form of staff and matrix organisation is most likely to be identified, where clear delivery items are agreed, but only partially clearly assigned project members are integrated in the team. In principle, however, all project participants contribute their contribution to the delivery items, even those who do not report to them – not always in a technical sense.
Surely one could say that such a project should never be accepted as a project leader or will never be successful.
How can an emotional connection to the project be established here in such a non-binding project organisation?
Formal power relations are no guarantee for a stable emotional bond. Project team members must feel comfortable and supported in their project environment in order to feel committed. Every employee looks for fixed points of attachment that are decisive for the development of a sense of belonging. The good relationship with the project manager without authority to issue instructions, the friendly relationship with colleagues or the activity itself can be a fixed point of attachment for well-being and participation. Because those who see themselves as part of the project show more commitment and loyalty.
Team members are only strong if they have attractive and challenging project tasks. Furthermore, a sense of purpose and a comprehensible project goal are important for the project team member.
For project team members, motivation is determined by the fact that their opinion counts in the project and that they have the opportunity to help shape it. The mood and attitude of colleagues within a team can affect the motivation of the entire project team. Working together with motivated and committed colleagues is often stimulating and also creates a bond through integration into a community.
How do you take this lead when it matters?
The recognition received for the work performed has the greatest influence on the commitment of a project employee. Praise from the project manager creates satisfaction.
But the central skill of our time as a connecting element: lateral leading, i.e. leading without authority to instruct, will require more attention.
When and how do you let others guide you? Which rules apply in this interplay of forces? This can only be achieved through emotional bonding.
How do you exercise leadership in this scenario? How do you set goals correctly? How do you delegate tasks correctly? What motivates and what demotivates?
While the classical project organisations are based on technical authority or even disciplinary authority, the lateral leadership and the (new) project organisation not yet named with it is based mainly on trust and understanding through the creation of a common thought construct in order to connect the possible divergent interests of the participants at least for the duration of the project.
The power to issue disciplinary directives as a source of power no longer exists. Other sources of power such as expertise or information control are often tapped and internal power games are deliberately used. Here, however, it is necessary to find out whether this leads to success. Here the practical experiences from the author’s project can be reflected upon and lead to new insights into how emotional attachment can be achieved even beyond loose project organisation.
Lateral leadership in cross-departmental or cross-organisational situations always holds a certain potential for conflict. Conflicts of objectives and interests of the organizational units involved, but also different ways of thinking and behaving of the persons involved cannot be excluded. Here it is to be discussed whether more conflicts are to be determined than in a classical project organization.
On 27.09.2019 the third GPM Barcamp “Leading in the project” will take place in Fulda. This unconference has established itself, where each participant can actively suggest topics to benefit as much as possible from the ideas and knowledge of our participants, who have very different functions and come from very different companies.
What’s a barcamp?
Since many participants can come to a bar camp, large group methods can also be used for moderation. Usually the open space method is used. Participants advertise their own topics on the Barcamp and create one group each. In this group possible topics are prepared or knowledge and experiences are exchanged. The results will be reflected at the end of the Barcamp. The Open Space method can produce a large variety of concrete measures in one day. And spread a lot of knowledge and generate motivation.
On a barcamp, little is done with PowerPoint but much with pens, packing paper, adhesive tape and flipcharts. Also the collection and distribution of the results needs a good structure.
At each Barcamp we have held a vernissage at the end of the day, which presented the results briefly and concisely. This was done with the help of pin boards, where the audience passed by in small groups and had details explained to them.
Principles of the Barcamp
Whoever comes, these are the right people: Whether one or 20 people follow your invitation to a session/working group does not matter. Everyone is important and motivated.
Whatever happens, it is the only thing that could happen – the unplanned and unexpected is often creative and useful. Free yourself from expectations as to what should be.
It starts when the time is ripe – energy (not punctuality) is important.
Past is past: Sometimes a topic is quickly through. Don’t artificially prolong it just so that time goes by. Use the time to go to another group or do something else you enjoy.
And not over is not-over: Sometimes a topic only really gets going at the end. Find a free space and write down on the timetable where others can find you.
The two laws
“Freedom of choice and self-responsibility.”
The law of the two feet is an expression of freedom of choice and self-responsibility: the only binding point. You go to the sessions (topics) that interest you most – and you stay in a group only as long as you think it makes sense. So as long as you can learn or contribute. If you can’t learn or contribute anything, leave it. The application of the law is easy: you don’t have to justify or apologize.
“Of bumblebees and butterflies.”„
When people apply the law of two feet, they sometimes show behaviors that could be metaphorically expressed by the terms “bumblebee” and “butterfly”.
“Bumblebees” buzz from group to group and form a bridge between the themes through group changes. The “butterflies” flutter and pause after contributing to the small group. They follow what they feel like at the moment and are just there.
What will be worked out?
All topics which are of interest to you in the context of leadership in the project or which you can give active input on.
How do I register?
The Barcamp will be held in German language. Registration here. For GPM members 50€ and for non-members 100€. A free cancellation of participation is only possible until 13.09.2019.
I’m always asked how I organize myself with regard to my private and business tasks and how I manage my information. This article gives a brief overview of the tools and principles I use every day.
I manage my tasks depending on my project environment. If I am in a smaller team, I mainly work paper-based regarding my task management. The basic principle of this system is based on Stephen Covey’s weekly planning from [The 7 Ways to Effectiveness*]. I created the week plan in this file and I print a DIN A4 sheet landscape for each week of the year. I place the sheets in the lovingly configured Roterfaden-Taschenbegleiter. The principle behind the Covey template is first to note the important things / strategic goals and the associated tasks in the weekly plan (left column). Appointments and the derived tasks then turned into the daily planning. It is important to work with pencil, because rescheduling is often in demand.
While working in larger teams, I exclusively use an electronic task management system such as MS SharePoint (task lists with MS Office Integration) or Trello (Kanban Board), because task delegation and mutual transparency are very important there. I then manage my personal tasks in Todoist*. With this app my tasks on desktop, the tablet and the mobile phone are relatively easy to create (because that is the most important feature!). If you first have to open an app for a long time or something similar it takes too long and the thought is often already lost. At home I linked my Amazon Echo* with Todoist, both for the shopping list and especially for the to-do list.
I find the change (depending team size) every couple of months between paper-based and electronic systems beneficial, because it “cleanses” the process and promotes a renewed awareness of the principles. In general, my recommendation is to start with the paper-based system in any case, because the principles are easier to apply and graphically more conscious (because the overarching goals are noted directly next to the daily tasks).
I scan my paper documents, which are important/I need to keep, with my ScanSnap IX500* (very fast double-side multi-feed scanner) and with a press of a button I place the documents directly into Evernote* and also into Dropbox*. I don’t just trust the proprietary Evernote system (who knows if this provider will still exist in 20 years), but I also automatically save the files locally and in the cloud. The advantage with the ScanSnap Scanner is that the documents are also scanned directly via OCR and therefore the saved documents can be searched directly via full text search. When I am on the road, I scan the documents on my mobile phone with the app Scanbot (also with OCR-function also for multi-page documents) and save them in both places. Application for mobile scanning are mostly warranty receipts when shopping or receipts for travel expense accounting. I put the important paper documents classically in folders, because I don’t know if I can still use Evernote, PC or something similar in my old age. All not important but already scanned paper documents go directly into the trash.
For people who don’t want double coverage, I recommend the purchase of a Bates Numbering*. Apply the consecutive number with the stamp to each document before scanning, then filing by number and not by subject area in folders. Then it is ensured that as few physical folders as possible are needed and that the document will probably be found faster (via the consecutive number) compared to my structured filing. As I said, in this case you always have to search for the document first on your PC or in Evernote and then for the paper document using the number. Since I’m not sure if I can always ensure that, I have a structured paper file as a backup, which is admittedly more time-consuming.
I also save important internet pages in Evernote. Then I can always access them with a full text search. Alternatively I use the app Pocket, if I just want to save the pages for a short time, in order to read them later once.
To sort my thoughts, also for such blog articles I use SimpleMind Pro on the desktop and on mobile phone and tablet. It’s nice that you can synchronize all mind maps to e.g. dropbox. What I especially like about SimpleMind is the completely free positioning of the “branches” of the mind maps. This is not always so easy with other mapping programs. In addition, the price for the apps is acceptable.
An interesting combination of possible task management tool and thought structuring tool is workflowy.com* for all “who think in lists”. Here you can record meeting minutes, ideas, tasks and everything else (also divisible in the team). In my opinion the ideal tool for the list thinkers mentioned. A mobile app is also available.
Meetings And Workshops
Timing in meetings and workshops: Here I use a real TimeTimer* or the original app.
To look up sketch notes I also use the app “Visual Helferein” and “Iconfinder” in workshops.
So much for the approaches and tools I use. Probably I didn’t think of everything. Have I not covered a task? Then comment below and I’ll be happy to complete the article.
The links marked with an asterisk (*) are so-called affiliate links. If you click on such an affiliate link and buy through this link, I get a commission from the relevant online shop or provider. The price does not change for you.
Despite all standardization, special consideration – especially in international project portfolios – must be given to cultural differences among the project participants. The differences should at least be “intercepted”, if not used to advantage. The focus of a project portfolio manager’s work in an international project environment is shifting somewhat away from classic portfolio management tasks such as standardization towards cultural moderation and catalysis. Catalysis in the sense of cleansing intercultural differences and at the same time accelerating intercultural learning.
If there are problems with cooperation in international projects, these usually emerge more strongly than in national projects. Nevertheless, a well-managed international project is praised with more success than a purely national project. With the involvement of a “cultural agent”, these positive synergy effects can be leveraged.
However, not every problem of international projects has cultural origins.
But there are also intercultural problems that are not seen as such.
Cultural differences in international project portfolios
This article is an excerpt of my project study work 10 years ago in the context of the certification as Senior Project Manager (GPM).
Already in 2002, the GPM’s “International Project Work” Section conducted a survey of internationally experienced German project managers and identified the following important problem areas [Hoffmann, H.-E. et al., International Project Management, Munich 2004, pp. 13-14]:
Communication / Language
Legal and political aspects
Technology / Infrastructure
The greatest importance was attached to the cultural differences.
Differentiation of international differences
This paper does not deal with differences in laws, norms, guidelines or standards of the project business. Although these may also be influenced by the cultural conditions in different countries. Here only the differences or effects of culture on the project are to be considered. Culture is defined as “the change of nature through human actions and expressions and, based on this, the totality of life and work forms of a human group (people, class, religious community, etc.)”. [Wissen Media Verlag, https://www.wissen.de/lexikon/kultur-allgemein]
The concept of culture
Keller defines culture on the basis of various characteristics [Keller v., E.: Management in foreign cultures: goals, results and methodological problems of culture-comparative management research, Stuttgart, 1982, p. 114ff]:
Culture is man-made. It is a product of collective social action and individual thinking.
Culture is supraindividual and a social phenomenon that outlasts the individual.
Culture is learned and transmitted through symbols.
Culture controls behaviour through norms, rules and codes of conduct.
Culture strives for inner consistency and integration.
Culture is an instrument for adaptation to the environment.
Culture is adaptively adaptable in the long term.
Hofstede presents culture as a group-specific, collective phenomenon of shared values. [Hofstede, G./Bond, M. H.: The Confucius connection: from cultural roots to econonmic growth, in: Organizational Dynamics, Spring 1988, S. 21]
The cultural programming of a project employee / cultural layers
How does culture influence people, and why can Hofstede speak of a “collective programming of the mind”? A person is always born into a culture and absorbs it directly. Cultivation”, i.e. cultural programming, takes place as early as the baby age – at the age of 7, most of the culture is already internalized. [Dahl, Stephan (2000) “Introduction to Intercultural Communication”, from the book by Stephan Dahl: „Intercultural Skills for Business“, ECE, London, 2000]
People are suited to different cultural strata in different stages of life depending on their social environment: [Hoffmann, H.-E. et al., International Project Management, Munich 2004, p. 17]
The innermost and thus first layer originates from childhood and is characterized by
the social class,
the ethnic group,
the religious faith or also
where they grow up.
The second layer is made up of vocational training. It often turns out that people from the same occupational group but with different cultural backgrounds understand each other better than people from the same country but from different occupational groups.
The third and last layer is made up of company-specific norms and behaviours. This is the so-called layer of corporate culture.
Since the majority of people often only move within one cultural group – and a confrontation with another culture takes place only superficially, if at all – “cultural programming” is rarely conscious either. International project management is a pioneer of change here. According to my own experience, only after typical project durations of more than 9 months do questions comparing cultures become more strongly discussed. After about 3 months in the course of the project, the respective advantages of the different cultures involved are adapted. After about 6 months, the first “frustrations” appear in the cultural field. After 9 months the cultural aspects are considered more strongly and also really considered. This means that for project durations of less than 9 months, a mature understanding of culture cannot be expected among those involved in the project. The project team member/leader continues to behave according to his cultural background and interprets all incidents according to his cultural programming. Thus, the behaviour of foreign project staff is often dismissed as “funny”, as it cannot be explained by their own cultural programming. An open discussion with another culture is therefore subliminally problematic because it can shake one’s own value system and challenge the questioning of basic values. It therefore seems at least understandable that many project participants avoid this confrontation to its full extent and withdraw into the familiarity of their own culture. This confrontation is unavoidable for project leaders who live in another country for a longer period of time. It takes about 12 months just to master the obvious rituals and behaviour under the assumption that the local language is spoken fluently. [Dahl, Stephan (2000) “Introduction to Intercultural Communication”, from the book by Stephan Dahl: “Intercultural Skills for Business”, ECE, London, 2000]
Another approach without exact origin provides for the following “culture shock phases”:
Phase 1 refers to euphoria, travel preparation, travel fever and curiosity about the other country. It usually doesn’t last long.
Phase 2 is the time of cultural shock when everyday life begins in the new environment.
Phase 3 is called acculturation, i.e. cultural adaptation, when one learns to live under new conditions, when one already knows some of the foreign values and integrates them into one’s own behaviour.
Phase 4 is then the mental stability finally gained, which can take on 3 different forms. Either
Strangers continue to feel strange
or in the new environment just as well as at home, so can live in both cultures
or more comfortable in a strange place.
The length of the phases is variable and depends on the duration of the stay in the foreign country.
Conversely, foreigners are also experienced by insiders (locals) in 4 phases:
Curiosity means positive interest in strangers.
Ethnocentrism means that insiders judge guests/newcomers/foreigners according to their own standards. One’s own little world is seen as the centre and pivot of the world. Ethnocentrism is related to a culture the same as egocentrism is related to the person.
Polycentrism means that different people have to be measured with different standards, as well as the ability to understand strangers on the background of their own norms. A moderate form of multiculturalism.
Xenophilia means that in a foreign culture everything is seen as better than at home.
The cultural programming of a culture
A culture is a group of people who all have the same or at least very similar cultural programming. This means that they almost all behave according to the norms and values of the culture, and measure the behavior of other people against these norms and values. Of course, this does not mean that all persons within a culture are totally identical – they behave only relatively similarly compared to behaviour in another culture, not necessarily compared to their own culture.
Models of cultural contexts
Various models have been developed in the search for explanatory patterns that help to understand the logical connections between norms and rules of a culture. “A model is a simplification of reality. A model can never be complete because it is always a simplification and cannot reflect all aspects of reality. For this reason, there are also different models for intercultural cooperation, each of which represents different aspects. For a project situation it is therefore helpful to be able to compare several models. [Hoffmann, H.-E. et al., International Project Management, Munich 2004, p. 32]
Cultural levels according to Edgar Schein
Schein distinguishes three cultural levels [Hoffmann, H.-E. et al., International Project Management, Munich 2004, p. 22]:
The first level contains the directly perceptible characteristics such as clothing, food, music or manners. Although these are visible, they require interpretation.
The second level consists of values and norms that provide guidelines for behaviour in a culture. These are also persons of the respective culture also only partly conscious. Cultural members often assume that these guidelines must also be identical in other cultures.
The third level contains beliefs that are so self-evident that they are ignored.
The cultural dimension “context reference” by Edward Hall
Hall compares cultures with regard to the strength of their contextual reference [Hoffmann, H.-E. et al., International Project Management, Munich 2004, p. 25]. Under context a situation or message can be understood anything that could be related to it (e.g. tone of voice and experienced or inexperienced colleague) [http://changingminds.org/explanations/culture/hall_culture.htm]. The degree of influence of the context on a situation is cultural and therefore interesting for Hall to define. A culture with a high contextual reference is a culture in which the context enjoys a high degree of attention [Hoffmann, H.-E. et al., Internationales Projektmanagement, München 2004, p. 25].
“Gifts are a sign of appreciation and are expected in cultures with a strong contextual reference to business initiation.” [Hoffmann, H.-E. et al., International Project Management, Munich 2004, p. 65]
Cultural dimensions according to Hofstede
In order to capture culture, a wide variety of approaches were shaped and studies carried out. One of the most important and yet trend-setting studies, which has come into its own in the meantime, records the following four most important dimensions (see table at the end of the article): Hofstede study. The higher the value, the more pronounced the index.): [Hofstede, G.: Intercultural co-operation in organisations, in: Management Decisions, 5-6/1982, p. 53ff; Index and classification: http://www.clearlycultural.com/geert-hofstede-cultural-dimensions/ ; Hoffmann, H.-E. et al., Internationales Projektmanagement, München 2004, p. 26ff]:
Power distance: The power distance expresses how high the acceptance is to accept power differences.
Individualism versus collectivism: Here it is described whether the individuals see themselves as individuals and independent or as members of a group/culture.
Masculinity versus Femininity: Masculinity in a culture is recognized as performance-related or success-related and self-confident. A feminine culture, on the other hand, pays great attention to interpersonal relationships and cooperation.
Uncertainty avoidance: Threat from uncertain or unknown situations and their avoidance.
The other dimensions are descriptive or approach supporting dimensions, which were added in 1987:
Time concepts: Here it is defined how strongly a culture is oriented towards the present, the past or the future.
Conceptions of space: Here it is recorded how socially distanced or introverted members of a culture behave.
Contextuality: There is a direct or indirect communication. This means how much context or non-verbal communication is anchored in the culture.
Cognitive processes: How are the thought patterns, the way of thinking, judging and conclusions pronounced in a community. E.g. Analytical, rational versus synthetic, intuitive.
Religious Concepts: Depending on their religious beliefs, the respective cultural members tend to regard their fate as self-controlled or under foreign control.
Effects of cultures on the project business: In the following, the first four cultural dimensions will be used to record the differences in the international project business.
If employees from different cultures are deployed in a project and thus follow different power distances, different aspects have to be considered. My Indian colleagues have a higher power distance than my Scandinavian or German colleagues. This means that an Indian colleague expects more individual instructions and wants to make fewer decisions without consulting his project manager in order to be in his comfort zone. This should be applied up to operational guidelines with which a Mexican colleague as well as the Indian colleague feels “more comfortable” with very detailed guidelines, e.g. when preparing a status report. In comparison, induction training should be more detailed and systematic – based on the same project experience. An Indian colleague feels misplaced in a strongly cooperative project structure and expects clear structures and thus stability in his cultural structures.
Individualism versus collectivism
This dimension deals with the setting of priorities within society on the individual or on the group. In an individualistically pronounced society, the individual is at the forefront. In projects with employees from different cultures who represent different individualism indices (degrees of individuality), measures should be taken to support team building. Cultures such as the USA are considered very individualistic, which means that project staff from this country should be absorbed particularly intensively in the team spirit. Asian employees need intensive feedback continuously during the course of the project. They are dependent on feedback from many colleagues. They will actively demand feedback from all sides. It is advisable to include a feedback round in weekly or 2-weekly meetings / telephone calls that are already planned. North American projects required more portfolio-driven coordination rounds than, for example, Asian projects. The approach and coordination in Asian projects is more culturally rooted.
Masculinity versus Femininity
The Hofstede study found that the differences between women and men in this dimension were less pronounced. The cultural differences among men are more pronounced towards the poles versus . In my Scandinavian colleagues, the focus on interpersonal relationships and quality of life was very clear. Pressure to perform is not conducive in such environments, even rather harmful. The target values of a project are usually defined differently there than in comparison to projects initiated in German-speaking countries. This could be particularly clearly determined with the sensitive topic location dissolutions. Topics which were especially discussed differed between the sites in Sweden and Switzerland. In Switzerland, the focus was on the effectiveness of the closure (short project duration) compared to Sweden, where particular emphasis was placed on employee-oriented scheduling.
Uncertainty avoidance can be defined as the degree to which the members of a culture feel threatened by uncertain or unknown situations. The differences can be seen in dealing with these threats. Societies with a strong tendency to avoid uncertainty seek to influence uncertainty through rules, laws, codes of conduct and security measures. Accordingly, particular emphasis should be placed on risk identification in countries with low uncertainty avoidance. In “emerging countries” such as Singapore, Hong Kong and Indonesia, the project environment should place emphasis on detailed risk identification. Project managers from these countries tend to overlook or ignore project risks. Project managers in countries with a high degree of uncertainty avoidance, such as Portugal, quickly identify risks on their own, but are more likely to have problems working out risk avoidance. This means that these project managers tend to bring the same risks to the table without taking the necessary measures. These are more “blocked” by the identified risks compared to other cultural circles.
Essentially, two concepts of time were identified in Hofstede’s study. The linear and the cyclical conception of time. In simple terms, cultures in industrial societies are more subject to a linear concept of time than cultures, e.g. in Asia. The linear approach represents the idea that what was in the past is over forever. In contrast, the cyclical time approach is based on the assumption that there is a constant change between day and night, moons, seasons and meal cycles. This approach is based on the assumption that a current performance weakness can be compensated in the future. These different approaches were actually identified in my portfolio. The degree to which objectives have been achieved and, above all, forecasts are strongly influenced by the cultural perception of time in the project manager’s home country. My Asian project managers are strongly guided by the approach that the current performance weakness of the project can be compensated in the near future. Generally speaking, project progress reports are more optimistic in cultures with a cyclical view of time than in cultures with a linear understanding of time such as the USA and Central Europe.
Another difference in the field of time perception can be observed in sequential or synchronous thinking. This means that in sequential thinking the idea prevails that things should be done one after the other. In contrast to the synchronous concept of time, which is based on the assumption that several things can be done simultaneously. In my portfolio, I was able to recognize this tendency not culturally, but person-specifically. This means that I could derive the differences in phase models, for example, less from their origin than from the personality of the project manager.
The German culture says: Everyone can use his time most efficiently if he has to wait for others as little as possible. The Spanish coinage leads: Everyone can make the most efficient use of their time when the issues at hand are closed in a meeting and no further discussion is necessary. In Spain, the one who breaks off a meeting to keep the next appointment is considered rude. [Hoffmann, H.-E. et al., International Project Management, Munich 2004, p. 20]
The distinction here is made whether in the cultural sphere much context prevails in the spoken (e.g. non-verbal communication; “reading between the lines”) or whether more direct, explicit communication prevails. My European project managers are much more direct / “blunt” in their communication than colleagues from Asia.
Essentially, a distinction can be made here between western and eastern thinking styles. In the West the analytical style prevails and in the East (very pronounced in Asia) the synthetic style. In the West, the problem is broken down, in the East the problem is captured holistically and interlinkingly. Rational and systematic thinking style in the West in comparison to the intuitive and holistic thinking pattern in the East.
Cognitive orientation can also be found in the diversity of problem-solving styles. One of my Indian colleagues is strongly influenced by the “encircling thought”, which means that the problem is surrounded and encircled holistically. Progress is slower, but ultimately more complete and conclusive. In contrast, a German project manager breaks down the problem into its individual elements more strongly and solves subproblems for subproblems. Individual progress can be recognized more quickly, but may require subsequent holistic correction.
Depending on religious beliefs, different cultures tend to see their fate as foreign or self-directed or controlled. I could not confirm the effects on religious beliefs in my portfolio, since cultural circles with a typically foreign-controlled background nevertheless produce project managers with a strong self-drive. It seems that changes have taken place since the study was conducted or that I have identified exceptional cases.
The cultural dimensions of Fons Trompenaars
Another cultural model was developed by Fins Tromenaars and Charles Hamptopn-Turner with the following seven dimensions: [Hoffmann, H.-E. et al., International Project Management, Munich 2004, p. 29ff]
Universalism / Particularism: In universal cultures (e.g. Anglo-Saxon and German-speaking countries, Holland and Scandinavia) all people are treated according to the same rules and laws. In particularist cultures, on the other hand, rules and laws are respected by one person, unless an important person would be disadvantaged. The same applies to concluded contracts: [ Hoffmann, H.-E. et al., International Project Management, Munich 2004, p. 67]. In particularist cultures, exceptions to contracts are made on a case-by-case basis. Universalistic cultures do not allow this.
Individualism and collectivism: Identical with Dimension von Hofstede.
Emphasis on emotions: This is a comparative measurement of how feelings such as joy, sadness or commitment are shown. Project team members from the Middle East raise their voices to emphasize your emphasis. Asian project workers are associated with a loud voice, anger and lack of control.
Specific / diffuse cultures: Specific cultures (e.g. Anglo-Saxon countries, Scandinavia and Holland) clearly define roles and assign concrete situations or localities to them. In such cultures, the role of the superior is not necessarily transferred to another (e.g. private) environment. In diffuse cultures (e.g. Arab countries and Africa), assuming a role means that it also applies to a change of environment.
Performance versus origin: In performance-oriented cultures (e.g. Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian countries), superiors are respected who perform their tasks competently and demonstrate adequate professional competence. In cultures based on origin (e.g. China and Malaysia), on the other hand, the project manager receives his status through his title, age or family affiliation.
The relationship to time: In polychronic cultures (e.g. Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, France), time is an unlimited, simultaneous commodity that can stretch. One plans, but can easily adapt the plans. Several things are done simultaneously. For this reason, one can observe a French project team member approaching a meeting and important telephone calls in parallel. In monchronic cultures (Saxon, northern and central European countries), on the other hand, time is considered a limited commodity that must be carefully planned and adhered to. Work is more sequential, i.e. linear.
Relationship to nature: Indoor controlled cultures (e.g. Anglo-Saxon countries, Northern Europe) want to keep their environment and environment under control. This is closely linked to the belief that one can influence one’s destiny through action. Externally controlled cultures (e.g. Arab, African and Asian countries) shape people in such a way that they see themselves as part of nature and should therefore adapt it to their environment.
Non-verbal communication and body language is not a direct cultural dimension, but a collection of behaviours. A direct connection with a cultural dimension as described above does not seem to exist, at least not directly. Basically one can assume, however, that in Asia in particular body language is rather subdued, whereas in Southern Europe body language is used more. It is therefore advisable to familiarise oneself with the most common symbols before interaction.
Avoidance of intercultural misunderstandings
Intercultural competence is defined as the ability to move successfully in cultural areas other than one’s own. The acting persons should be able to understand the ideas, motives and problems of interlocutors from other cultural areas and to react appropriately. However, since there are still no clear findings in science about the key factors for human adaptation to foreign cultures, there is also no clear understanding of what intercultural competence ultimately consists of.
If a project manager or project member perceives a violation of rules by a person of another culture, his conclusion should not be “he violates the rules”, but “he violates our rules”. [Hoffmann, H.-E. et al., International Project Management, Munich 2004, pp. 18-19]
“So it’s important to understand the behavior of others in the rules of your culture.” [Hoffmann, H.-E. et al., International Project Management, Munich 2004, p. 19]
Cultural misunderstandings can also be reduced by applying universal communication rules:
Meta-communication: Meta-communication is communication via communication. It is about communicating the meaning and intention of what is said by talking about the rules and patterns according to which communication takes place.
“My intention is to … experience …”
“How would you proceed in your culture if you had that intention?”
Active listening: Active listening means picking up the others in their emotional world. Active listening includes the following techniques:
Repeating the heard facts – the listener reproduces what the speaker says in his own words. “You mean that…”
Speaking to feelings – The listener tries to express in words what feelings and sensations he has perceived in the speaker.
“I have the impression you enjoy it.”
Inquiry – Inquiry offers the opportunity to present the problem situation even more clearly and to understand it better. “What do you mean by…?
Promoting qualities for learning intercultural competence:
Ambiguity tolerance the ability to cope with unstructured and contradictory situations
Empathic ability to read out the empathy, concerns and interests of others from vague hints, gestures or other signals.
Tolerance of frustration to deal adequately with errors, misunderstandings and failures.
Conflict ability and conflict tolerance
Readiness to learn with curiosity
Strong individual-cultural identity awareness of one’s own cultural imprint as a prerequisite for dealing with people from other countries/cultures
Distances ability to view oneself from a certain distance
Humor, the ability to laugh at oneself.
Prejudices and stereotypes
“A collection of information on what behaviours and norms typically prevail in a culture is called a stereotype. [Hoffmann, H.-E. et al., International Project Management, Munich 2004, p. 19] Stereotypes help people to interpret the behaviour of people from another culture.
This in turn allows the classification of further information.
The prejudice arises when the embossed stereotype is no longer changed by new information.
Nobody meets the standards in all points, some even deviate strongly from each other [Hoffmann, H.-E. et al., International Project Management, Munich 2004, p. 21]:
Moreover, some countries are in such a state of flux that there are clear cultural differences between parts of the younger and older generations, such as the former communist states. [Hoffmann, H.-E. et al., International Project Management, Munich 2004, p. 33]
United Arab Emirates
The higher the value, the more pronounced the index.