Cross-cultural Management in Multinational Project Groups

Sylvie Chevrier, Journal of World Business, n°140, 2003 : 1-9.

Multinational project groups are flourishing in various business environments. Daily, members of such project groups expend their energy in obtaining the expected results in terms of costs, technical quality and deadlines. Research on project management, for the most part, focus on tools (planning, cost and risk analysis, etc.) or organizational designs (forms of partnership) which can significantly enhance their performance. This paper aims at better understanding the dynamics of cross-cultural project groups by grasping the strategies project leaders set up to cope with cultures. How do international project managers deal with cultural diversity on a daily basis? To provide tentative answers to this question, we conducted a comparative study of three European project groups working in the telecommunication industry or electrical engineering. Field work consisted of 77 interviews with project members and attendance to meetings as a participant-observer. The study evidences three different cross-cultural strategies: (1) to count on individual tolerance and self-control, (2) to enter into a trial-and-error process coupled with personal relationship development and (3) to rely on transnational cultures such as corporate or professional cultures. Beside these descriptive findings, we suggest an alternative strategy to enhance the functioning of such projects. It consists in joint and patient construction of cross-cultural patterns fostered by a structured examination of the cultural contexts of interpretation of project members. Each strategy is depicted as well as its limits. We conclude on the necessarily culture bound approaches of cross-cultural management in international project groups.

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