Following up on the blog Culture at Work: a Collabyrinth, I’ve started a series of five mini-blogs in which I reveal five pieces of advice that emerged from my Ph.D. study (Smits 2013). The five P’s, as I like to abbreviate them, capture my key recommendations for working in a cross-cultural environment. I want to stress that this list is not exhaustive, nor does it give tools; it rather offers advice supporting cross-cultural work in project management.
Today, I’d like to start with the first P: Partners. In sum, it’s about making sure you get to know the company, it’s culture and members before you start a collaborative relationship.
The journey towards a collaborative relationship that is successful for all project participants, starts early in the process of collaboration. Even before organizations decide to form a legal bond of collaboration, like a consortium or a joint venture, they should unravel their idiosyncratic traits (make sure you know who you are!) and learn about those of their possible partners (get to know the other!). What are important values in your organization, and what is important to the organization you would like to collaborate with? Are these values similar? Or, if they are different, how can these affect everyday work? On the work floor, in a meeting for example, how does your organization deal with time and tasks? Is this aligned to how your potential partner manages these aspects?
I recommend starting with a culture scan. Ask an expert to make a scan of the organizations’ cultures, values, work practices as well as ideas and expectations for the project. Do this for both your organization and for the one you plan to work together with on a long-term basis.
A culture scan provides clear insight into whether or not your organizations are aligned to build a collaborative relationship. A deeper insight into the organizations and its characteristics provides the project partners with information on the differences and commonalties amongst them and involves a conversation about these topics. In the dialogue about starting the journey together, one decides upon the issues that are of great value for future collaboration and, together, organizations can decide whether to continue or withdraw from a collaborative relationship. When organizations are positive about working together, they are urged to consider how they will deal with the differences and similarities between them in the near future. Imagining a common future together depends on the discovery of common practices and shared interests, although these might be re-adjusted and re-interpreted.
Hence, the journey towards a collaborative relationship can only begin when project partners have explored their backgrounds, cultures and traditions, and have discussed and agreed upon how these habits and experiences will be translated into concrete practices. Identifying and analyzing problematic matters at an early stage, reduces the risk of these issues sliding and escalating in the further process of collaboration. Furthermore, a continuous reflection on how these agreements come about on the work floor will advance a collaborative relationship. During the journey of collaboration and executing of the project, partners need to continually nurture the collaborative process.
Wishing you a wonderful journey,
Smits, K. (2013). Cross Culture Work: Practices of Collaboration in the Panama Canal Expansion Program. Delft, Next Generation Infrastructures Foundation.