It is a very special thrill to manage complex global initiatives and projects. Doing so gives you a sense of excitement, novelty, pride and accomplishment. It raises your awareness of all of those important global differences: time zones, stakeholders’ availability and engagement, local hierarchies, speed of execution, communications styles and about 100 other things you pick up as you go along.
Global project management is a skillset that is becoming increasingly relevant for those of us who, up to now, have relied on single-culture communication skills and traditional Project Management methodology. And it’s not something you can master overnight. Understanding how to effectively manage virtual teams is about a third of your battle. As I’ve said in the past, the best virtual Project Managers assemble teams comprised of people with the three A’s – assertiveness, accountability, and the ability to work independently.
So you want to be a Global Project Manager?
You’ve experienced every aspect of the project manager life, managing projects, aligning team goals, setting new benchmarks of success. Every aspect except one: corporations are going global, and you want to be a part of that expansion. But it’s not as easy as getting a passport, jumping on a plane, and saying, “Let’s go!” You’ll need to prepare before throwing yourself into the global game. Before you become a global project manager, we have a few bits of advice.
Managing teams virtually is a whole different ball game. You might be great at baseball, but that does not mean you are prepared for cricket. The two games have different rules, different equipment, and different challenges. Walk in knowing that managing a diverse and distributed team is going to be different, and you will need to relearn a few things.
Educate yourself on the differences between virtual teams and co-located teams. Other global managers have already paved the way and passed along some of their best tips, so read up. Read this
Miscommunication is bound to happen.You can’t walk across the office and make sure your message was understood; you can’t force someone to read your email; you might be working with someone who doesn’t speak your language fluently. Even in a co-located team, people miscommunicate. When you are working with someone on the other side of the globe, the chance of misinterpreting a message increases exponentially. Read This
Virtual meetings aren’t easy. Managing a meeting online is far more difficult than managing its tamer cousin, the boardroom meeting. People have internet connection problems, they can’t access your meeting software, they cut out when talking, or they accidentally forget to mute their speaker while they’re munching on chips. Running virtual meetings requires patience and preparation. Read this
Cultural barriers will trip you up. Fact: People from different areas of the world learn and work differently. You might be used to a very detail-oriented and pre-planned style, but the people on your team could prefer a more decide-as-you-go workflow. Working together might be incredibly difficult at first. Prepare to bump heads with team members, but take the opportunity to adapt and grow as a manager and leader. Read this
Global Project Managers are crystal clear about expectations, defining roles, responsibilities, team rules, and protocols upfront. These project managers ensure that a clear line of two-way communication is maintained at all times, especially as it pertains to issues that are time-sensitive or require escalation. They make use of the best collaboration technology to remove assumptions and guesswork and allow real-time conversations and feedback. In addition to virtual PM management prowess, however, today’s PM leaders must comprehend cultural challenges associated with global teamwork. When team members don’t speak your language fluently, or it’s not native to them, it’s easy to misunderstand emails, instant messages, or texts. Yet you don’t have an in-person relationship to fall back on when a communication snafu does occur. Team members may also work differently depending on their culture of origin. For instance, in some Asian cultures, employees won’t openly question authority. In Germany, punctuality is prized, but in Brazil, not so much. Australia and New Zealand are known as low context cultures, meaning that less explanation is required before team members embark on a task. It’s important to ask around and learn about these differences, and to have patience with any initial disconnects that may result. Global projects also come with operational, logistical, and legal concerns. In the financial realm specifically, your reporting, compliance, and tax requirements will vary by country, and you should account for these in your implementation plans.