Although running a successful international project is similar in many respects to running successful projects elsewhere, it does come with its own unique quirks and challenges.
Fortunately, if you are going to take charge of an international project, you do not need to go in unarmed and rely solely on your ability to pick up the necessary skills while on job.
Here are three secrets to running a successful international project:
Hold People Accountable to the Plan
If your team members fail to live up to the demands of the project because they did not understand what was expected of them, then that failing is your fault. However, if you’ve taken the time to explain matters thoroughly and provided them with all necessary materials, then the fault is their own and it is up to you to hold them accountable. Unfortunately, holding the members of your team can be difficult when they are situated around the planet, although it is not an insurmountable obstacle.
First, if you have no direct authority over the team member in question, find their direct superior, inform that superior of the team member’s role in your project, and use that superior’s influence to exert pressure. However, that is a bit drastic as a first step, which is why you should first take preventive measures. Clear and documented communication that can be referenced should help make their responsibilities clear, while taking the time to follow-up on those communications will help keep them on track to discharging those responsibilities. Similarly, you can also use follow-ups to monitor the enthusiasm of your team members and shore it up if that becomes a problem. Methods can include appealing to their sense of camaraderie with other project members or even simply instilling a sense of urgency to their responsibilities.
Maintain Two-way Communication
Keeping in touch with the members of your team and letting them contact you is even more important for international projects than other projects in general. You’ll find maintaining your grip on the progress of the project harder if your people are scattered across the world, which is why you should take steps to encourage them to report in regularly. Similarly, you should make yourself available to your team in case anyone needs clarification, since you are the person responsible for coordinating things from the center and thus the one with the best grasp on the overall picture. Maintaining two-way communication will give you the best possible image of the details on the ground while remaining distant enough to focus on the direction of the overall project.
Get the Point Across in Cross-cultural Communication
If you are going to take charge of a multicultural team that brings together personnel coming from a number of different countries, you’ll need to be aware of the problems that can rear up during cross-cultural communication. Effective communication depends on you and your team being able to understand what is being said without meaning being lost during the process, but that can be difficult when you share little to no unspoken assumptions. You’ll get the best results if you have the time to read primers on the cultures of the people with whom you are expected to communicate, but that is a luxury you may not have.
In lieu of genuine understanding, try being specific when you are communicating. Avoid using slang, metaphor, and any rhetorical devices that might be taken literally. Instead, be clear, be simple, and be straightforward in your communication. Although it is possible that you’ll give a negative impression, most people will forgive you these small trespasses so long as you remain polite, respectful, and manage to get your concerns about potential miscommunication across.