International project teams has been argued to be a key factor in the success of most international organizations(Heimer, 1994). Many factors have been attributed to this and they include; Rich cultural diversity leading to different ideas been generated by the respective team members thus bringing together knowledge and skills from the different countries that make up the team. In this paper, we will attempt to define an international project team, the advantages and limitations of such a team, conflicts that may arise, and finally we will propose the main lessons derived from working in an international team using a case study.
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Definition: Makilouko(2003) suggested that for a team to be called an international project team, it must fulfil either of three main conditions which are; its members must have different backgrounds working in the same country, or its members may work in different countries but meet on a face-to-face basis, or its members may be based in many countries but coordinate their meetings through electronic media. Heimer(1998) proposed that the difference between an international project team and other teams is as a result of the cultural differences present in such a team. These cultural differences result in differences in the process of communication, leadership and the way the team members work together(Snow et al, 1996)
Group 4 is an ideal multicultural team made up of four team members from four different countries i.e. Nigeria, Malaysia, China, and Thailand, who are managing presentation projects in the same country.
CHOICE OF LEADERSHIP
The role of a leader in an international project team involves managing not only the hard aspects of the project i.e. technical details, but also the soft aspects of the project i.e. the human resources aspects. The management of these two objectives interchanges throughout the project lifecycle(Snell et al,1993). In an international project team, no one individual may possess all the necessary attributes needed to lead the team, hence the concept of collective leadership has been proposed by Freidrich et al(2009). Collective leadership process means that each member of the team showcases their skills and expertise at different aspects of the project lifecycle. This concept was corroborated by Hanschild and Kirchmann(2001) who alluded to the benefits of collective leadership.
The Group 4 team adopted the principle of collective leadership in the management of the assigned projects. One member of the team volunteered to be the administrator in charge of organizing team meetings while the other members led the team in project areas they where good at. A member of the team led in information technology aspects, another member led in presentation slide design, while a third member was in charge of proof-reading the final slides for errors. This process of collective leadership ensured the collective participation of all project team members in leading the team and reduced the friction involved in choosing a particular person as a group leader.
Iles and hayes(1997) suggested that unlike other teams, international project teams require greater team building processes as a result of the cultural diversity present. These difference in culture can lead to the success or failure of the project if not well managed. Dreachshin et al(2000) proposed that two major aspects of the team process that is affected by cultural diversity are communication and conflict management.
Maznevski(1994) report that effective communication is the key to ensuring that a culturally diverse team is well integrated. Iles and Hayers(1997) also suggested that for cohesion to occur in an international project team, the individuals who make up the team must develop strategies to communicate across their differences. Heimer and Vince(1998) also agreed with this notion by proposing that multi-cultural teams that ensure that non-native speakers of the teams language can contribute are more effective on the long term even though initially they may work slower.
At the preparation stage of the different presentations, we where able to address the challenges of communication by developing a communication strategy with the contribution of all team members. The strategy addressed the questions of When, What, and How do we communicate?. The basis of the strategy involved the use of multiple modes of communication in order to ensure understanding from non-native speakers of English. In order to do this, we deployed the use of information technology e.g. regular emails that provide a summary of the minutes of the meetings, and also utilized language translation websites like Google Translate® for language translations. We also ensured that during meetings, we generate feedback from non-native English speakers in order to confirm that the points discussed have been understood.
Bercovitch(1983) proposed that conflicts in multicultural teams tends to occur when 2 or more parties have personal objectives that are not compatible with each other hence leading to them behaving differently. This view alluded to that proposed by Thomas(1976) which suggests that conflicts are inherent in every team process. Thomas(1976) also proposed that conflicts within teams are inherently bad and should be avoided at all costs. Jehn(1994) disagreed with Thomas(1976) negative perception of conflicts and proposed that conflicts that occur as a result of cultural differences in the way a task should be managed actually do lead to an improvement in team performance. The main reason why conflicts tend to occur in international project teams has been proposedto be as a result of mistrust and miscommunication among the team members(Trandis et al, 1965)
In Group 4, the process of decision making was a participatory style in which every project team member is given equal time slots during meetings to make his/her proposal to the project plan. This style helped to address conflict that may arise from depending on a single or few dominant team members. The disadvantage of having the participatory style is because it gave rise to another conflict in choosing the particular member’s opinion that should be adopted by the Group. The way this was managed is by adopting a collaborative conflict management style as proposed by Thomas(1976). The aim of using this technique is to be able to merge aspects of all the different opinions and perspectives of the different team members into a single project plan.
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STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES OF GROUP 4
The key strength of the Group 4 team rests on the cultural diversity of its members. This diversity led to a large amount of different ideas been generated on how different tasks should be managed, the varied nature of the ideas occurred as a result of the unique cultural experiences of the individual members of the team and it provided a rich pool of information to source from. Another key strength of the team is the collective leadership style adopted which ensured participation of all team members and removed the destructive tendency of having a single leader dominating other members of the team. Finally, a third strong point was our adoption of the multimedia approach to delivering presentations as compared to the traditional slideshows. Our main objective for using this strategy was to promote understanding of the message and also to entertain the audience.
The key weakness or bad points of Group 4 was exhibited during the last two projects whereby team members showed signs of complacency as a result of previous ‘successes’ recorded. The efforts put into research was lower than the initial couple of presentations but rather, a lot of subjectiveness was used in developing the final projects. The reasons proposed for this included ongoing assignments from other modules, as well as family and job constraints.
In the event of my participation as a team member of a multicultural team, I would suggest that rather than sending emails of the proposed project plan back and forth among team members, we should have an Online repository/Store in which team members can log in independently and have access to/modify the project plan. In adopting this system, what we are trying to achieve is to have a rudimentary project plan which is continuously been updated by team members irrespective of their current location or language differences
Tuckman(1965) proposed that groups typically go through a series of changes in development which he termed Form, Storm, Norm, Perform. My participation in this international project team enabled me to actually visualize and appreciate this stages taking place.
The Hofstede(1980) study highlighted that cultural differences among project team members is a major factor which if not managed properly can lead to the success or failure of international projects. He proposed that conflicts that arise among international teams should be investigated from within the cultural context. The lesson learned in this case is that we are all culturally different and this differences leads to different perceptions about the way issues are managed.
The effective use of multimedia during project proposal presentations help to promote understanding. This is achieved because it appeals not only to the brain of the audience but also to the emotions. Hence, an ideal project presentation will be one that effectively challenges the audiences to see, feel, hear, smell, and touch what the presenter is talking about. This is a strategy I intend to adopt in future presentations.
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