Focus of the Study
Globalisation has opened up borders and brought people from different cultures together. Modern technologies have improved transportation and communication and encouraged expansion of corporations to overseas markets. Economic cooperation between governments has also risen in the globalisation age.
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People from different cultures now work together in workplace environments that encourage diversity in relation to “communication styles, values, and cultural norms”1. Moreover, nowadays, firms are increasingly investing in international projects because of the high returns associated with such ventures.
However, a number of constraint factors related to overseas business environments affect international projects. These factors fall into four categories: economic, socio-cultural, political, and technological2.
The proposed research study will focus on how cultural differences affect international project management. The study will examine the place of culture in the management of overseas projects. It will also explore how cultural differences hamper cross-cultural cooperation within organisations.
The teams involved in overseas projects are usually drawn from different cultures. Typically, the team members speak different languages and have dissimilar customs and beliefs. If these differences are not well managed, the employees may fail to work together as a team leading to project failure.
Studies in international project management reveal that cultures give rise to different management approaches because people often make decisions based on culturally defined values3. This implies that national cultures shape the behaviours of managers working on international projects.
Schneider and Meyer (2006) describe the effect of cultural differences on organisational performance4. They state that team members find it hard to work in a different cultural environment because of their unfamiliarity with foreign management approaches.
In this regard, for a project to be successful, foreign workers must adapt to the host country’s national and organisational cultures5. A failure to recognise and abide by the cultural customs of the host country can impede cooperation and lead to project failure.
Inappropriate management (cultural diversity) practices have also been associated with project failures6. For construction projects, cultural differences affect various stages of the project cycle, including tendering, negotiation, and implementation phases7.
Moreover, cultural differences affect communication and collaboration among team members. Gray and Larson (2003) posit that cultural differences cause language barrier, which impedes effective communication within organisations8.
Additionally, it is difficult to translate a message without it losing its original meaning. Besides language, religious differences can also hamper cooperation.
A study Kirby and Richard (2000) found that employees do not prefer to work on sites perceived to have religious significance to the locals9. Thus, cultural differences have a big influence on site selection for international projects.
On their part, Ling and Hoi (2006) found that international construction firms face a cultural risk when working on overseas projects (in Singapore and India) because of the differences in culture10. They conclude that in order for a project to be successful, the team members must be able to understand the local culture.
However, they note that cooperation may still be a problem even when people speak the same language due to differences in working methods and mindsets among the workers.
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Ling and Hoi (2006) recommend that team members should familiarize themselves with the various aspects of the local culture (Indian) before the project commences11.
Kwak (2002) writes that culture, in the context of international project, is a critical success/failure factor12. If project managers are unfamiliar with the cultural diversity within the team, they may assign responsibilities to the wrong groups. As a result, a project may incur additional costs or overrun its schedule.
Moreover, if a project’s objectives do not reflect the culture of the customer(s), it may face stiff opposition leading to its termination. Thus, a project manager should take into account the customs, values, and traditions of the team members from the outset13.
Moreover, he or she must ensure that the project’s objectives reflect the culture of the clients to avoid opposition and possible project rejection.
A survey by Chen, Partington, and Qiang (2009) that involved UK and Chinese project managers establishes that the use of cross-cultural management does not always translate to project success because of the differences that exist between the Chinese and Western management practices14.
In another study, Gunhan and Arditi (2005) explore the factors affecting international project management among US corporations15. The study establishes that cultural differences among the workers increase the risk of project failure.
In contrast, Pheng and Leong (2000) examine the various aspects of cross-cultural collaboration in international projects16.
They establish that factors such as “organisational and national culture and cross-cultural communication, conflict resolution, and negotiation skills” influence international project management17.
Based on a case study involving Chinese (YRTSB) and American (APC) firms, the authors argue that the Chinese culture (corporate) has a big influence on decision-making. Cultural differences hamper communication, which create misunderstandings between business partners.
Moreover, the absence of cross-culture conflict resolution mechanisms contributes to the failure of joint-venture projects.
In particular, in the case study, the authors find a big difference between the Chinese and American negotiation styles. They conclude that project managers (American) should seek to understand the management style of their partner company (Chinese) in order to work together amicably.
On their part, Chen et al., (2010) explore the project managers’ approaches in cross-cultural team management18. They establish that cross-cultural differences exist between UK and Chinese managers with regard to their management approaches.
While the UK managers focus on safety, their Chinese counterparts are largely driven by commercial interests. Moreover, Ashkanasy, Hartel, and Daus (2002) in their study, establish that, in practice, transferring managerial practices is not possible because of cultural differences19.
In this study, cultural differences were found to hamper cooperation between French and Dutch companies in areas of R&D. Thus, differences in organisational and national cultures can affect cooperation in projects involving culturally diverse staff.
Initial Research Questions
Based on the literature review above, five research questions will direct the proposed study. These include:
- What is the effect of cultural differences on the success of projects involving culturally diverse teams?
- How can foreign project managers manage multicultural groups in their teams?
- What cultural dimensions affect international project management?
- Can the effect of culture on project management be generalised or is it specific to certain situations?
- How does the employee’s culture and behaviours affect project outcomes?
From the literature review, it is evident that few studies have examined the cultural issue as a critical success factor for international projects. Most of the studies have focused on the effect of cultural differences on project performance, communication, and management.
Therefore, there is need to identify the general cultural characteristics that affect project success in the international arena. Although cultural conditions are often specific, some situations cut across all cultures.
A study’s methodology encompasses research design, sample selection (participants), materials/equipment, and data collection/analysis approach.
The study will employ a case study approach to examine the effect of cultural differences on project performance and management. It will also involve a mixed methods research design (qualitative and quantitative methods).
Creswell (2009) defines the ‘mixed methods design’ as a method that integrates qualitative and quantitative approaches in data collection and analysis20.
In particular, the proposed study will utilise the interviewing method to collect data from culturally diverse staff members of an international construction project. A cross-cultural analysis using qualitative and quantitative techniques will reveal the impact of the cultural differences on the project’s performance.
The participants in the proposed study will include staff members (both past and current) working on an international project. Project managers will also participate in this case study.
The convenience sampling technique will be used to select the participants. This will ensure that as many people as possible participate in the case study.
The study will involve personal interviews with the participants. Questionnaires containing structured and semi-structured questions will be used to collect data. During the interview, qualitative data will also be collected using researcher observation to complement the quantitative data obtained from the questionnaires.
Justification for Research Methodology
The aim of the proposed study is to highlight the significance of cultural differences in a project success. Culture determines the management style of the project manager, which, in turn, influences the project’s outcomes.
Additionally, cultural diversity among project managers and staff influences their negotiation, communication, cooperation, and conflict resolution skills. Consequently, there is need to identify the specific aspects of cultural diversity that impede project performance.
In this regard, a case study approach will help identify the specific cultural factors (success factors) that affect cooperation among culturally diverse groups in a team. Convenience sampling is appropriate for this case study, as, according to Yin (2003), the subjects are not similar and thus, cannot be sampled randomly21.
Ashkanasy, Neal, Hartel, Charmine and Daus, Catherine, ‘Diversity and emotion: the new frontiers inorganizational behaviour research’, Journal of Management, vol. 28, Issue 1, 2002, pp. 307-338
Chen, Gilad, Kirkman, Bradely, Kim, Kwanghyun, Farh, Crystal and Tangirala, Subrahmaniam, ‘When does cross-cultural motivation enhance expatriate effectiveness? A multilevel investigation of the moderating roles of subsidiary support and cultural distance’, Academy of Management Journal, vol. 53, Issue 2, 2010, pp. 1110-1130.
Chen, Ping and Partington, David, ‘An interpretive comparison of Chinese and Western conceptions of relationships in construction project management work’, International Journal of Project Management, vol. 22, Issue 3, 2004, pp. 397–406
Chen, Ping, Partington, David, and Qiang, Maoshan, ‘Cross-Cultural Understanding of Construction Project Managers’ Conceptions of Their Work’, Journal of Construction and Engineering Management, vol. 135, Issue 6, 2009, pp. 477–487.
Chevrier, Sylvie, ‘Cross-cultural management in multinational project groups’, Journal of World Business, vol. 38, Issue 1, 2003, pp. 141-149
Creswell, John, Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc., 2009).
Dadfar, Hossein and Gustavsson, Peter, ‘Competition by effective management of cultural diversity’, International Studies of Management and Organization, vol. 22, Issue 4, pp. 81-92.
Gilbert, Jacqueline and Ivancevich, John, ‘Valuing diversity: A tale of two organizations’, Academy of Management Executive, vol. 14, Issue 1, 2000, pp. 93-105.
Gray, Clifford and Larson, Eric Project Management: The Managerial Process (New York: McGraw Hill Higher Education, 2005).
Gunhan, Suat and Arditi, David, ‘Factors Affecting International Construction’, Journal of construction engineering and management, vol. 131, Issue 4, 2005, pp. 273-277
Kirby, Susan and Richard, Orlando, ‘Impact of marketing work-place diversity on employee job involvement and organizational commitment’, Journal of Social Psychology, vol. 140, Issue 3, 2000, pp. 367-377.
Kwak, Young and Smith, Brian, ‘Managing Risks in Mega Defense Acquisition Projects: Performance, Policy, and Opportunities’, International Journal of Project Management, vol. 27, Issue 8, 2009, pp. 812-820.
Ling, Florence and Hoi, Linda, ‘Risks faced by Singapore firms when undertaking construction projects in India’, International Journal of Project Management, vol. 24, Issue 3, 2006, pp. 261-270.
Pheng, Low, and Leong, Christopher, ‘Cross-cultural project management for international construction in China’, International Journal of Project Management, vol. 18, Issue 5, 2000, pp. 307-16.
Schneider, Susan and Meyer, Anoud, ‘Interpreting and responding to strategic issues: The impact of national culture’, Strategic Management Journal, vol. 12, Issue 4, 2006, pp. 307-320.
Yin, Robert, Case Study Research (Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, 2003).
1 Sylvie, Chevrier, ‘Cross-cultural management in multinational project groups.’ , Journal of World Business, vol. 38, issue1, 2003, p. 141
2 Jacqueline, Gilbert and John Ivancevich, ‘Valuing diversity: A tale of two organizations’, Academy of Management Executive, vol. 14, Issue1, 2000, p. 99
3 Ping, Chen and David, Partington, ‘An interpretive comparison of Chinese and Western conceptions of relationships in construction project management work’, International Journal of Project Management, vol. 22, Issue 3, 2004, p. 398
4 Susan, Schneider and Anoud, Meyer, ‘Interpreting and responding to strategic issues: The impact of national culture’, Strategic Management Journal, vol. 12, Issue 4, 2006, p. 307
5 Schneider and Meyer, p. 309
6 Clifford, Gray and Eric, Larson, Project Management: The Managerial Process, McGraw Hill Higher Education, New York, 2005, p. 92
7 Hossein, Dadfar and Peter, Gustavsson, ‘Competition by effective management of cultural diversity’, International Studies of Management and Organization, vol. 22, Issue 4, 1992, p. 87.
8 Gray and Larson, p. 312
9 Susan, Kirby and Orlando, Richard, ‘Impact of marketing work-place diversity on employee job involvement and organizational commitment’, Journal of Social Psychology, vol. 140, issue 3, 2000, p. 368.
10 Florence, Ling, and Linda, Hoi, ‘Risks faced by Singapore firms when undertaking construction projects in India. International Journal of Project Management, vol. 24, Issue 3, 2006, p. 268.
11 Ling and Hoi, p. 271
12 Young, Kwak and Brian, Smith, ‘Managing Risks in Mega Defense Acquisition Projects: Performance, Policy, and Opportunities’, International Journal of Project Management, vol. 27, Issue 8, 2009, p. 815.
13 Kwak and Smith, p. 817
14 Ping, Chen, David, Partington, and Maoshan, Qiang, ‘Cross-Cultural Understanding of Construction Project Managers’ Conceptions of Their Work’, Journal of Construction and Engineering Management, vol. 135, Issue 6, 2004, p. 479.
15 Suat, Gunhan and David, Arditi, ‘Factors Affecting International Construction’, Journal of construction engineering and management, vol. 131, Issue 4, 2005, p. 273.
16 Low, Pheng and Christopher, Leong, ‘Cross-cultural project management for international construction in China’, International Journal of Project Management, vol. 18, Issue 5, 2000, p. 313.
17 Pheng and Leong, p. 314
18 Gilad, Chen, Bradely, Kirkman, Kwanghyun, Kim, Crystal, Farh and Subrahmaniam, Tangirala, ‘When does cross-cultural motivation enhance expatriate effectiveness? A multilevel investigation of the moderating roles of subsidiary support and cultural distance’, Academy of Management Journal, vol. 53, Issue 2, 2009, p. 1114.
19 Neal, Ashkanasy, Charmine, Hartel and Catherine, Daus, ‘Diversity and emotion: the new frontiers inorganizational behaviour research’, Journal of Management, vol. 28, Issue 1, 2002, p. 308.
20 John, Creswell, Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches, Sage Publications, Inc., Thousand Oaks, CA, 2009, p. 145
21 Yin, p. 99