Projects can already be problematic enough – those problems can be magnified when you’re dealing with projects which run around the world and involve a lot of different people, cultures and time zones.
And if you’re not familiar with what problems to look out for, there are a lot of potholes for you to put your foot into.
To help you avoid that, here we’ll explore how you can successfully lead international projects – or projects your business is running which have employees in multiple countries – without any mistakes.
These types of projects need special care, as the different time zones and different cultures add an extra level of complications.
With these guidelines, you’ll be able to see the problems before they happen and identify ways to deal with them. In that way, you can finish the project with as much flair as you showed when it was still ongoing.
1. Understand the differences in how different cultures finish things off
Just like some cultures are incredibly punctual and others are always late, there are different ways in which people finish projects. Some will say something is finished while it’s still dragging on and still requires attention.
For others, when you say it’s done it better be done, because they’ll no longer devote any more time to it and will busy themselves with other things.
The way to avoid this problem is to communicate clearly about endings and to remember that right at the end of projects is when people energy is the most likely to wane. That means things that would have gotten done quickly and effectively in the past might drag on for weeks now.
The best way to know how people will behave at the end of a project is to look to other projects that they’ve finished. Often, as they say in psychology, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.
2. Define the ending
Another useful action to take is to make sure that the ending of the project is well defined and clear to everybody. Obviously, this is something that should have been done at the beginning of the project. Of course, that doesn’t always happen.
Sometimes we didn’t know where we were heading. Sometimes we take over.
Whatever the reason, as the ending is approaching make sure you take the time to clearly define the project’s goals and what still needs to be done in order to meet those goals.
3. The distance thing
The fact that people are in different parts of the world means that it’s very hard to collect people together for regular meetings – particularly if you’re spread out over several time zones.
This can spell all sorts of problems right at the end of a project, when things running slightly disjointed can mean that some people can’t meet their deadlines because others have not yet finished what they’re supposed to do.
The best way to proceed is to have several online meetings – more than you normally might have. There you can discuss the last bits and bolts together. Also, take advantage of the fact that some people no longer are a part of the project to shrink the group down as small as it can go.
The fewer people are gathered at these things, the quicker you’ll be able to get things done and the more likely any remaining problems that remain will be uncovered.
Also, turn the time-zone difference to your advantage by wherever possible having people finish what they’re supposed to do while other people sleep. In that way, the project can be ready for the next group to take over as they wake up.
For this to work, it is important that people communicate clearly and succinctly with each other. Otherwise, it is entirely possible that one group is left with too little information but no way to contact the previous group, as they’re no longer in the office.
Also, it is important that if somebody does not have perfect command of the communicating language, steps are taken to bridge that gap and avoid confusion. Whether this means having more bilingual people involved or using a translation firm is up to you.
In these situations, more information is better than less. Make sure all sides understand that.
4. You have to stay personally involved
The ending of an international project is not the time to demonstrate your laissez faire leadership style. You have to stay personally involved and always remain reachable.
Ask for frequent status updates and make sure that you understand what is going on – so that you can spot developing problems early and deal with them effectively.
Note, this is not a call to micro manage. That will not make you any friends. Instead, leave the parties to do their job, just make sure you know what they’re doing.
Ask to be CCed on the mails being sent and make sure that you actually read the mails going out. Because that’s where the problems will generally first manifest.
5. Give credit
At the end of a project is also the time to let people know how much you appreciate what they’ve done. You can even start doing this before the project is over, as done well this can push people to try a little harder and finish off whatever their part was with an extra bit of enthusiasm.
When you’re working with an international team, understand that how you give credit and feedback can differ from culture to culture. So, make sure you understand what is expected of you by a culture and recognize that in the process.
Generally, these insights about criticism and praise will hold across cultures (though not always):
- Start and finish with praise. Put the bad news in the middle.
- As criticism generally hits harder than praise, try to find a balance of two pieces of praise to one piece of criticism.
- Don’t just tell them what they did wrong but give them effective suggestions about what they could do differently to do things better. In fact, often just giving the suggestion about how they can improve their performance can be enough.
- Give them a chance to reflect on their performance and your performance as well. This will give them the feeling that your helping each other more than that dictates are coming from above.
6. Make sure people realize your door is open
At the project’s end there are going to be problems that rear up unexpectedly. The only way that you can stay on top of them is to know they’re there. For that reason, make sure that especially at the end of a project people understand that you’re available.
So, make sure you re-emphasize that point. Also, try to stay level headed, as employees and workers always follow the ‘once bitten, twice shy’ rule when they’re dealing with a volatile boss. And that can often lead to them not communicating problems or hick ups when they initially rear their head.
Do all that, and you’ve got a good chance of finishing your international project without any big mistakes. Don’t and you risk everything blowing up on you. I know which one I’d rather want.