Our company specialises in running industrial projects around the world. Inevitably it is international, but not just in the sense of location. Usually each project involves suppliers from many different countries that have to be brought together to complete a fully functional factory which delivers the benefits our customers had originated the projects for.
The construction of the manufacturing plant is usually completed by local contractors, but the production lines, IT systems and other processes are usually designed and installed by companies from many different countries. This clearly presents challenges in cultures and languages.
For a project to be successful, it is so important to communicate accurately. Being a British company, we are fortunate that many of the project teams are able to communicate in English and that project management methodology is widely used. This helps us, but it is insufficient.
To run a successful project, we also need to get to know the people, the cultures and where possible the languages of those we are working with. Technically the suppliers are experts in their fields, but, amongst many other skills and tasks, we need to be able to communicate customers’ requirements, negotiate, lead, motivate, influence, solve problems, resolve disputes and set expectations with all the teams involved in the project.
Speaking other languages is a great benefit. People do not have to be fluent. Knowing a few words may not help to communicate technically complex issues, but being able to say “hello” and “thank you” in another language makes people smile and helps to build relationships. Team members will appreciate the effort taken to learn even a few words.
Knowing the different cultures of the project teams will also improve communications. It will help to reduce misunderstandings and bad feelings, which in turn, helps to communicate in appropriate ways. There are many ways to research cultural backgrounds and it is worth the time to do so.
Another effective way of communicating is being able to communicate visually. Learn to draw on flip charts and white boards to develop processes or solve problems. Use a phone to take photographs to illustrate points.
Building relationships also requires cognitive, emotional and compassionate empathy. By empathising with team members, it will help solve problems and enhance motivation, especially when times get tough.
Last but not least, when people are a long way from home for weeks at a time, do not forget to get together socially. We may be exhausted at the end of a 12-hour day, but when the time is right, make sure you get your teams together for a drink or dinner after work.
Technical knowledge and project management methodologies are essential, but what is more important is to build relationships with individuals and connect people and teams to aim for a common goal; that of fulfilling customers’ requirements whilst achieving a sense of satisfaction and enjoyment in achieving something special along the way.