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Episode 219: Tools for the Intercultural Project Manager (Premium)

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Episode 219: Tools for the Intercultural Project Manager (Premium)Karin Brünnemann ( made an excellent case last time describing how all our projects are in some way or another influenced by culture. We did also look at a few tools that she recommeds.

But how do you really become adept at mastering intercultural issues on your project? What are some of the actions you can take? What tools are recommended? And what are some of the qualities of a good intercultural project manager?

Well... listen up, enjoy and learn from Karin's worldwide experience.

Episode Transcript

Below are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only.

Podcast Introduction

Cornelius Fichtner: Hello and welcome to Episode #219. This is The Project Management Podcast™ at and I am Cornelius Fichtner. Nice to have you with us.

This is once again one of our Premium Episodes recorded especially for all our premium subscribers. Thank you so much for your support.

And by the way, did you know that if you are a PMP®, you can earn PDUs just by listening to this interview here today? If you didn’t know and you would like to find out more, please go to the website and learn about the free PDUs that you can get as a subscriber of this podcast here.

Karin Brünnemann made an excellent case last time describing how all our projects are in some way or another influenced by culture. We did also take a brief look at a few tools that she recommends. But how do you really become adept at mastering intercultural issues on your project? What are some of the actions that you can take? What tools are recommended and what are some of the qualities of a good intercultural project manager?

Well, listen up and enjoy the interview.

Podcast Interview

Female voice: The Project Management Podcast’s feature Interview: Today with Karin Brunnemann, PMP, intercultural expert.

Cornelius Fichtner: Hallo Karin. Herzlich wilkommen wieder beim Project Management Podcast™!

Karin Brunnemann: Hallo, Cornelius!

Cornelius Fichtner: Very well! In our first interview, we discussed intercultural project management, the challenges and the benefits. We didn’t really go much into the well ‘how are we going to do this?’ and that is the goal of this discussion right now. How are we going to become a more intercultural project manager? And what we’re going to do is we are going to go through to six of the how-to’s that you suggest giving you an opportunity to discuss each of these six for a moment here.

So let’s just get started with the first one. The first one that you suggested is to include intercultural issues into the kickoff session, as well as putting it in to the budget so that you have the money for it, right?

Karin Brunnemann: Right! This is where many projects already failed in terms of intercultural management which is if they have at all sufficient funding and sufficient time for proper kickoff sessions and team building activities, they usually don’t gear them towards intercultural issues.

Cornelius Fichtner: Alright! Moving on to the second one. The second one is to consider language on your project. And more than just that, you say that we need to agree on a project language, right?

Karin Brunnemann: Right! It’s again my own experience. I have been on projects where the project language was not clearly defined and all of a sudden, people started to demand to have documentation manuals in different languages and they were not available. So I would advice that as a project manager agree on a common project language if you can. It can also be two or three and put it into the overall project communication plan so that everybody is aware of which languages or language is going to be used in the project and for the documentation for training material and so on.

Cornelius Fichtner: So if we have one project language that we define on our projects, that means that some people are native in that language and others are not. Won’t that lead to other issues here?

Karin Brunnemann: Correct! So I suggest to always target your language at non-native speakers. The native speakers will be able to understand anyway and the non-native speakers can still follow you. So don’t use very complicated language. Don’t use technical terms that are not widely known. Don’t use acronyms that are maybe specific to a certain country or language to enable everybody to participate.

But having said that, I would like to also point out that language is when you are speaker, a native speaker, still needs cultural context. For example, take the sentence “I have no work tomorrow.” If this sentence is said in native English by a widowed mother of 7 children in rural India, it can mean that she doesn’t have any work tomorrow. She can’t earn money. She can’t feed her children. And this sentence can literally be a death sentence for her.

Whereas exactly the same sentence “I have no work tomorrow” is said again in native English by a successful double-income no-kids lawyer in Central London, this might be something that he has been longing for for years. “I have no work tomorrow. Finally I can go on holiday,” and maybe because of that, he does not get a heart attack and does not die. So we have to be aware that language can only be seen in context of the culture of the person because if amongst native speakers of the same language, it can have such extremely different meanings.

Cornelius Fichtner: Right! And if it’s said by somebody working on your project saying “I have no work tomorrow.” That basically means, I have nothing to do tomorrow. I’m working on your project. Give me something to do because I have completed all my tasks.

Karin Brunnemann: Correct!

Cornelius Fichtner: So yeah! As you said, it’s very easy to put assumptions in to a sentence until you know what the background is, how this person is embedded in the conversation that you have with them.

Karin Brunnemann: Exactly!

Cornelius Fichtner: Right! Okay! Then another way of how to make yourself more intercultural as a project manager is to adjust your management style, you say. So how should I adjust my management style and why should I adjust it? I mean it’s my management style, it’s my culture. Shouldn’t I just continue to do that? And we talked about that at the beginning, that’s the way I am. This is the way I manage. Why should I adjust?

Karin Brunnemann: People from different culture have different expectations and different experience of how management is supposed to work. Some people are coming from, for example, cultures that are very hierarchical. For example, Russian culture. If you manage Russian people or you think you can manage a team in Russia by saying: ‘Oh, here we have the general goal of the projects. So please everyone see what they can do towards achieving their goals.’ You will not get anything done because they expect you to be authoritarian. They will simply not accept you as a manager if you are too soft. If you know what I mean. Whereas somebody from Sweden or Switzerland might be totally different. They don’t like it if they get micromanaged. They get frustrated and they will not perform. They might drop out of your team. I think you have to consider the needs of your team members.

It can also be the case that they are just authoritarian management. They are insecure if you don’t tell them exactly what to do and how to do it. Whereas on the other hand, people who are used to working very independently, they would like to continue with that style of management. So you might have to display different management styles even in the same project with different people.

Cornelius Fichtner: But that requires that you know what kind of management style the people expect, right?

Above are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete PDF transcript is available to Premium subscribers only.

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Cornelius Fichtner
Cornelius Fichtner
Cornelius Fichtner, PMP, CSM, is the host and the author at The Project Management Podcast. He has welcomed hundreds of guests and project management experts to the podcast and has helped over 60,0000 students prepare for their PMP® Exam. He has authored dozens of articles on and PM World 360. He speaks at conferences around the world about project management, agile methodology, PMOs, and Project Business. Follow him on Twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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