PMI UK Chapter

July 2020 | Cultural Pitfalls in International Project Management presented by Marina Ibrahim

July 2020 | Cultural Pitfalls in International Project Management presented by Marina Ibrahim

Webinar Description

With an increasing number of projects managed internationally, there are numerous opportunities to collaborate, perform and build new relationships. But - with each new opportunity comes hidden pitfalls around culture, ways of working and communication, not to mention language barriers. Only when project managers learn to appreciate and understand subtle cultural differences are they able to work, communicate and collaborate more effectively with colleagues, clients, and partners in multicultural settings. 

For who is intended?

  • Project professionals that want to enhance their cultural competencies
  • Those who are working on culturally diverse projects

Learning outcomes:

  • Create cultural awareness for the successful management of international projects
  • Understand the different communication styles in cultural, social and virtual settings
  • Develop clear communication strategies to prevent cultural misunderstandings

Outline of subjects you will cover:

  • Problem-Solving in International Project Management
  • Decision-making in International Project Management
  • Hierarchy in International Project Management
  • Workstyles in International Project Management
  • Time-Management in International Project Management

Video Link to Webinar Recording

About Marina Ibrahim


Marina Ibrahim. The Cultural Agility Expert, a global mindset coach, she helps executives, experts and ex-pats to hit the ground running and thrive on their international projects even if they are unaware of potential cultural clashes. Her international marketing and project management experience includes 25 years working worldwide where she has taught global intercultural skills to directors and teams of both SMEs and international blue-chip organisations including BP, Bentley, BMW, Caterpillar, DEA, EMI, Kellogg’s, Nike and PepsiCo. From a cosmopolitan and multi-lingual background, she uses cultural capability building tools and personal experiences to help delegates learn new skills to work effectively across cultures. Fluent in both English and German with further language skills in French and Arabic.


Q1. common sense - does "rules/regulations" help to remove common sense pitfall? e.g. similar to your queuing example, in UK, we don't tend to wait green-light at the pedestrian crossing at 0300h AM, but in Germany, I would think three times to cross at the red.

A1. In my webinar, I have applied Cultural Dimension models for national cultures from different Cultural Scientists who researched the preferences and values of people in numerous of cultures around the world. Your question can be related to Dr Fons Tromenaars "Riding the Waves of Culture: Understanding Diversity in Global Business" where he established the: Universalism vs Particularism dimension. UNIVERSALISM = People place high importance on laws, rules, values, and obligations. They try to deal fairly with people based on these rules, but rules come before relationships. PARTICULARISM = People believe that each circumstance, and each relationship, dictates the rules that they live by. Their response to a situation may change, based on what's happening at the moment, and who's involved. Typical UNIVERSALIST cultures include the USA, Canada, the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Scandinavia, New Zealand, Australia, and Switzerland. Typical PARTICULARISTIC cultures include Russia, Latin-America, and China.

Q2. concept of time - flexibility - do you suggest adding those as an "extra duration" in the individual tasks or schedule or as an overall "risk" in the project.

A2. Every project that works across different time zones and time cultures would have to entertain 'extra duration' as well as provide risk management for different time cultures. However, the more awareness you can create, and the more cultural competency can be developed through training the less friction there will be when you can agree and align on how you want to be working together to achieve joint goals.

Q3. Hierarchy - Turkey is missing on the chart. I presume those results are coming from different studies.

A3. There are approx. 200 different countries and 600 different cultures across the globe. Simply mainstream business cultures have been applied with no intention to exclude. For further research please refer to literature/books from Richard D. Lewis, Dr Fons Trommenaars, Dr Gert Hofstede and Erin Meyer (her book "The Culture Map' is now available in Turkish and also provides a mapping profile of the Turkish culture) to name just a few key cultural scientists and authors.

Q4. Depending on your company set-up, virtual collaboration tools may have already been in use before lockdown, so team culture may also somewhat depend on access to technology and ease of use? Just an observation.

A4. Well, I see in terms of, you may be working with a project group that the client may be who up until very recently, they worked within a single office, so it was easier to have those kinds of meetings. Now they're spread across different geographical locations that have an impact on productivity and getting work done, etc.

Things have definitely slowed down, that's for sure. Because it is more fragmented, as globally connected manager and project team leader you will also have to look out for many more clues when it comes to communication, the whole communication landscape has changed dramatically. Let's say more task-oriented project leader would have to embrace more communication and relationship-oriented behaviour, particularly in light of looking at aspects of lone workers, home workers were more isolated, they don't have any interaction with their team members so imagine all the information or communication activities which are happening here, are no longer taking place, the dynamic process in project teams when they see each other when sharing the same room or same building that kind of accidental "Oh whilst I see you here Merv, can I just ask you a quick question or do me a favour?" It's not happening. So, you'll be literally, physically disconnected. And that has to be compensated by the project leader and team members to allow for extra additional communication, time, and facilities that allow the small talks the relationship-building interactivity, as well as the exchange about the projects itself the task and so on. Just think about how you can create transparency on the teams' workload. If somebody is idler and has actually got capacity but is not communicating it to anyone, what can you do to as project leader, make sure that everybody has enough to do that not somebody is your team is overwhelmed and the other is just idle or has less to do so.

Q5. Marina, how do you distinguish cultural leadership from general leadership?

A5. That's a very good question. It applies with any leadership being self-aware is a good starting point. And cultural leadership acknowledges not only cultural and behavioural differences it also includes the spectrum of different leadership styles, etiquettes, and expectations prevalent in different cultures that you have to be aware of. For instance: if you were using your leadership within let's say your team being more egalitarian. If your team, for example, had to be working with a highly status-oriented cultural setting you can't just only continue with your egalitarian leadership style, you would acknowledge and consider combining your leadership style in general, with that of the culture that is expected to meet expectations. It really depends on the situation and the project you're dealing with.

Oh, that's a good question and I have been asked this question many times for example in mergers and acquisitions when I have been invited to deliver cultural integration trainings, particularly in those settings where one company has acquired another, and let's say we had a British company being acquired by an American company: You would expect that the British have to submit to the American company culture? Wrong! There is no right or wrong or superior vs subordinate in the context of a cross-cultural setting. The best way forward is to agree on joint objectives and decide which culture helps to achieve them.

Q6. I am actually writing my thesis on post-merger cultural integration. Is it possible to find a cultural framework template anywhere?

A6. Globalisation will have a hugely growing effect on international project management in so far that the challenges for businesses, organisations, economies, locally, nationally and internationally will be more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous based on the vast and fast political, economic, social, technological, environmental and legal changes of our livelihoods and the survival on this planet. Global challenges demand global solutions. These can only be achieved through successful international and intercultural collaborations, just as we are experiencing right now with the race of various pharmaceutical teams working together on developing a vaccine against Covid-19. Solutions can be delivered even faster and more productive when project teams are equipped with cultural intelligence.

Q7. Do you have to deal with everybody individually? Is there any tactical 'shortcuts' for broad communication across all the cultures?

A7. A more balanced approach is required here: GENERIC RULES: 1. Never assume - ideally put yourself into your audiences' shoes. 2. Be polite and respect etiquette. 3. Keep it simple - avoid slang/idioms. 4. Although English is the world's most widely spoken language for most it is the secondary language. SPECIFIC RULES: when communicating on an individual level learn to adapt your style.

Q8. How do we deal with aspects of culture that you fundamentally disagree with and don't want to be seen to condone?

A8. ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ Judging others is a natural instinct an unconscious bias, and we are all a little judgmental at times. For the most part, we are doing so for survival. We want to surround ourselves with people whom we can trust because it makes us feel safe and secure. We push away those we deem untrustworthy because we fear they may harm us.

However, we cannot let our judgements control us. We have to remind us to step back and reconsider – particularly in intercultural settings – and that we do not get carried away with our culturally imprinted criteria. Cultural intelligence encourages us to recognize our own biases be honest with ourselves about the stereotypes that affect us and that we should be careful who we judge and why. While we may not be aware of our prejudices, and prefer not to admit them if we are, they can have damaging consequences on both the way we manage and the people we manage.

To overcome unconscious bias, look for ways to introduce objectivity into your decision making, and allow more time for it. Use tools like behavioural and cultural assessments that help you assess background information systematically, surround yourself with people who will challenge your opinions, and listen carefully and empathetically to their views – even when they tell you something you don't want to hear. That way you learn to embrace the benefits of diversity for your projects, teams and organisations to be successful.