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Thursday, 26 May 2011 05:00

Cultivating your Communications in an International Project Team

Written by  By Gareth Byatt, Gary Hamilton, and Jeff Hodgkinson
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In mid-2010, we wrote an article about project communications which focused on the challenges and techniques of communicating in a virtual team. We gave some examples of when to use different communications mediums to suit the task at hand. In this follow-up communications piece, we talk about some of the nuances of working in an international project team, and in particular, some things to bear in mind when you communicate with, and present to people from cultures different from your own.


Examples of communication factors

Our efforts to communicate, either one-on-one or in a group, are influenced by many factors, well documented in various studies, research papers and the general media.

To give just a few examples of how we communicate with others, consider the following factors that can impact your communication when you send and receive a message:

  • Is the objective of the communication regular/general or important/critical?

  • What impact does your personality have both in terms of your own perception of its impact, and the actual impact on the other person or people?

  • What impact do you think your mood or physical condition at that specific time has on how you deliver your message?

  • Does your own culture have a significant impact on communication?


Of the factors mentioned above, studies have shown that culture plays a big part. Culture can be generational, geographical, organisational, or a combination of these. For example:

  • your culture has a large impact on the way that you project your message, whatever the chosen format, and

  • the culture and norms of the people with whom you are communicating, whether they are in a group or on their own, in addition to factors such as their personality and mood, can have a significant effect on how they interpret your message.

A few thoughts on the impact of different cultures in project teams

Project communications take place through many different mediums, and the old maxim of “communication being 90% of a Project Manager’s job” is probably true. Many projects are international in their team composition (whether many nationalities co-located or far-flung across the world working remotely with each other); indeed, this was true in the past and is equally true today.

Our brains typically filter and distort communications into “our perceptions.” What you “think” you have communicated might not be what the recipients received as the message. This is true regardless of culture, but it is certainly pertinent when you are communicating with someone from a different culture. So be certain that what you believe you communicated is what the recipient(s) of that message understood. A way to achieve this is to ask people to rephrase what you have just described to them, or ask for questions and feedback.


  1. Check your general understanding of their interpretation.

If you are currently working on a project with team members from several different nations, or when you are next working in such a team, take a moment to consider the effect of culture on the perceptions of those with whom you communicate. Would discussing this issue be of value?

  1. Review your style of face to face communication with people from different cultures

When we are communicating with an individual or a group, studies have indicated that less than a tenth of a message is conveyed verbally. Most of the message is being perceived by the recipient(s) through the tone and pitch of your voice and – in particular – your body language.

If you are presenting to a group of people from a different culture, take the time beforehand to learn how people from that culture typically like to receive a message or presentation, e.g., do they like structure or do they prefer a random story? Do they like imagery or detail? One of us recently experienced a good example of this when making a presentation to an audience of a different culture; he discussed the preferences with the Host to gain knowledge of what typically works well, and adapted his style to suit.

  1. Consider cultural norms of those with whom you communicate.

Learn about the cultural norms of those with whom you will be working. For example, is direct confrontation in a meeting expected/welcome? Perhaps you should take the time to understand any of their national “hot topics.”


We hope this short article has spurred you to reflect on your communications when you work in an international project team. There are many different aspects to consider. We would really like to hear from you if you have an interesting story to tell. If so, please email us at– and be sure to communicate it to us clearly so that we interpret your message as you intend us to!



Gareth Byatt is Head of the IT Global Program Management Office for Lend Lease Corporation. Gareth has worked in several countries and lives in Sydney, Australia. Gareth has 14+ years of project and program management experience in IT and construction. He can be contacted through LinkedIn.

Gareth holds numerous degrees, certifications, and credentials in program and project management as follows: an MBA from one of the world"s leading education establishments, a 1st-class undergraduate management degree, and the PMP , PgMP , PMI-RMP , & PRINCE2 professional certifications. Gareth is also the APAC Region Director for the PMI"s PMOSIG and chairs several peer networking groups.

He has presented on PMO, program and project management at international conferences in the UK, Australia, & Asia including PMI APAC in 2010.


Gary Hamilton is the Manager of the PMO and Governance within Bank of America"s Learning and Leadership Development Products organization. Gary lives in Bristol, Tennessee, USA and works out of Charlotte, North Carolina. He has 14+ years of project and program management experience in IT, finance, and human resources. Gary has won several internal awards for results achieved from projects and programs he managed as well as being named one of the Business Journal"s Top 40 Professionals in 2007. He can be contacted through LinkedIn.

Gary holds numerous degrees and certifications in IT, management, and project management and they include: an advanced MBA degree in finance, and has the PgMP , PMP , PMI-RMP , ITIL-F, and SSGB professional certifications.

Gary also is a 2009 Presidents" Volunteer Award recipient for his charitable work with local fire services and professional groups.


2010-PMI_AwardMedallion.ashxJeff Hodgkinson is a 30+ year veteran of Intel Corporation, where he continues on a progressive career as a program/project manager. Jeff received the 2010 PMI Distinguished Contribution Award for his support of the Project Management profession from the Project Management Institute. Jeff was also the 2nd place finalist for the 2009 Kerzner International Project Manager of the Year Award TM. He lives in Mesa, Arizona, USA and volunteers as the Associate Vice President for Credentials & Certifications for the Phoenix PMI Chapter. Because of his contributions to helping people achieve their goals, he is the third (3rd) most recommended person on LinkedIn, and is in the Top 100 (81st) most networked. Jeff holds numerous certifications and credentials in program and project management, which are as follows: CCS, CDT, CPC‚ CIPM‚ CPPM-Level 10, CDRP, CSQE, IPMA-B , ITIL-F, MPM‚ PME‚ PMOC, PMP , PgMP , PMI-RMP , PMW, and SSGB (Six Sigma Green Belt). He is an expert at program and project management principles and best practices and enjoys sharing his experiences with audiences around the globe.

Read 11642 times Last modified on Thursday, 26 May 2011 13:07
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