Keys to Cultural Differences

Laura Dallas Burford is the founder of LAD Enterprizes, a management consulting firm that partners with consultants as well as internal and external consulting organizations to successfully build the operational and delivery aspects of their practices. Laura appreciates feedback on her articles and can be reached at laura@ladenterprizes.com. She is the author of Project Management for Flat Organizations.

John was ecstatic about being the senior project manager for the company’s first global development project. He had spent weeks working with his team in the United States, United Kingdom and India to develop a workable plan and establish guidelines. Today was their first virtual status meeting and, because of the different time zones, the core team decided that an early U.S. East Coast time would work best for everyone.

John and the U.S. core team logged in five minutes before the meeting was to begin and waited. The U.K. core team joined in at the top of the hour. Ten minutes went by, then 15 minutes…but no one from India joined. Finally, the Indian team joined, but not before John became frustrated.

The Indian team did not understand why John was upset. They explained that local management had a problem, so they thought it was appropriate to resolve the problem before joining the status meeting. The more the core team talked, it became clear that although they all worked for the same company, the three counties did not think about time, priorities and project plans in a similar manner.

When he started the project, John was not aware that in general, people in the States and the U.K. tend to think about time and tasks sequentially (one activity at a time), while a number of other counties (such as India) tend to think about time and tasks synchronically&…

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"When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge."

- Albert Einstein

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