Team-building and soft skills imperative for success in multicultural project teams05 June 2008

More focus on building trust and inclusiveness within multicultural teams can increase the likelihood of project success, according to U Q Business School researcher, Victor Sohmen. In his research of trans-cultural project leadership, Mr Sohmen, with the support of world-wide chapters of the global organisation Project Management Institute (PMI), surveyed project managers and members of multicultural teams from more than 40 countries to understand the factors for project success in such environments. While still in its early analytical stage, the research found that while everyday project leadership skills are imperative, a project manager's soft skills play a very large role in determining the success of a project within a multicultural team. Among the skills most commonly mentioned by the multinational respondents are: empathy, cultural sensitivity, consistency, integrity, impartiality, and genuine respect. "Projects in themselves are very dynamic environments. Project managers are constantly battling to balance cost, time pressure, and quality. Having members from different cultural backgrounds adds another layer of complexity. Without investing time in building a trusting and warm team environment, this complexity could lead to project failure, resulting in losses to the tune of millions of dollars," said Mr Sohmen. This study differs from others of its kind as it does not look at specific ethnicity, choosing instead to cut across ethnic lines to catch a holistic glimpse of the complexity which arises in leading multi-ethnic project teams. "The world is becoming more and more trans-cultural. You may not know in advance - or be able to choose - which ethnic group you will work with," he said. Through his research, Mr Sohmen hopes to build a universal model which can be used by managers of trans-cultural teams. He hopes that it will pave the way for subsequent research into trans-cultural leadership in specific industries or geographically diverse, regional groups. From 2009 postgraduate students at UQ Business School will be eligible for up to $30,000 per year in addition to the Australian Postgraduate Award of $20,000.