Impact of cultural differences between sending and receiving site​

The aim of the project was to transfer a newly developed vaccine manufacturing process from the Netherlands to a manufacturing location in the Eastern Europe under the supervision of the corporate company located in Asia. As part of the start of the project, communication lines, roles, responsibilities, milestones and timelines between the involved parties were agreed.

However, along the project, the team faced, besides to the technical challenges, challenges with respect to the working atmosphere and motivation. Especially team members from the sending and receiving site had difficulties to understand each other and felt often not acknowledged by the team members from the other site. As a result the team was getting less motivated and less efficient and thereby it started to have an impact on agreed milestones.

After I realized, as the overall project manager, that team members on both sites felt not acknowledged, it became apparent that something else was influencing the project. Maybe the different cultural backgrounds of the team members were the cause for the misunderstandings. To learn more about the influence of culture on projects, I followed a course focusing on the impact of cultural background in an international project. This course was an eyeopener, because I realized that the project management tools we used, such as the way of communicating, solely focusing on the tasks and timeline driven, worked perfectly for the Dutch team members. However, these tools were actually a constraint for the team from Eastern Europe and Asia. In general, these cultures are mostly relationship minded using a more indirect way of communication. I understood that in order to successfully finalize the project, we (the Dutch team) needed to invest more in the relationship with the other team members instead of solely focussing on the tasks. After returning from the course, we changed the following:

  • Organization of a face-to face meeting covering the cultural differences to provide more background knowledge about the different cultures. By using examples from the own project different point of views and related behaviours were explained to increase the awareness and understanding for each other.
  • Preparation of a balanced meeting agenda’s taking cultural differences into account (e.g. also covering personal topics and not solely tasks)
  • Meeting frequency and meeting type (e.g. skype vs face-to-face) adapted to fit the needs of the whole project team
  • Changing the way of communication style based on cultural background (e.g. top-down vs flat organizations, direct vs indirect communication)

After implementing these adaptations all team members started to feel acknowledged. This resulted in a confident and motivated team. Technical challenges were solved using the strength of the whole team and agreed milestones were met. And of course, we still faced misunderstandings and bad days, however these days were substantially limited.