Supporting International Project Communication Skills
By Francis Norman
There are, it seems to me, three basic ways companies develop international communications skills in their employees, all three of which have analogies with learning to swim, these basic options are;
- To throw the employees in at the deep end. This seems like a pretty brutal description though to be fair, many employees also choose to jump in at the deep end and many companies may not realize there is any option available to them.
- To give the employee basic swimming lessons then to let them swim, or otherwise propel themselves into deeper water, so equip them with the fundamentals of cross cultural awareness and basic communications awareness before sending them off on their assignment.
- And finally, to give the employee swimming lessons, a life vest and have trained specialists in a boat monitor the employees progress as their swimming skills develop over time in the deeper water. This represents a deeper level of developmental support and training, though of course comes with a higher cost to the organizations involved.
All three will eventually produce the desired results, though the first option will on occasion result in the corporate equivalent of individual or mass drownings when communications fail and the project suffers the consequences.
In extreme cases of throwing personnel in at the deep end, the project owners may even inhibit the opportunities for the project personnel to develop and perform as needed through constraints of budget, limiting availability of personnel or removing access to critical resources, the equivalent of tying a weight to the feet of those learning to swim. On a positive note however, sometimes one or two in the project team will already have either the experience and/or the aptitude and will already know how to operate in the international environment and will help the new arrivals learn their skills, holding their heads out of the water while they do it, although this is obviously not always the case.
I have seen all three options used on projects in the past, each one of them has had different results, some people seem to respond and learn well in the fist, deep end scenario, their personality and learning style is suited to the experiential, self development style, and from the personal level this may be OK, however, from a corporate level, the risks associated with this approach may well out weigh the investment cost of even adopting the intermediate level of some training before setting the personnel off on their course of development.
In some instances, the budgetary restraints will dictate the chosen path, in others, the path may be forced on a project by a tight schedule where it is simply not possible to spend the time developing people, the mobilization must happen in a short time frame and those mobilized have to make the best they can in the circumstances, however, even in these emergency type of situations there should still be the time to do some on the job training.
Francis Norman is currently a Regional Operations Manager in Perth, Australia. Francis maintains a professional blog, International Project Management Communications.