Cultural clashes lead to project failure

One of the reasons for project failures that caught my attention is “Distance and culture clashes.” It is a debatable issue. When an organization compiles a project team having people from different backgrounds and cultures, in my opinion, their vision is to make an efficient use of the diversity in experience and the innovative thinking process, which would give the company a competitive edge. But at the same time, it is inevitable that people from diverse backgrounds would work in a friction-free environment. And that is where a project manager should make use of his leadership skills by providing flexibility, stressing on mutual respect and promoting creativity.

Anbari et al. (2009) state “Anbari Khilkhanova, Romanova, and Umpleby (2004) point out that project managers in today’s multicultural global business community frequently encounter cultural differences, which can enhance or interfere with the successful completion of their projects. Leading studies of cross-cultural management have been conducted by Hofstede (2000), Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner (1998), Aycan (2000), Hall and Hall (1990), and others. These studies propose a set of cultural dimensions along which value systems can be studied. Value systems affect human thinking, feeling, and acting, and the behaviour of organizations and institutions in relatively predictable ways”.

Any society in today’s world faces the cross-cultural differences and have their different solutions. Cultural dimensions are categorized into various kinds. Starting with the focus on the relations between people, as Hofstede differentiates individualism and collectivism. Next is a motivational orientation that deals with how a society handles the inherent insecurity of living. Masculinity Vs. Feminity, amount of uncertainty avoidance and power distance are the three measurements identified by Hofstede. Attitudes towards time differentiate the short term and long term focus of people. Control is a major factor. There could be internal or external control where a culture would consider that either it controls its surroundings or they work with it. Socio-cultural characteristics like paternalism and fatalism see that in case of former, a leader plays his part to deliver support, security, development, and care for its team members and in return, the team plays its role by remaining faithful to the leader. Whereas the latter, holds the belief that controlling the result of someone’s action is impossible and creating long-term goals are not a part of a worthy exercise. Context refers to the data that encompasses an event. High context cultures have extensive data networks this they need less information whereas low context cultures need additional data to conclude. Lastly, convergers and divergers; the former defines the action-oriented people who enjoy at finishing up things and favour clearly defined and manageable problems which have one best solution, whereas the latter go for instinct and observation and have different approach to situations, and welcome the variance in the point of views and prefer to find many alternative solutions for vaguely defined problems.

A study was conducted with 16 Russian and 24 American managers to discover the idea that languages divulge meanings and patterns of thoughts. The study provided 84 stimulus words. For each of them, one minute was given to the respondents to write down related words within. The following figure is one of the examples of one of the results of the study.

The three main conclusions from the study are:

  1. The related words from the two groups did not have many similarities.
  2. For each word, Americans wrote more related words as compared to Russians.
  3. Americans look down to details whereas Russians look up to more generic groups.


The results of the study propose that Europeans look for gist in context or larger categories whereas Americans look for meaning in specifics and applications. This dissimilarity in opinion clarifies why general theories gained popularity in Europe than in the US.

“The different ways of establishing meaning also lead to differences in standards, policies, and practices. Relevance to project management theory and practice include: 1) change management–identifying different meanings of “time,” “planning,” “control,” etc. for different cultural groups can aid in reaching a common understanding, 2) conflict management–understanding the mental representations behind the language improves communication and helps meet underlying needs, and 3) knowledge management–theories combined with applications benefit innovation, knowledge transfer, and diffusion. Impact on communications management, human resource management, and other areas in project management is worthy of careful analysis (Anbari et al, 2009)”.



Anbari, F. T., Khilkhanova, E. V., Romanova, M. V., Ruggia, M., Tsay, H.-H., & Umpleby, S. A. (2009). ‘Managing cross-cultural differences in projects’, Paper presented at PMI® Global Congress 2009, North America, Orlando, FL. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *