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Contact John Wyzalek editor of IT Performance Improvement.


Cultural Communication Issues and Project E-Leadership

Margaret R. Lee

As the 21st century unfolds, global growth continues to present challenges. Organizations will begin to see major imbalances in the skills and labor market and will look to global workers and global leadership to maintain a competitive advantage. The workforce of the future needs and wants to be mobile. Years ago John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, summarized the importance of understanding culture in communications for global leaders: "Globally linked virtual teams will transform every government and company in the world. Any of our peers who don't do it won't survive".

Case Study: Making the Switch to a Virtual Communication Plan

Jorge is a project manager for a large electronics company. As a project manager for traditional, collocated projects, he relies heavily upon oral communication (face-to-face, team meetings), telephone, e-mail, and hard copies (paper) for reports, memos, and letters. Yesterday Jorge was given his first hybrid virtual project. Several of the team members are virtual and in different time zones. Only Jorge and two team members are collocated at the organization's headquarters. He immediately realizes that his tried-and-true project communication plan template will need to change.

Jorge begins to sketch out his thoughts regarding how he will communicate with his dispersed project team. Realizing the importance of a good communications plan, he drafts his ideas for the communication plan in a table format (Table 1) to share with the team.

Table 1. Jorge's Communications Plan Draft

He quickly realizes that his draft looks just like his tried-and-true traditional collocated project communications plans and modifies it by adding one more column to the table (Table 2) to answer the where for each piece of his plan.

Table 2. Jorge's Modified Columns to the Communications Plan

It is immediately evident that he is going to need the company to set up some kind of collaborative database for his project that all his team members and stakeholders can access. He sets up a meeting to talk with the IT department about what his needs will be for this database. He also decides to talk with them to determine the how of communicating with his new team. He presents them the following needs for communication technology:

  1. Voicemail and e-mail for updates and information sharing (low interaction activities)
  2. Electronic bulletin board, chat room, website, and video- and audio-conferencing for brainstorming, problem solving, and decision making (moderate interaction activities)
  3. Conferencing with audio/video and text/graphic, whiteboards with audio//s, and electronic meeting system (EMS) with audio/ video and text and graphic support for collaborative work (high interaction activities)

After the team's kickoff meeting, Jorge knows he will need to involve the team in putting together the final version of their communications plan. As he always does with his teams, he will be asking for their help in developing the communications plan. He will involve them in deciding what messages need to be conveyed and who needs to get them, the frequency of the communications, the level of detail needed, and the outcome of the communications. With this team, however, he decides the most important questions he will be asking are, "What is the best format for each audience and message?" and "What is the best medium for each audience and message?" Understanding that several virtual members of the team have been on virtual teams before, Jorge is ready to listen to their suggestions and allow emergent leaders to come forward with information and ideas for the plan.

Read more IT Performance Improvement

This article is an excerpt from:

The book addresses the challenges the virtual project management environment poses to traditional methods of leadership and communication. It introduces new approaches for adapting existing leadership theories to e-leadership as well as progressive tools and techniques to improve virtual project communications. The book begins by examining the factors affecting the movement from traditional work environments to virtual organizations. It considers the challenges of leading multicultural, global organizations and reviews what e-leadership means.

About the Author

Margaret R. Lee, PhD, PMP, has a doctorate in organization and management/project management from Capella University and is principal for LEE Consultants. Lee's consulting practice assists educational facilities in strategically planning virtual project management and e-leadership development curricula and also provides basic project management training and consultation for small businesses to international corporations. Her professional experience includes corporate trainer, instructional designer, and project manager. She currently teaches at Blackburn College in Carlinville, Illinois, and Benedictine University in Springfield, Illinois. She also teaches online for Florida Institute of Technology and the University of Northwestern Ohio and is a frequent guest presenter at the University of Wisconsin–Madison Fluno Center for Executive Education and for Project Management Institute chapters throughout the United States.