Culture in Project Management

Subject: Employee Management
Pages: 40
Words: 17311
Reading time:
58 min
Study level: Master


This chapter will elaborate on the importance of culture in project management in all of its aspects. The research will investigate various practices and situations that involve cultural considerations. This introductory chapter will define the background, problem, gap, aim, scope and justification of the study.

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Background of the Study

Business is currently becoming increasingly globalised, with companies expanding their operations internationally and engaging in partnerships with foreign organisations. Firms outsource projects, send expatriates to establish foreign branches and create international virtual specialist teams using communications technology. However, expatriates undergo a significant amount of stress and sometimes fail in their tasks (Josserand, Kaine and Nikolova 2018). Sometimes, these issues result from corporate miscalculations, but they can also happen because the manager fails to adjust to his or her new environment. However, the specific aspects of the problems that result, as well as the various causes that create them, remain unexplored.

The presence of people who come from different cultures in the same environment can lead to a variety of issues. Language barriers can create miscommunications, with people failing to understand each other and compromising the project as a result. This issue is particularly pertinent for nonverbal communication, as people may not realise that they do not understand each other or give the wrong impression. As a result, conflicts emerge in the workplace, and they usually do not reach a positive resolution. The essential competencies of project managers tend to be inadequate for resolving these issues due to the lack of the required intercultural competencies (Ahmadi and Parhizgar 2015).

Companies are aware of the potential dangers of sending a project manager to work in an unfamiliar culture and train them. However, there is no well-defined best method for doing so, and different organisations can adopt significantly different education methods. As Chen and Chang (2016) note, these approaches do not necessarily achieve the same results. There have been efforts to determine the strategy that achieves the best results, but they are hampered by the lack of information on the topic in general. As such, it is challenging to generalise successes and isolate training from personal characteristics and circumstances.

It should be noted that these issues concern many businesses that have no interest in international projects. With the ongoing globalisation of the world, many countries accept increasing numbers of first-generation immigrants, who tend to retain much of their cultural characteristics even over time (Al Wekhian 2015a). As a result, environments within companies are becoming increasingly diverse, and, as Al Wekhian (2015a) notes, the new workers are not necessarily ready to integrate into their new culture. As such, more and more project managers face the task of increasing the performance of a team that does not respond well to the methods that they have been using up until the present. Intercultural competencies are becoming critical to the profession of project management in general, and so they warrant investigation.

Research Problem and Questions

Culture is well known as a determinant of interactions between people, as evidenced by the common practice of studying national business etiquette. Many firms employ practices that try to address the differences with their international partners. There is a multitude of literature on the topic, and companies can find it challenging to isolate the best recommendation for their specific needs. As such, this study aims to answer the following questions by reviewing contemporary research:

  1. What cultural issues tend to affect expatriate project managers and diverse work environments the most?
  2. How severe are these issues relative to each other?
  3. What successful methods for addressing these issues have managers, educational institutions and international companies developed?

Research Gap and Problem Statement

Most companies are aware of cultural differences and their potential effects on the performance of international projects. However, issues of expatriate adjustment and diverse work environments remain inadequately explored. However, there are isolated cases of success in resolving these concerns, which warrant an investigation and analysis so that they can be applied elsewhere. As Nakagawa et al. (2018) find, the approaches that people use to succeed in their home countries may not necessarily apply in other nations. Moreover, these companies cannot redesign their methods to improve because they do not have enough data to inform their efforts. Their international efforts are too rare to draw conclusions and adapt to suit expatriate needs.

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However, while one company may not have enough data to inform its decisions, overall, enough efforts happen for analysis. As such, a researcher who has access to information from various companies can compile it and investigate the findings. In doing so, he or she may gather enough data to separate the various factors that affect a project manager’s intercultural performance. This study aims to organise findings about the experiences of a group of expatriate managers, highlight the prominent issues that they encounter and highlight some potential solutions. It intends to provide managers with knowledge on the issues they should expect to encounter and information on why specific methods will or will not work.

Research Aims and Objectives

The research aims to categorise the issues that project managers encounter on expatriate assignments and diverse environments. Its primary objective is to analyse which cultural factors affect their performance the most and how business schools and companies can prepare them to address these issues. As such, the following objectives can be set:

  1. Identify some of the relevant issues in project management that expatriate managers encounter during their assignments.
  2. Determine the relative importance of these concerns and their potential to harm the project’s performance.
  3. Discuss the role of business schools and companies in selecting and preparing project managers who can deal with these issues and propose improvements.

Scope and Limitations

This study will be limited to local companies, as it is challenging to locate relevant respondents in distant locations and contact them due to considerations such as language barriers and the unavailability of specific communication methods. It will also only review solutions that have been used successfully before, as it is not an experiment but a gathering of information about the situation. Furthermore, the following limitations apply:

  1. Only current expatriate managers will be analysed in this survey, as it is challenging to locate people who have quit such a position. Furthermore, contacting them would likely require learning their personal information, while current managers can be contacted through company channels.
  2. Only managers who can speak English and understand it at a level sufficient to complete the survey will be considered for this research. Adaptation of the questionnaires for different languages would require an amount of effort that is not justified by the returns.

Justification of Research

While project managers are aware of the cultural implications of modern business, they struggle to understand the full scope of the issue until they encounter it. However, by that point, it is often too late, and they have to deal with reduced performance or outright failure. While they may succeed in some aspects, they will fall behind in others due to the complexity of the issue. This study aims to identify the most prominent issues for companies and business schools that should be addressed if one wants to improve project performance in the company.

Literature Review

The initial literature search attempted to assess the field of current scholarly research on the matter by collecting articles with broad topics. Jenifer and Raman (2015) discuss how cultural differences create communication barriers in the workplace, which stem from misunderstandings, mismatched norms and values, stereotyping and ethnocentric behaviours. Pham and Panuwatnawich (2016) discuss how foreign managers can employ styles that do not maximise the performance of their employees due to their preference for specific characteristics. Mikhieieva and Waidmann (2017) identify risks that arise in intercultural environments, particularly stakeholder identification and management.

Ihtiyar (2017) highlights a variety of reasons why people who work on a project can engage in intercultural conflicts. Lastly, Kumari and Nirban (2017) describe the need for capacity in fostering intercultural communication in a modern manager. All of these issues are prevalent in current projects that involve the cooperation between different ethnicities and nationalities.

Larger-scale issues can arise when a company participates in an international project or opens a branch in another country. According to Wang and Kwan (2017), Eastern cultures tend to prefer leadership styles that are not common in Western countries, such as paternalistic leadership. Their benefits are still under debate, as Top, Öge, Atan and Gümüş (2015) note, but in any case, it may be beneficial to use an approach that works for employees locally instead of forcing them to use approaches derived from European and American cultures.

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With regards to stakeholder-related risks, Bencikova, Mala and Dado (2018) note that intercultural competence is essential to customer satisfaction. According to Ihtiyar and Ahmad (2015), the characteristic strongly affects the company’s service quality. As such, investigations into leadership styles and risk management are relevant and beneficial to companies.

The environment within a company and its relations with partners also contribute heavily to the success of each project it undertakes. Petrenko and Stolyarov (2019) note that companies from different countries can have significantly different cultures and use varying management styles, complicating cooperation. Stretton (2015) identifies situations where people from similar cultures struggle to resolve conflicts because of differences in values and misunderstandings.

According to Al Wekhian (2015a), workers from other cultures may not adopt the values of their new location, especially if they are first-generation immigrants. Padhi (2016) highlights the importance of intercultural communication in modern business due to the advancement of technology. Kobayashi (2019) discusses how traits that are seen as essential in American businesspeople are viewed as detrimental by their Japanese partners, forcing concessions and adaptation. Ultimately, the cultural management paradigm arose in response to the global emergence of issues such as these and aimed to address and resolve them.

A company cannot change the global environment and convince people to adhere to cultural norms that are different from their usual ones. As such, it has to adapt to the countries it enters and introduce acceptably small changes while respecting the culture and understanding it. Bird and Mendenhall (2016) introduce and discuss the concept of global leadership as an evolution of cross-cultural management. Mittal (2015) suggests the use of charismatic and transformational leadership styles for cultures with specific attributes. Pham and Panuwatwanich (2016) provide an example of an adaptation of one cultural style to another.

With regards to risk, Liu, Meng and Fellows (2015) propose the use of Hofstede’s theory to evaluate dangers based on the country’s culture. Straka (2017) notes that companies should identify stakeholders correctly, accept their identity and adapt to it. Other details will be discussed in detail, later on in this paper.

Cultural management has created significant changes in the internal workings of companies throughout the world. Kiznyte, Ciutiene and Dechange (2015) introduce the concept of cultural intelligence, the ability to work well in culturally diverse environments. Stahl et al. (2017) discuss the use of cross-cultural management to take advantage of cultural differences in the workplace and achieve success. San Cristóbal (2015) proposes the use of game theory to resolve conflicts between people who may belong to different cultures and live in various locations. Maranga and Sampayo (2015) note that cohesion is essential to a high-performing organisation, and one person’s capabilities are not sufficient to address the matter of intercultural conflict, necessitating the cooperation of facilitators and controllers. Overall, the research into cultural project management is still ongoing, with many areas remaining insufficiently explored and new proposals arising continuously.

Cultural Differences

A person’s culture can affect a wide variety of aspects in his or her workplace performance, ranging from small details to large-scale paradigms. Robbins and Burleson (2015) suggest that there may be cultural differences in consideration for future consequences, which is crucial in business, between people. Furthermore, Gom et al. (2015) state that employees that come from different cultures will sometimes have different value priorities that will affect their work behaviours and performance. Al Saifi (2016) discusses how the desire to save face and individualistic or collectivistic tendencies can negatively influence a worker’s willingness to share information.

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Trobez et al. (2017) also note that various countries approach ethics differently, highlighting the importance of bribery in Italy and the tendency of Croatians to be deceptive as examples. The successes of various projects and businesses in these countries show that the differences are not severe enough to impede operations heavily, but project managers should research their work environment to be safe.

When working in a new country, a manager should learn about his or her subordinates, but this focus does not mean that he or she can neglect his or her performance. Kathirvel and Febiula (2016) discuss the phenomenon of culture shock, meaning difficulties in adjusting to new and unfamiliar countries, and its tendency to inflict considerable stress on the person. Naeem, Nadeem and Khan (2015) note that the adverse effects culture shock usually follow a stage of positivity and optimism when the person experiences the positive aspects of another culture. Schmidt and Uecker (2015) claim that while American and Russian business ethics used to be considerably different with regards to favouritism, data manipulation and adherence to the law, they are now more similar. Similar occurrences can take place in any environment, and managers should be able to notice them in time.

Different countries and cultures provide specific environments that may assist or impede the progress of particular international projects. Jørgensen and Yamashita (2016) claim that the characteristics of the countries where the two entities that cooperate for the project are located are more critical to the possibility of failure than the differences between itself and the home nation of the firm.

Moura, Singh and Chun (2016) claim that websites designed in a cultural environment will reflect its values and primarily appeal to that culture. Millar, Peters and Millar (2018) describe culture sensitivity as an essential part of knowledge management in organisations that process large amounts of information such as high-technology firms. Sunardi, Tjakraatmadja and Bangun (2015) suggest that cultural diversity enhances employees’ ability to interpret information and transfer it in ways others find easy to understand. As such, the awareness of this trend can contribute to a manager’s performance considerably when it comes to team selection and management.

Cultural adjustment is critical to guaranteeing an expatriate manager’s performance and ensuring that he or she can continue being productive in the new country. Basuki and Riani (2018) state that an expatriate’s gender, home country and educational background do not influence a person’s willingness to leave but homesickness, which is moderated by cross-cultural adjustment, does. Singh and Mahmood (2017) claim that the trait improves expatriate performance and note that cultural adjustment is a significant factor that enhances this effect.

Tehseen and Saijian (2016) state that market orientation and technology orientation in culture have a significant relationship between innovative practices and business growth with the individualism-collectivism dimension acting as a mediator. Medcof and Wang (2017) claim that contemporary literature converges on the support of the culture, exploration, exploitation model of innovation. The framework can be used by companies to determine where to place their future research units for optimal performance.

Overall, the themes of general culture disparity, diversity, cultural change, and culture shock emerge. Both expatriates and project managers in their home countries are beginning to encounter people from significantly different cultures frequently. Sometimes, the implicit value differences between people can lead to misunderstanding and issues. Managers are aware of these concerns but not necessarily how to address them, particularly for changing cultures. As a result, they experience culture shock and perform worse than they would have otherwise.

Intercultural Management Methods

Business practices in many cultures usually evolve from interactions that occurred in the community in the past. As such, many countries will have evolved significantly different management approaches over time. For example, Al-Alawi and Alkhodari (2016) note that Germans prefer rigid hierarchy in business while Canadians are individualists who prefer direct communication, and Koreans favour punctuality while Moroccans are often late. Obeidat et al. (2016) discuss the influence of culture on human resource management, noting that masculinity, uncertainty avoidance, long term orientation and individualism are responsible for significant differences between countries.

According to Top et al. (2015), Eastern workers respond well to the paternalistic approach, which involves strict discipline and strong leader authority alongside benevolence and morality, and the servant leadership style is emerging as an alternative to the traditional transformational style. Mensah and Qi (2016) offer a comprehensive overview of leadership style preferences by country, though the study does not cover some culture-specific approaches, such as paternalistic leadership. With that said, it is not feasible for a manager to be able to change their style freely, as many of them are associated with specific personality traits that are intrinsic to a person.

The situation becomes more complicated once a firm enters a transitional economy, one where traditional management styles are phasing out of existence, but new ones are not yet sufficiently established to define the culture. Validova and Pulaj (2016) describe how Russian and Albanian managers tend to gravitate towards authoritarian styles established in the Soviet Union, though the younger generation tries to adopt the transformational style.

With that said, Zubanov et al. (2017) note that Anglo-Saxon management patterns can be applied in Serbia, which also tends towards an authoritative management style, but required significant and careful alteration. Yam et al. (2017) discuss how transformational leadership is essential to promoting safety and reducing accidents in Malaysia, even if the country’s culture may not favour the use of the style for general business. Garg (2018) states that “certain leadership styles and practices transcend international boundaries” (p. 35), even if specific leadership decisions usually depend on the situation. However, these fundamental practices currently remain mostly unknown, as no style has been found universally applicable.

Previous research has established the fact that different countries will display considerable variation in their preferred management styles. Al-Alawi and Alkhodari (2016) discuss the situation in four different countries and find considerable dissimilarities that correspond to variations in Hofstede’s cultural dimensions. Sharif et al. (2017) discuss how some countries may accept bribery but hold environmental concerns in high regard while others display the opposite practices.

Hartono (2016) describes cases in which culturally appropriate models that fulfil the emotional needs of customers achieved considerable success with both local and foreign clients. Hosseini and Allahyari (2016) note how cultural intelligence can significantly enhance customer satisfaction in the bank industry, establishing more efficient and lasting relationships. A model may emerge in the future that can determine the changes in one’s management style that will be necessary to adapt to their new country, but so far, these findings are mostly only of interest to scholars.

Some issues, particularly ethical ones, remain static and unchanging regardless of the country, but different societies show varying concern for addressing them. Džupina (2016) discusses how managerial altruism, religious beliefs and education drive corporate social responsibility practices alongside regulatory and institutional frameworks as well as stakeholders. However, there are still difficulties, and Xiao and Overton (2018) highlight the fact that the perception of socially responsible practices differs considerably between the United States and China.

Nakagawa et al. (2018) claim that while a complete transfer of Japanese management styles to a company’s foreign subsidiaries does not improve performance, a departure towards looser and freer relationships shows positive results, particularly in emerging markets. Lee, Park and Ban (2016) claim that some workers do not want to adjust to their new culture or its management preferences. Overall, it is essential to balance the manager’s beliefs with the adaptations required to suit the culture, a task that demands significant competence of an expatriate.

The section highlights cultural preferences for specific management styles and the issues that arise from their differences. Managers who come from a country that has a strong bias towards a specific style can insist on using it elsewhere. They may also be forced to use the style of their destination country, which is not necessarily the most effective. Some degree of adjustment is optimal, but it is challenging to achieve. As such, though most project managers attempt to resolve the conflict in some manner, their degrees of success vary.

Intercultural Risks

Companies will often decide to begin working on a project in another country and begin making assumptions about the local culture that may not necessarily be true. However, Binder and Varga (2015) discuss situations where such initiatives are less viable than expected due to sociocultural factors in the location where they would be implemented. According to Hyun and Yoan (2018), countries with similar cultures will still often display sufficient differences to complicate interactions without sufficient cultural adaptation.

Alami (2016) claims that interactions between different groups of workers are prone to misinterpretation due to a language barrier, and differences in local organisational culture can lead to mutual dissatisfaction. Amster and Böhm (2016) note that employees, as well as managers, should receive training in cross-cultural competencies. However, due to the ambiguous definition of culture, current training strategies are not transparent or well-defined, with no indication of what aspects of the culture workers should learn to improve their intercultural awareness and enhance the communication quality.

Another issue is in the interactions between stakeholders from different countries or cultures and the firm. According to Browning and Ramasesh (2015), such agents may have conflicting goals and visions, complicating the firm’s planning and forcing it to decide whose needs will be satisfied and whose will not. According to Alotaibi and Mafimisebi (2016), the communication of goals to various stakeholders and quick as well as the fair resolution of goal conflicts is among the foremost challenges of project management in the 21st century.

Varma et al. (2016) note that host culture members respond better to people whom they believe to share its values, and the resemblance must be more than a superficial cultural similarity. These concerns create the need for a careful selection of the potential expatriate as well as in-depth awareness of the local practices that would help one identify and engage stakeholders.

There is a wide variety of dangers associated with beginning a project in another country, many of which are related to the differences in their cultures. Dinu (2015) identifies vendor selection, incompatible standards, security gaps, legal and regulatory issues, single seller dependence, cultural differences, reduced employee motivation and a lack of centralised control as the most significant risks associated with outsourcing.

However, Baptista et al. (2016) claim that the challenges of global development can be addressed using new developments in project management. Epifanova and Hild (2015) highlight the issues that arise during interactions between expatriate managers and employees in Thailand, in particular with regards to the acceptable modes of talking. Notably, Alves (2017) describes the influence of cultural similarities on the relationship quality between companies from different countries. However, while the scenario of working in a similar country is ideal, research should focus on the worst-case scenario of significantly different cultures.

Inadequate stakeholder identification and analysis can lead to subpar project outcomes, including failures to accomplish some parts of the overall goal. Josserand, Kaine and Nikolova (2018) discuss examples such as Apple’s failure to control the pollution created by its suppliers, which were located in China. Jian et al. (2017) note that Eastern companies are prone to underreporting their successes in such initiatives due to the culture of modesty prevalent in a region, though there is some variation.

Taiwan, Na-Nan and Ngudgratoke (2017) discuss the various reasons why an employee sent overseas may underperform or fail, with adjustment and personality being the most significant determinants. Erogul and Rahman (2017) note that the manager’s partner is likely to experience stress as well, and the pressure contributes to the chance of project failure. Project managers should be prepared to address deep-seated issues such as dishonesty and lack of transparency, but they may encounter significant resistance in doing so.

Overall, the most significant risks arise when the manager encounters unknown situations. The initial period after arrival, when the project manager is adapting to the situation, can lead to significant harm if issues emerge initially. Some situations that a company may see as suboptimal from the outside may involve an ecosystem that is concealed from an external perspective. Additionally, project managers often have to balance conflicting demands from various stakeholders. Improvement initiatives often involve changing traditional practices, an approach that can encounter resistance from subordinates.

Conflict Management Styles

The cultural differences between different countries and cultures tend to manifest strongly in their conflict management styles. According to Gunkel, Schlaegel and Taras (2016), cultural values and emotional intelligence are the two primary determinants of a person’s conflict-handling preferences. Abbas and Karage (2015) claim that Indians tend to adopt a dominating attitude but become more avoiding as they devote more time to their work while Nigerians are compromising, integrating and obliging but become less so as they work. However, Ani (2017) discusses how the introduction of unique indigenous principles can enhance the resolution process.

As Conti, Arcuri and Simone (2018) state, team leaders should develop excellent communication skills and gather information about conflicts as well as understand the group’s emotions. Learning about local cultural practices and determining when intervention is necessary are critical parts of these competencies.

The situation is complicated by the lack of research into every culture’s preferences with regards to conflict resolution. European and American approaches are usually seen as radically different from Arab ones, but Gardner and Barcella (2015) argue that there are many similarities between the two. Khalil (2017) notes that conflict resolution and cross-cultural training are vital competencies for team performance improvement, especially in modern virtual long-distance environments.

Kim and Jang (2017) state that there are many points of conflict between cultures that may be perceived as similar from the outside, ones that can result in disagreements and issues in the workplace. However, as Al Wekhian (2015a, 2015b) notes, first and second-generation immigrants tend to display significantly different values, beliefs and conflict resolution approaches, as the latter are more acculturated. Overall, the research field is highly complex, and managers currently have to rely on their capabilities.

Conflict is inevitable in large-scale corporate settings, as it is part of the decision-making process and, therefore, integral to the regular operation of the enterprise. However, Smits and Brownlow (2017) state that a lack of unity manifests in collaborative multicultural environments, and therefore, conflict is more likely to emerge and be unproductive. Shaw (2015) highlights how, depending on cultural dimensions, companies may prefer to force their decisions through or try to negotiate. Wanyonyi, Kimani and Amuhaya (2015) note that the use of various conflict resolution styles can affect the organisational commitment of the employees, potentially lowering it.

The analysis by Hussein, Al-Mamary and Hassan (2017) concludes that conflicts, including cultural ones, can be managed in a manner that creates positive outcomes. Overall, the narrative that the manager should create an environment where the organisation is more important than a specific culture emerges.

A manager needs to obtain overall cross-cultural competencies to become able to manage conflicts. Calvin, Beale and Moore (2017) claim that an approach wherein one values the various aspects of different cultures is the most effective at maximising benefits and minimising conflicts. Hassani, Ahmadi and Parhizgar (2015) identify cultural intelligence as the primary trait that should be acquired by managers to improve their ability to resolve altercations. Naismith et al. (2016) claim that conflicts in such environments tend to have more destructive effects than positive ones due to the inability of conflict theorists to account for personality. Korovyakovskaya and Chong (2016) note that while task and process conflicts tend to hurt the performance of diverse groups, relationship conflicts do not. The findings return to the manager’s ability to understand the situation and resolve it through personal experience, as theory is currently inadequate.

Cultural differences contribute to increased conflict frequency and greater difficulty in their resolution. The altercations are often unproductive, and a third party that is unfamiliar with the local culture will often fail at resolving them adequately. This tendency is particularly prominent if there are specific local practices used for conflicts, with which the manager may interfere. Diversity contributes in this aspect considerably, as well, as it creates the potential for a highly complex environment that demands an immediate reaction.

Intercultural Communication

Language is among the most important distinguishing factors between different cultures, as it is shaped by their communication patterns and affects them in turn. Sanden (2015) discusses the practice of using corporate language policies, which determine the languages employees should use to converse in the workplace. However, Ahlfors and Fang (2017) make a case for the use of adaptive strategies, where the company adjusts its language to that of the host culture.

Zummo (2018) states that cultural differences, such as those between rule-based and relationship-based cultures, can lead to misunderstandings and conflicts during email exchanges. Nickolayev et al. (2015) state that miscommunications can lead to waste of time or material difficulties, which are impermissible in a business that operates efficiently. There is no consensus on the best available policy and the methods that can minimise miscommunication.

Communication patterns also have important implications for managers when they are interacting with their team and discussing specific aspects. According to Orji (2016), individualistic and collectivistic cultures show significant differences in their susceptibility to particular persuasive strategies, with the former preferring authority, reciprocity, consensus and liking, individualists favouring scarcity, and commitment viewed equally well.

Ditta-Apichai and Kattiyapornpong (2018) note that individuals can be considerably different in how easy they are to persuade based on specific cultural values they do not share. Adair et al. (2015) discuss how nonverbal, relational, spatial and temporal cues can contribute heavily to a culture’s communicative practices. Hamelin et al. (2018) state that the former prefer indirect communications that tie into politics, morality and social relationships, while the latter favour verbal discussions and direct conflict. The differences between the two mandate extensive education for an expatriate who is preparing to work in a culture with communication styles that differ from his or hers.

There are many modes in which communication between different organisations may take place, especially if they come from different cultures and, therefore, do not use the same language. Bourne (2016) states that the use of interpreters is associated with numerous difficulties, such as context, power distance, value system, tone reproduction and culture-specific words and expressions.

Doğan (2017) proposes the emergence of a new variety of interpreter that takes culture into account and tries to reconcile the different value systems. Tiechuan (2016) provides the example of nonverbal cues, with the “OK” hand symbol meaning reassurance, zero, or a demand for a bribe depending on the person’s culture. Blahova (2015) notes that understanding a culture’s complete arsenal of nonverbal cues and using it is a challenging task, but adds that the field has progressed considerably recently. As such, a framework that improves the quality of communication may be established soon, but, as with other aspects of the review, it has not emerged yet.

The skillset would be a part of the overall intercultural competence structure that should be established for effective communication. However, as Stadler (2017) states, most companies currently use development methods that are inadequate for the task by being overly culture-specific or culture-generic. Nevertheless, as Mulyana and Zubair (2015) state, there are examples of successful intercultural communicative relationships where one party knows how to achieve the desired results by influencing the others.

Verghese (2017) notes that effective internal communication educates employees about organisational culture, providing a basis that they can use to unite regardless of their diverse backgrounds. In particular, O’Neill, Hodgson and Al Mazrouei (2015) note that the context level of a culture may determine its preference for direct or indirect communication methods. The successful examples should be evaluated against the failures, and beneficial results may emerge.

Many managers struggle to grasp the concept that different cultures communicate in distinct ways, being used to direct and clear organisational communication. This lack of awareness may be the result of inadequate education that does not address the topic. Some will also assume that their interpreters are more competent than they actually are because they do not understand the nature of their work. As a result, miscommunication issues may arise, both overt and more subtle.

Cultural Management Methods

Cultural awareness can be highly beneficial to a manager who is prepared to embrace the diverse nature of his or her stakeholders and take appropriate measures. Khan (2018) describes how France is suffering from poor leadership practices that can be improved if managers adapt to the environment and the differences between different provinces. Udebuana (2019) highlights the variety of viewpoints that can be harnessed in a multicultural team and the overall organisational benefits from the process.

Cox (2016) suggests an experiential, multimedia-based approach to teaching students about diversity as a potentially useful method for business schools. Berényi and Deutsch (2018) suggest the notion of gathering student opinions and using them to determine the optimal teaching methods. However, all of these suggestions are currently theoretical, as it takes a long time for education results to manifest itself in work.

It should be noted that many business schools do not incorporate cultural awareness education into their curricula at the moment. Bele and Hebalkar (2019) suggest that the reason is a lack of the skillset in teachers, which impedes their ability to educate others regardless of the existence of established programs. Alas and Mousa (2016) provide the example of a school in Egypt that lists cultural diversity as an essential value but does not take a systematic approach to the topic.

Ge (2018) offers an iceberg model that analyses the visible and invisible parts of a culture and helps students identify both to gain a better understanding of its aspects. Gunn, Peterson and Welsh (2015) propose a model that integrates diversity issues into general course content. These frameworks can be applied in business schools, improving the quality of education provided at the facilities without changing the time spent learning.

There are many examples of successful companies that have managed to lead international and cross-cultural projects to success. Siriphattrasophon and Trang (2016) discuss the example of a Western company that has succeeded in expanding its operations into Thailand and Vietnam and engaging employees through effective cross-cultural management. Łużniak-Piecha et al. (2016) discuss the notion of scientists becoming international project managers during research initiatives due to the ability to cooperate at a distance provided by modern communication technology.

Wood and Wilberger (2015) claim that even the most talented teams do not guarantee success if cultural considerations are not respected, and they refuse to put sufficient effort into the task to satisfy its needs. van Dick and Kerschreiter (2016) suggest that companies can develop a shared social identity that exists alongside their cultural background or overrides it with regards to work. Examples of both successful adaptation and the introduction of an overarching organisational identity deserve particular interest.

As each culture demands a unique adaptation from the manager for optimal performance, it is best to teach the competencies necessary to develop such a response. Alexandrova (2016) discusses the importance of various values and skills such as volitional regulation, knowledge of specific speech and cultural dialogue and general interaction. Ko (2015) claims that non-Western expatriate managers consider integrity, self-learning, sincerity, open-mindedness and extroversion essential qualities for success.

Whitaker and Greenleaf (2017) propose a course that is adjusted based on the evaluation of a student’s cultural intelligence and teaches global leadership based on developing the trait. Rodriguez and Boyer (2018) suggest using role-play sequences to educate students on the situations that they will likely encounter in their work. With the focus on the manager’s capabilities over theoretical frameworks that emerges throughout the review, education that prepares competent specialists may contribute to resolving the issues considerably.

Expatriates deserve particular attention, as they should be carefully selected and appropriately trained to ensure that they succeed at the task that the organisation assigns to them. Heirsmac (2015) notes that most successful expatriates believe that both gender and personality are essential to their work, in both positive and negative manners. Aljbour (2017) notes that many expatriate managers do not trust their subordinates and show little interest in learning the language of their host country. Aziz (2016) claims that cultural intelligence helps expatriates minimise uncertainty and anxiety, enabling new possibilities and enhancing their contextual performance.

Lie, Suyasa and Wijaya (2016) state that the trait enables expatriates to experience others’ qualities and increases their overall job satisfaction. These findings can be applied to form a more rigorous selection process for a suitable manager.

Appropriate corporate training is required to teach future expatriates the necessary competencies, as outlined above. Li (2017) provides an example of Japanese companies, which employ a one-year training period before departure and teach the worker the local language and various customs. Chen and Chang (2016) discuss various approaches such as sensitivity and problem-solving training, factual training and local mentoring upon arrival, practical lessons via overseas seminars held in subsidiaries and re-entry preparation before departure as well as support using communication technology. Warinowski (2016) notes that social support within the family is a critical determinant of expatriate success and a prominent resource that managers use to manage issues. Teague (2015) proposes a dual system of formal training and informal support programs that would improve the spouse’s acculturation ability. These studies are particularly beneficial, as they provide specific findings that companies may apply immediately.

It is essential to establish that effective cross-cultural communication can improve the company’s performance in addition to reducing the possibility of mistakes and errors. Rani et al. (2016) discuss the case of Samsung, an international giant that has overcome various challenges by implementing successful interaction patterns and fostering quality information exchange. Zheng (2015) outlines a basic learning model that one can use to foster his or her communication skills that consists of simplifying ideas, learning about the other culture, actively listening and opening to new ideas.

According to Ghatge and Dasgupta (2017), the approach can improve their competitive performance, with primary factors that help create the advantage being a willingness to experience, tolerance, motivation, prior experience, emotional intelligence and cultural flexibility. Newman et al. (2016) discuss how even in low context cultures, people can improve their persuasion, leadership and confidence with non-verbal cues. Larger sample sizes would help researchers verify the results of the study and develop superior approaches to training.

Such learning may lead to the creation of a foundation for global business communication that does not require extensive adaptation to individual cultures to be effective. Meske, Kissmer and Stieglitz (2018) state that many companies are adopting the policy internally to govern employee interactions, but subsidiary acceptance of the methodology varied. Waisbord (2016) discusses the progress towards global research and discussion space that is not impeded by language but notes that current knowledge is insufficient for achieving that goal.

Keefe et al. (2016) propose simulations using long-distance communication tools as an effective method to improve the functioning of multicultural virtual teams. Zwerg-Villegas and Martínez-Díaz (2016) propose the use of social media alongside online collaboration tools to enhance the effectivity of the program. Nevertheless, further research is required to ensure that the approach has value to project managers and can be applied in a business environment.

Project managers should be prepared to encounter cross-cultural conflicts and address them in a manner that ensures the optimal performance of the team. Mengesha, Yesuf and Gebre (2015) claim that learning the local approaches to altercations and potentially adopting them can be a useful measure. Popov (2016) proposes the notion of sociocultural integration and trying to address issues proactively to reduce the overall incidence of conflict.

Dildar and Amjad (2017) discuss gender differences in conflict resolution times and note that they exist but are mitigated in the workplace, where the position is more important. However, Azim (2017) notes that even though the dominating style is prohibited in Islam and the obliging style is encouraged, the former is the second most popular and the latter is second least preferred. As such, personal characteristics and general cultural convictions are still essential aspects and deserve in-depth investigations.

It may be possible to create an organisational culture that alleviates the influence of culture on conflict, at least within the organisation. Khan et al. (2016) claim that fostering a hierarchical or market culture contributes significantly to the reduction of conflict, while adhocracy and clan cultures make them more likely to occur. Siakas and Siakas (2015) propose a model that is appropriate to multicultural environments without a need to analyse each participant’s culture, though doing so would improve its performance.

Avcı, Aydaş and Arlı (2015) note that the teaching of various conflict styles in such institutions is often not even, possibly due to the cultural preferences of the educators. Aşkun and Çetin (2016) discuss the role of mindfulness in conflict communication and its relation to personal characteristics. The advantages of creating strong organisational cultures make education on their development particularly interesting for business schools.

Overall, managers should learn to speak the language of their destination country as part of their education about its culture. They should learn to adapt their management style to new circumstances and integrating into the destination country. Both business schools and the companies that send them should be responsible for this education. Communication skills and conflict management should receive particular attention, as they have been well-researched, and managers can benefit from extensive theoretical and practical education regardless of the culture where they work.



This study will follow the research onion structure for its methodology. According to Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill (2009), the framework consists of a philosophical stance, approach, strategy, choices, time horizon, and techniques and procedures. Each of these levels will be discussed in turn in a separate section.

The Saunders Research Onion.
Figure 1: The Saunders Research Onion (Saunders et al. 2009).

Research Philosophy

The research philosophy describes the specific method used to gather and analyse data. According to Saunders et al. (2009), there are three principal options in this category: epistemology, ontology and axiology. The first is a study of knowledge and how it is obtained and seen, the second concerns knowable facts, and the third analyses information from a philosophical stance. This study will use ontology, as it is concerned with the difficulties that expatriate managers face in their work.

The study follows a positivist philosophy as part of its ontological approach, as it tries to eliminate biases, increase objectivity, and explain the various phenomena that surround intercultural project management. According to Saunders et al. (2009), the idea of positivism is to work with observable social reality and generalise the information into a set of rules. This study aims to establish guidelines for business schools and companies to follow during expatriate selection and education.

Research Approach

The research approach can be either inductive, starting with theory and using data to confirm or reject a strong hypothesis, or deductive, attempting to collect various data and analyse it to find patterns and derive information. The literature on the topic is broad but not deep, and so, it is not possible to create a framework that can result in a small number of hypotheses. As such, the deductive approach is better for the task, as it can be used to create a large number of tentative hypotheses and produce definite results.

Research Strategy

There exists a variety of different approaches to conducting a study based on the author’s intentions and goals. Saunders et al. (2009) list experiments, surveys, case studies, action research, grounded theory, ethnography, and archival research as examples of potential strategies. This study deals with the personal experiences of project managers and does not conduct any interventions. As such, a survey is the best method for the collection of the participants’ views of their expatriate assignments.

Research Choices

The research uses a mixed design, using both the quantitative and qualitative approach to produce the best results. A qualitative design for the literature review produces detailed results and identifies themes that can be used to form the questionnaires. The quantitative format of the survey allows the researcher to collect anonymous data from people and analyse it while minimising biases that can be challenging to quantify. The combined approach allows the research to both be thorough in its topic analysis and isolate each topic sufficiently to make distinct decisions.

Time Horizons

In this study, the author does not propose an intervention or expect to see any changes over time. As such, a longitudinal study is not a viable option, as it does not offer any improvement while requiring more time. As such, a cross-sectional design, where all data is collected in the same short time frame, is appropriate for this study.

Research Ethics

The potential issues involved with the collection of data from project managers are the danger to their privacy and the possibility that their information may be used for non-research purposes. The participants were informed of all aspects of the study and asked to confirm that they consent to have their personal information used. Moreover, the data that was collected has been anonymised and will not be used beyond the scope of this research.

Data Collection

Primary Data

The primary data is the recollections of expatriate project managers with regards to working in a different culture. This information is gathered via a set of surveys based on secondary data analysis. These questionnaires collect the participants’ opinions on the current practices of their companies as well as the prevalence of cultural aspects in their everyday work. The participants were asked to express the answer to each specific question using a 6-level Likert scale between 0 and 5, with the former meaning near non-existence and the latter meaning an extreme prevalence of the effect.

Overall, there were six different questionnaires with a total of thirty-seven questions. The questions were formulated after an analysis of the works presented in the literature review and the formulation of the original ideas contained within.

Sampling Strategy

The sample consisted of expatriate project managers, who would have experienced the various aspects of intercultural cooperation in their work firsthand. The researcher contacted twenty-five companies and requested the assistance of any expatriate managers that would be on site. They provided a description of the study to justify the provision of personal information and make the companies more likely to respond. Overall, seventeen companies responded with the means to contact people who may be of interest or offered to forward emails with the surveys to them. They provided the researcher with access to fifty-two people who fit the criteria. All of them were contacted via email that contained an explanation of the study and a request to fill the attached questionnaires and email them back.

Overall, thirty-seven people responded and returned a filled survey. However, four of those could not be used for various reasons, such as incorrect filling procedures. As such, thirty-three viable surveys were available for analysis. The respondents work in a variety of spheres such as information technology, retail and manufacturing. As such, they should provide the study with access to a diverse range of views. The number is sufficient to assume that the data is normally distributed (Meeker, Hahn and Escobar, 2017). However, this work is still a preliminary study, and further research with higher sample sizes will be required before its results can be considered trustworthy.

Survey Strategy

The questions were separated into six questionnaires, with responses using a six-item Likert scale, and analysed separately. Seven questions discussed general cultural differences and the manager’s response to them. The cultural management methods questionnaire included five items, and there were four questions related to the perceived risks of operating in an unfamiliar environment. Six separate questions addressed conflict management, separate from general management styles because each person applies it individually. Six questions evaluated communication issues, specifically, covering various aspects of language and cultural barriers.

The last category, cultural management methods, discusses the participants’ self-assessed understanding of the methods for success and their opinion of the education and training on the matter they received. These questions should comprehensively assess the various issues expatriates face in their work and the advantages or deficiencies of current education methods.

Secondary Data

Secondary data is defined as that collected from various published sources instead of real-world situations. Its purpose in this study is to identify the specific topics that can be of interest to project managers with regards to intercultural operation. Overall, a total of 137 sources were collected using Google Scholar, JSTOR and ScienceDirect. The general keywords used were ‘intercultural’, ‘project management’, and ‘expatriate’. Other, more specific keywords were added to find literature on more specific topics such as cultural management methods or stakeholder identification.

Data Analysis

Secondary Data

The initial data analysis involves the reading of the various literature collected and the interpretation of the various topics discussed therein. They are used to formulate a framework of distinct issues that may appear prominently in expatriate project management. These problems are then used as foundations for the creation of the questions in the forms presented in the primary data collection stage.

Primary Data

The data that is gathered in the survey underwent statistical analysis to determine the average incidence of the events and practices described in the questionnaires. The mean, standard deviation, and skewness were determined to help paint a picture of the current state of cultural project management in practice.


The mean is the average of the responses in each category. It can serve as a general indicator of the consensus between all of the participants.

Standard Deviation

The standard deviation represents the degree to which opinions are spread to either side of the mean. Low values relative to the mean suggest that the participants tend to agree in their answers, and big ones indicate a significant disparity of opinion.


Skewness represents the degree of asymmetry in the distribution of results around the mean. Positive skewness suggests that some outlier results to the right of the mean affect it, and negative values in the statistic indicate the same for results to the left.

Overall, the findings are expected to contextualise the current cultural project management theory by showing the relevance of the topics that it is focusing on.


Table 1: Cultural Differences Questionnaire.

Question Mean Standard Deviation Skewness
Is your native culture significantly different from that of your employees? 3.0303 0.8095 -0.0569
How culturally diverse is your workplace? 2.6364 0.4885 -0.5943
How often have you experienced misunderstandings because your employees had values different from yours or each other’s? 2.5455 1.1750 0.1301
How much has the local culture changed since you first assumed your position? 1.5758 1.0906 -0.1292
If you have experienced culture shock, how severe was it? 3.3939 1.1163 -0.0035
How helpful has your cultural sensitivity training been (if you have received any)? 2.6061 1.8190 -0.0655
How well has your spouse (if you have one and they accompanied you) been able to adjust? 3.6667 1.1365 -0.3726

The results of the statistical analysis are presented in tables 1 through 6, beginning with cultural differences and their effects. The first category is intended to collect the respondent’s overall views on his or her experience as an expatriate manager. It encompasses the initial work experience, the overall perception of the process throughout time, personal adjustment difficulties as well as those of one’s family, and the training provided by the company.

The purpose of this survey is to determine whether the managers see the cultures where they work as significantly distinct from their original one and to evaluate their opinion on their preparedness to deal with the issues that arise. The findings show that while the participants tend to believe that they have arrived in a significantly different culture, they view the effects as more personal than professional.

There are no particular outliers in the category, with the means of the answers to each question being contained in the 1-4 range. Some of the standard deviations are relatively high compared to the means, implying a considerable degree of variance. However, most of them are close to 1, suggesting that overall, the values are clustered somewhat tightly. As such, the sample mean may approach the population mean, and the result will still be accurate in a broader context. However, to make this assertion, it is necessary to obtain reliable evidence that the data follows a normal distribution. Skewness is the characteristic that should be analysed to make that determination.

A normal distribution has a skewness of 0, meaning that the possibility of finding a value that is higher than the mean is the same as that of finding an equally distant lower one. It is highly unlikely that a sample’s skewness will be equal to 0, even if it were obtained from a normal distribution because of the random nature of the results. However, with increasing sample sizes, the statistic should generally decrease continuously, eventually reaching infinitely small values. As such, low skewness values suggest that the distribution is symmetric and, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, normal. The values in Table 1 do not exceed 1, and so they are likely low enough that they do not contradict the assumption of normality.

Table 2: Intercultural Management Methods Questionnaire.

Question Mean Standard Deviation Skewness
Is there a cultural bias towards a specific management style in your original country? 2.8788 0.7809 0.2204
Is there a cultural bias towards a specific management style in your current country? 1.4545 0.5056 0.1914
How satisfactory is the ability of the management style favoured in your current country to handle operations? 2.4242 0.5019 0.3214
How difficult has it been to adjust to the cultural style of the country or to have your employees follow your methods? 2.0909 1.1823 0.0559
How much has your approach to resolving the issue helped improve the organisation’s operation? 0.9091 0.8790 0.1846

The second questionnaire concentrates on management styles and their applications in an unfamiliar environment. Expatriate managers appear to believe that there is a considerable bias towards a specific management style in their home country, likely transactional or transformational. However, they do not think the same about their new places of residence, whether because there is little bias or due to a failure to recognise such a trend.

The rest of the results indicates that the second proposition is more likely, as managers do not find much success using their methods. They make simple adjustments to try and match the situation, but their efforts create few to no results. There is likely some distance between expatriate project managers and their local team members that prevents them from understanding each other and cooperating successfully.

Table 2 displays generally lower values than Table 1, with one mean that is below 1. However, it is likely not an outlier but rather a result of the generally low values displayed in the category. Also, it displays a relatively high standard deviation, suggesting that the low result is a result of the variance. Likewise, there are no unusually high values, whether in the context of the category or the general scope of the study. Overall, the standard deviations in this category are not high, similarly to Table 1, and so the results must be clustered somewhat tightly, suggesting homogeneity of results across the field. The evidence serves as further proof that the findings of the study approximate a real situation.

Similarly to Table 1, the skewness values in the category are consistently low. It is possibly noteworthy that, unlike the first category, where most skews were in a negative direction, all of the results in the cultural management methods section were all positive. The distributions may not be perfectly normal, and some biases that affect the respondents’ answers may be present. However, the possibility will require further analysis before it can be declared likely to affect. Furthermore, it will be necessary to determine potential causes for the phenomenon and conduct additional research to confirm or deny the hypotheses. Overall, any determinations will occur later on, and any potential explanations will be relegated to the discussion section.

Table 3: Risk Questionnaire.

Question Mean Standard Deviation Skewness
How often have you encountered difficulties when implementing projects because formerly unknown stakeholders emerge? 0.4545 0.5056 0.1914
How often have your projects been compromised by conflicting demands from local and foreign stakeholders? 3.3030 1.0454 0.3870
How difficult was it to convince your subordinates to adopt practices uncommon in their cultures, if the need arose? 3.3939 1.1163 0.1400
How heavily were you stressed during the initial adjustment and orientation period? 2.6364 0.4885 -0.5943

The third survey discusses the various risks associated with moving to another country and engaging in projects there. The most prominent result is that there were few to no situations where managers noticed unknown stakeholders emerging. This finding suggests that either the case discussed by Binder and Varga (2015) is isolated and rare, or the managers failed to notice and engage these parties. However, each of the other three categories highlighted in the has produced moderately high values.

Expatriates often have to manage contradictory demands and interests from various parties, acting as middlemen. They also have to teach their subordinates new practices and ensure that the workers follow the new policies throughout their work without supervision. Their stress during the initial period, when they had to take in the details of the project while adjusting to their new culture, was somewhat less of an issue but noteworthy regardless.

Table 3 displays the first definite and noteworthy outlier value, which is particularly relevant because of the somewhat high values of the other characteristics. While the standard deviation for the characteristic is higher than the mean for the category, the two statistics combined still imply that most of the values obtained in the first section are between 0 and 1. As such, an explanation for the unusual behaviour will be necessary for the discussion section. All of the other values have relatively low deviations, and so, it is possible to assert that there is no odd behaviour, and the findings reflect reality satisfactorily. Nevertheless, the high, though not exceptionally so, results will warrant interest, especially regarding the solutions used by project managers to address risks.

The skewness values are still consistent for the most part, with one notable outlier. With that said, the positive numbers in Table 2 are mostly low compared to the average. The fact implies that the result is dependent on variance and requires further verification with a larger sample size to confirm its existence. The negative outlier, while still small on an absolute scale, is considerably higher than its positive counterparts. It is possible to explain the phenomenon as variance due to its isolated nature, but the result is still noteworthy. As such, the discussion section will include this difference as a fact that warrants a theoretical analysis. There may be an explanation that is based on the nature of the question and its relationship with human biases or objective reality.

Table 4: Conflict Management Styles Questionnaire.

Question Mean Standard Deviation Skewness
How frequent are conflicts between employees as well as yourself in your workplace? 3.4242 1.2255 0.0779
How productive do you believe the altercations that occur to be? 0.6061 0.4962 -0.4551
How effective is the application of the conflict management styles familiar to you? 2.4545 0.5056 0.1914
How prominent are cultural practices in the resolution of conflicts between your subordinates? 0.4242 0.5019 0.3214
How much do you know about the specific cultural conflict management practices of your employees? 3.0909 1.0713 0.6211
How much does diversity contribute to the incidence of conflicts in the projects that you manage? 3.0909 1.5076 0.0111

The fourth survey isolates conflicts, which are among the most significant and well-researched issues of intercultural cooperation. Managers appear to believe that altercations frequently occur, perhaps unhealthily often. Moreover, they seldom end in positive outcomes, which implies that the managers perceive them as unproductive. The participants believe their efforts to be moderately effective and claim that there are few or no cultural conflict resolution practices. The latter finding can be a result of them failing to recognise such efforts when they occur, but it may also be rooted in the recognition that most people use different variations of the same conflict resolution framework.

The next finding, with managers claiming significant knowledge of their subordinates’ cultural practices, supports the latter proposition. Lastly, the respondents appear to mostly agree that diversity is a significant contributor to the emergence of workplace conflicts.

Table 4 displays similar outcomes to Table 3, with generally high values and two extremely low outliers. There are three numbers above 3, which is notable, if not particularly unusual, and two means that are below 1. The standard deviations behave mostly the same as they do in the case of risk management, being low for higher values and relatively high for the two outliers. As such, it is possible to reach much the same conclusions, explaining the higher number of unusual cases by the larger size of the category. Nevertheless, each result will require an additional explanation, and so will the overall high results displayed in the category. While the outward tendencies appear to be the same, the reasons behind the results may be considerably different.

The skewness tendencies displayed in the category are also somewhat similar to those in Table 3, with most of the results being positive and one negative showing. However, there are somewhat significant positive results that lead the negative showing to appear less notable as a consequence. Nevertheless, the average value is still low, as there are also some minimal values. As such, the same considerations may not apply, with the presence of the skew being more challenging to dismiss. Notably, the negative skew is present on one of the outliers, meaning that the two facts may be associated and caused by the same phenomenon. As such, further analysis will be necessary for this category that will take place in the next section.

Table 5: Intercultural Communication Questionnaire.

Question Mean Standard Deviation Skewness
Please rate your degree of cultural awareness as a combination of theory and practice. 3.4545 1.1481 0.0523
How thorough and appropriate was cultural awareness education in your business school? 0.5455 0.5056 -0.1914
How competent are the interpreters you use (if you employ the practice)? 1.9091 0.8790 0.1846
How frequent is miscommunication within your workplace and between partners? 3.0000 1.3919 -0.1480
How often do you unintentionally use nonverbal cues and context that the recipient may not understand? 2.3939 0.4962 0.4551
How prepared were you to communicate with the people in your new workplace by the time you departed on your assignment? 2.9394 1.4348 0.0449

The intercultural communication questionnaire covered various aspects of the topic, including discussions in both the same language and different ones. Managers consider themselves culturally aware, but they also believe that their education has not provided them with the necessary competencies. As such, they would have learned during their work, and likely lack the formal knowledge that would be taught in an educational facility. The participants generally distrust interpreters and do not believe them to be competent. They also note that miscommunications occur somewhat frequently, which may inform their opinions of interpreters. The participants are aware that they sometimes contribute to misunderstandings with nonverbal cues, but do not think that the issue is prominent. Lastly, they describe their ability to communicate with local employees upon arrival as moderately high.

Table 5 shows similar results to the prior two, as well, with only one negative outlier and most of the values being close to 3 or above it. Once again, standard deviations are relatively low but close to the value of the mean in the case of the outlier, suggesting low variance. As such, the results likely approximate reality well, and the findings may be used to formulate hypotheses. In the context of the generally high values, the 1.9 mean on one of the questions may deserve consideration due to its failure to adhere to the norm set by the rest of the objectives. The question may have a specific trait that leads people to give a significantly different answer even though they do not give the reply as an outright 0.

While the skewness tendencies, in this case, are similar to those of the two tables before it, with most of the results displaying a positive skew and two negative outliers, the result is likely not significant. All but one of the numbers are extremely low, with absolute values below 0.2, and so it is possible to assert that the phenomena were caused by variance. The one skew that is higher than 0.2 may also be a more prominent expression of the same mechanism. A significant cause behind this behaviour is challenging to establish without a higher deviation or more occurrences. As such, this section is the most likely of all the tables to have a normal distribution with no skews. However, further investigation will be necessary to confirm any definite conclusions.

Table 6: Cultural Project Management Methods Questionnaire.

Question Mean Standard Deviation Skewness
Please rate your ability to understand the language of the country where you currently work (including idioms, subtext and nonverbal cues). 2.5758 0.5019 -0.3214
Please rate your ability of your subordinates and partners to understand your native language (including idioms, subtext and nonverbal cues). 1.8182 1.0445 -0.4893
Please rate your ability to adapt your management style to achieve optimal performance on projects you are overseeing in new cultures. 0.4545 0.5056 0.1914
How extensive was the education in management style adaptation you have received while in business school? 3.0303 1.4467 0.0759
How successful have you been at integrating into the culture in which you currently reside? 2.8485 0.7953 0.2854
How effective has the preparation you have received between the decision to assign you the expatriate role and your departure been at ensuring success? 3.0000 0.8292 0.0000
Please rate your communication skills and the effects of their application in the workplace. 3.0303 1.4467 0.1419
How similar are business communication patterns in different cultures, from your experience? 0.9394 0.8269 0.1168
Please rate your ability to resolve and prevent workplace conflicts satisfactorily. 3.2424 1.4149 -0.1064
How successful was your business school in teaching you about the cultural aspect of conflicts and their management? 1.5152 1.1758 0.4525

The final survey discusses the managers’ preparation to manage intercultural projects. The respondents believe themselves to be somewhat competent at understanding others, even though those people mostly do not speak the managers’ native language. Project managers rate their abilities to integrate, communicate and resolve conflicts highly despite also believing that their efforts do not produce satisfactory results. They believe that business schools concentrate on management styles more than intercultural conflict management. They also consider preliminary preparation by the companies that sent them on the expatriate assignments as mostly adequate. Lastly, the participants recognise the fact that many cultures have significantly different practices.

The sixth, and final, table displays a variety of behaviours on both the high and the low end, though none of the values approaches 4. Nevertheless, with the spread of values between 0.5 and 3, it is more challenging to assert that any of the results are anomalous. Overall, they are grouped into three distinct categories, where some of the results are below 1, others are close to 2, and the rest are above 3 or near it. The standard deviations for all three display the same behaviours as in the rest of the cases, becoming lower the higher the mean is. There is likely a distinct explanation for each of the three variations of value, and so the discussion section will attempt to justify each result.

The skewness values for the table do not appear to be strongly biased towards either side, as while there are many positive values, they are mostly low while the few negative ones are high. As such, it is possible to assert that there is no specific bias, and the distribution is normal, with the asymmetry explained by variance and the somewhat small sample size. Nevertheless, the various values that emerged deserve a closer examination and a search for any logical relationships. It should be noted that the category encompasses a diverse array of methods that do not all necessarily have to follow the same rules. There may be internal relationships that allow for the grouping of some of the members of the category together and the explanation of their similarities if any are found.


Cultural differences appear to be a topic of considerable importance to most expatriate managers. They tend to notice significant differences between themselves and their employees, and the workplaces they direct tend to be somewhat diverse. As a result, both culture shock and general misunderstandings become issues, though they do not usually disrupt work to a degree where it is endangered. Companies try to prepare their employees for these situations, but the degree of success varies widely between different organisations, likely due to the lack of a unified framework for the practice. Notably, spouses appear to adjust to their new living conditions remarkably well, a finding that contrasts the difficulties experienced by the managers themselves. The process of learning about local working conditions may contribute more to stress than the job of setting up a household.

Table 1 shows that expatriate managers generally do not believe that the local culture has changed much since their arrival. Such shifts may happen over extended periods, longer than any person’s tenure as a manager in another country, which is consistent with the change described by Schmidt and Uecker (2015). Another possibility is that it is challenging to see how a culture changes while living and working within it, as one becomes used to its characteristics and do not notice small evolutions. The overall small negative skew present in the first survey suggests that some managers experience high stress and notice significant cultural differences, changing the mean, but most see the values as lower than the mean. This finding may indicate that, while most expatriates can operate satisfactorily, some fail badly as a result of the unusually high stress.

The Cultural Management Methods section, presented in Table 2, displays some impressive and concerning results. Managers indicate that there is usually a strongly preferred management style in their home country but fail to recognise one in their current location if it exists, which is consistent with Nakagawa et al. (2018). It is possible that there is no specific preference or that the locally preferred style is the same as their usual one.

Thus, they do not notice when people adjust to it quickly and assume that their employees are flexible. Their opinion of the effort necessary to make employees follow their methods as medium to low agrees with this possibility. However, some difficulty likely still exists, as managers rate the applicability of their new style as medium, consistent with Zubanov et al. (2017). Furthermore, the final question in the survey presents a particularly significant source of concern.

The little value indicates that expatriate managers tend to fail to improve the project performance of the company’s local branch. Local employees may be well-organised already, and so the manager’s role is more to provide oversight and control by the parent organisation instead of ongoing improvement and changes. However, this assertion is contradicted by Smits and Brownlow (2017) as well as the evidence of the conflict provided above.

Stretton (2015) provides an alternative explanation, suggesting that the similarity between the cultures of the managers and their subordinates obscured the difficulties and resulted in conflict. As such, it is possible to theorise that the managers’ cross-cultural training was inadequate in ways that they did not recognise. Therefore, they rated the preparation provided to them as higher than it was in reality and did not understand that it was responsible for their failure.

With regards to risks, expatriate managers claim that formerly unknown stakeholders rarely emerge during projects. The finding most likely indicates that companies have learned to conduct extensive research before every project and understand the stakeholders sufficiently to avoid any significant surprises, though Binder and Varga (2015) disagree. Nevertheless, interactions between stakeholders from different countries and cultures are complicated by conflicting demands, and so managers struggle to satisfy both local parties of interest and their superiors at home. The finding is consistent with the claims by Browning and Ramasesh (2015) that such conflicts are prominent issues for international companies. Project managers have to act as intermediaries between two parties, and the added stress and difficulty of the job lead them to struggle at performing their duties. As such, some form of solution is necessary, one that will preferably reduce the manager burden.

Managers struggle to convince employees to adopt practices that are unusual in their culture, even if in doing so, they would enhance their performance. This difficulty may be a function of their cultural similarity, which leads the subordinates to assume that the leader is trying to make them follow a practice that he or she does not accept. However, Hyun and Yoan (2018) disagree, claiming that even small cultural differences are sufficiently emphasised in cooperation to separate people. The challenge can be problematic if the behaviour that the manager is trying to eradicate is harmful to the company’s operations.

Lastly, managers were moderately stressed during the initial adjustment period, which is not unusual for a person who assumes a new position with significant responsibility. Notably, the value is lower than the respondents’ evaluation of the culture shock that they experienced, which may be explained by Naeem et al. (2015). This result means that either culture shock is not enough to stress a person heavily on its own or that it does not manifest immediately, appearing in full after the manager becomes used to the workplace and starts exploring the culture as a whole.

Conflicts appear to be prominent in most local workplaces, with few positive results surfacing from them. The finding indicates that managers are not competent in preventing conflicts in teams or redirecting them into improvement opportunities. However, their opinion of the efficiency of their conflict resolution methods is that it is mediocre, which suggests that they may not be considering the positive implications of the conflict. As such, they try to end any altercation immediately, with varying results and long-term consequences. The discovery suggests that the results obtained by Conti, Arcuri, and Simone (2018) deserve attention and interest from managers, as they are currently addressed inadequately. They should learn to understand conflict and turn it to the project’s advantage in an optimal manner.

The combination of the high value of manager knowledge about local cultural conflict resolution practices and the low incidence of their usage suggests two different possibilities. One is that there are few specific and unique practices in the area, and so, managers do not have to concern themselves about indigenous methods. The other is that while these practices exist, managers are unable to recognise them because of their subtle nature, a finding that Ani (2017) confirms. The theory may also explain the low incidence of positive outcomes in conflict resolution as manager ignorance and meddling interfering in the subordinates’ discussions and doing harm. However, this hypothesis may not be valid, as managers associate diversity with conflict, and people from diverse cultures may not have shared practices.

Managers rate their cultural awareness highly even though they do not believe that it is taught adequately or at all in business schools. As such, they believe that practice provides adequate growth opportunities, even if the subject is not taught formally. However, it is also possible that the managers have entered a high-context culture despite coming from a low-context one and do not realise that they are ignorant of many communication aspects as per Adair et al. (2015). As indicated by Bourne (2016), manager opinions on the competency of interpreters are low, and they prefer to communicate with business partners directly. However, even so, they struggle to establish effective communication with foreign companies.

Overall, miscommunication is somewhat frequent in the workplace and business discussions despite the managers’ high opinion of their cultural awareness. The cause is likely their use of English with different dialects and small issues that emerge from such practices (Zummo, 2018). Also, managers try to adjust to the practices of their new location, but they still resort to using cues that they are used to, suggesting a lack of training in that regard. However, these issues appear to be minor, as overall, managers evaluate the level of their preparation as somewhat high. An alternate possibility is that managers do not recognise that English varies significantly between users and so consider the fact that both they and their subordinates understand it sufficient for operation.

However, Table 6 contradicts this idea by having managers show that they rate their understanding of the new country’s language as mediocre. The employees’ understanding of their native version of the language is somewhat lower, likely because the manager struggles to describe the context behind different idioms. Managers also display a refusal to adapt to their new circumstances, possibly because they do not know-how and consider formal approaches optimal, which is consistent with Ditta-Apichai and Kattiyapornpong (2018). Their high opinion of the education on the topic that is provided in business schools supports the claim.

Lastly, project managers have adapted to their new culture somewhat well, though not entirely, which supports the idea of Blahova (2015). Their opinion of the education that helped them do so suggests that current company preparation methods are mostly satisfactory in this regard.

Managers think highly of their communication skills overall despite the low results in some of the other sections. The reason is likely that they see miscommunications and other small failures as inconsequential and acceptable, focusing on their overall ability to manage local projects, an idea similar to the propositions of Khan (2018). They recognise that communication patterns are different between different cultures, but their evaluation suggests that they struggle to find similarities and therefore lack cultural awareness. Their opinion on their conflict resolution abilities is likely affected by the same factors as their communication skills and is inflated because of their priorities.

Lastly, the final question, which concerned their opinion on the cultural awareness education provided in business schools, indicates severe dissatisfaction. However, it should be noted that most participants graduated long ago, and curricula may have changed since then.

With regards to skewness, the overall picture indicates that none of the values is more than 1, and so, it is possible to assert that the answers follow a normal distribution. While some specific categories may display unusual behaviour, overall, there are no particular outliers. As such, there is no reason to assert that the distribution is not normal, though further research would help confirm that it is.


The findings suggest that there are several significant issues in current expatriate project management. Business schools should review their curricula to put more focus on the cultural aspect of the discipline. Conflict resolution and communication are particularly prevalent issues, with overall cultural awareness also playing a role. Managers should concentrate more on the small details, as those constitute a large part of the issues created by differing cultures. Overall, the findings are of interest to managers, companies, and business schools alike.


The study’s sample size is not large, and so the results may exhibit a bias. Furthermore, all of the managers contacted with the survey are local, and so they experience the same culture, which may skew the results and not represent all aspects of the picture worldwide. The questions used in the survey may be inadequate to address some aspects of cultural project management. Lastly, the quantitative nature of the research reduces its overall accuracy, and some factors that affect intercultural project management may have been misidentified as a result.

Directions for Future Research

Future studies can expand on the topic by involving larger sample sizes and discussing various cultures and their effects. One possibility is to discuss both manager origin countries and their destinations in detail to evaluate the specific differences. The authors could also perform a more in-depth investigation of the cultural project management field and formulate more specific questions. Further research in the discipline itself would help considerably by providing new and improved frameworks.


Overall, the investigation has been able to produce noteworthy results that support the idea of further investigation. Managers tend to content themselves with a higher number of issues than they would in their original culture while overestimating their capabilities. This situation is likely a result of inadequate education provided by companies and business schools, which lack a formal cultural project management framework. As such, further research in the field is necessary so that scholars can develop improvement methods that managers can adopt.

This study is an initial investigation into the topic, conducted because of a lack of literature that analyses the topic as a whole. As such, it is subject to numerous limitations and intended as a foundation for further work rather than a finalised research with results that are relevant to companies. Nevertheless, the work has managed to highlight several noteworthy concerns and provide some recommendations for business schools and companies. Specifically, the former appear to have been conducting inadequate cultural education, though they may have improved in that aspect since the participants studied. Further research will be necessary to confirm these findings and adapt them to specific situations.


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