Modern businesses are increasingly operating on a project basis, which means that even more scholarly attention on project management is required. Most importantly, multinationals tend to operate across multiple geographical locations and engage a diverse membership. Therefore, the main question that arises in this context is how MNCs handle their global project teams. Additionally, the multicultural context raises further interest considering different countries have diverse cultures. In this case, a simplified western versus eastern cultures comparative analysis can serve as a starting point. However, there lacks adequate scholarly work to help achieve a comprehensive overview of the subject. Therefore, inferences from the field of national cultures and international human resource management should help. The rationale is that these fields focus on people management, which often includes the global project teams. The outcomes of the UK versus China comparative analysis reveal the differences in the management of global project teams and expresses the massive gaps that need to be addressed.
Managing international project teams can be a challenging undertaking, especially when considering such issues as distance and geopolitical factors. Many companies are increasingly embracing diversity, which is often integrated into their recruitment processes (Cletus et al., 2018, p. 36). According to Gündemir, Buengeler, and Kleef (2020, p. 1102) project teams are an example of interdependent groups of people pursuing clear and collective goals. Diversity in project teams is a major consideration for organizational leaders since the differences in individuals could undermine progress. Some scholars express that many workplaces today are becoming increasingly project-centric and that the projects themselves are becoming more complex (Young, Gergy, & Grisinger, 2019, p. 565). The same applies to multinationals operating across multiple national boundaries, in which case the corporations have to manage international project teams. Many issues can arise in these settings as companies attempt to deploy project management principles to global teams. For instance, companies from different countries may have dissimilar experiences managing global teams due to the inherent differences in organizational and national cultures. In this case, there emerges a need to compare the management of international teams in two separate countries.
Some of the issues addressed in current literature are similar to those affecting ordinary teams. For example, Muszynska (2017, p. 234) explains that communication management in an international project team is critical to success, which means that the priority for leaders is to build the necessary communication channels. Effective communication means that issues can be resolved promptly to prevent the projects from stalling. Another theoretical component critical to international project management is risk. According to Dumitrascu and Capatina (2020, p. 66), international projects exhibit high levels of risk, a characteristic renowned for being a significant barrier to project success. Cultural intelligence is another construct discussed by Henderson, Stackman, and Lindekilde (2018, p. 954), who argues that international project teams need to adapt to different cultural contexts. Lastly, many international projects are undertaken by virtual teams, which comprise diverse members and locations (Kukytė and Jasinkas, 2021, p. 169; Taras et al., 2019, p. 3). This nature of international projects displays challenges and advantages that emanate from the use of modern technologies, including virtual reality.
The focus of this report is to compare and contrast international management project teams between the United Kingdom (UK) and China. The rationale for the selected countries is that they display major cultural differences, which is expected to play a vital role in how companies from the two states manage their international teams. Three major sections will be used to fulfill the objective of this report. First, a literature review that explores international human resource management in the two countries, where analytical tools will be used to highlight the differences. Second, the critical and evaluative reflection will delve into the issues of team development across multinationals from the UK and China. In this section, such issues as diversity and knowledge management are explored. Lastly, consideration and evaluation of options will be used to propose some best practices in the management of international project teams.
Relationship with Existing Literature
Globalization and liberalization of economies have resulted in a phenomenon where companies can operate across borders. The human resource (HR) function has to manage recruitment, selection, training and development, and remuneration of employees dispersed across multiple countries. This is where the concept of international human resource management (IHRM) emerges, which can be described as revising and applying HR activities to a global environment (Farndale et al., 2017, p. 1635). Several constructs have been developed in the IHRM discourses, including expatriate management, multinational corporation (MNC) country of origin/domicile effect, and intraorganizational knowledge and strategy flow (Cooke, et al., 2019, p. 59). Additionally, IHRM has to consider issues of project management where global and virtual project teams are formed and organized. Most importantly, MNCs from different countries use varied practices, which can be the result of cultural differences. For example, China has socialist ideologies while the UK subscribes to capitalism, which could reflect in their IHRM activities.
The cultural differences between China and the UK can be highlighted using Hofstede’s cultural dimensions. These include uncertainty avoidance, power distance, individualism, indulgence, and masculinity (Escandon-Barbosa, Salas-Paramo, & Rialp-Criado, 2021, p. 1). Individualism versus collectivism is an area where the UK and China differ since the UK is highly individualistic while China is more collectivist (Fan, 2021, p. 132). Therefore, Chinese companies could demand more loyalty from the employees, even those working in other geographical locations. The same cannot be expected for UK multinationals where workers focus more on themselves. In terms of power distance, China is more acceptable in situations of inequalities, which is the opposite in the case of the UK. The differences in attitudes towards inequality mean Chinese MNCs would have problems managing workers from the UK or other Western countries. However, similarities between the UK and China can be found in such dimensions as uncertainty avoidance, which means that both cultures display a high pragmatic culture.
These cultural differences between China and the UK mean that their multinationals and global project teams are managed differently. For example, most western cultures tend to display a higher level of employee involvement where issues can be discussed between seniors and subordinated. On the contrary, the Chinese companies often prefer to tell their workers what to do and discussions rarely happen. From the perspectives of the national culture, it can be argued that China is more hierarchical as compared to such western countries as the UK (Mahmood, Absar, and Uddin, 2018). In IHRM, hierarchical frameworks mean that directives and orders are given to employees with the relationship between the seniors and subordinates being more authoritarian. It could be expected that with these differences, MNCs from both the UK and China follow host-country IHRM practices where the domestic environment dictates how subsidiaries manage their workers in their respective countries. This is usually the case for China, whose MNCs also try to use some of the global best practices as explained by (Zhu, 2019, p. 2166). Therefore, it is common to find Chinese MNCs with western HRM practices.
An explanation for why China’s approach to IHRM is host-country can be given paying attention to the national cultures of the different countries. Firstly, China is increasingly moving away from the command economy and adopting a more socialist one. With socialism, western-style HRM practices are deployed across the subsidiaries, which raises a hybrid system that manifests China’s efforts to modernize its economy (Zhu, 2019, p. 2171). The UK can be seen as deploying different IHRM options to China since most British MNCs use country-of-origin as explained by (Oppong, 2018, p. 866). However, it can be argued that biases arise when MNCs use the country-or-origin approach since the subsidiaries tend to ignore some of the governance issues in the host country. Such biases cannot be found in Chinese MNCs, especially when they operate in the Western markets, including the UK. For example, Khan et al. (2018, p. 478) state that when Chinese managers move to the UK subsidiaries, they manage in manners that are acceptable in that country. However, back in China, the same managers adopt different practices befitting the Chinese environment.
In the case of IHRM and management of international teams, more standardized approaches can be expected among British MNCs, while universal approaches are more common with Chinese MNCs. In other words, it is possible to find subsidiaries of Chinese companies operating differently from their parent companies. In the UK, Chinese expat managers have been known to acquire degrees that allow them to work in the UK (Khan et al., 2018, p. 473). It is difficult to find UK expats in other countries doing the same, even though they may take courses that help them familiarize themselves with the cultural contexts of the host countries. As such, many of the HR practices in British subsidiaries mirror those of the parent companies. On the contrary, subsidiaries of Chinese corporations will adopt more universal HRM practices. It can be argued that Western cultures have dominated the global markets, which explains why Chinese MNCs would prefer to use them. Additionally, not all cultures are hierarchical, which means that MNCs can be forced to adapt to host-country cultures and adopt more relevant HRM practices.
Another explanation why Chinese MNCs use host-country approaches focuses on organizational commitment. According to Presbitero et al. (2018, p. 199), the organizational commitment was negatively related to turnover intentions for the local employees in an MNC’s subsidiary. Additionally, local workers are more loyal to subsidiaries than to the parent companies, which means that MNCs adopt IHRM practices more suitable to their subsidiaries. However, this observation applies when subsidiaries operate almost autonomously and where cooperation with the parent company is unnecessary. However, this may be different in the management of international project teams where members from different locations have to collaborate on a particular project. This case of managing international project teams can be discussed in more detail in the section below.
Critical and Evaluative Self-Reflection
From an IHRM perspective, it has been established that the cultural differences between the UK and China are the reasons why they adopt different approaches to people management. Considering that many tasks in modern companies are project-based, it is important to highlight how such differences translate into the global project teams of each of the two countries. Key constructs that require a detailed exploration include team development, team roles, conflict management, diversity and inclusion, communication, virtual teams, and leadership styles.
It is important to acknowledge that many of the IHRM practices are similar in the context of international project teams. For example, Cooke, Liu, and Chen (2019, p. 457) explain that project teams managed by Chinese MNCs tend to be highly context-specific, which means that all teams have to comply with the local market conditions. In the UK, the focus is usually on other critical components of project management that are critical to project success. In a study by Yu et al. (2021, p. 21), it has been established that British MNCs operating in other countries will be seeking to develop trust and improve communication between the local subsidiary and the parent company. Trust has been described as an enabler of intercultural communication in project teams. Therefore, the UK MNCs make deliberate efforts to ensure that all members from culturally diversified backgrounds can understand each other and that their differences do not detrimentally affect the project’s success.
Even though the Chinese MNCs deploy context-specific approaches to managing international teams, they display similar characteristics on the issue of intercultural communication. Project team development can only be successful if all people are on board. According to Cooke et al. (2019, p. 457), the Chinese MNCs manage intercultural communication at the subsidiary, individual, and MNC organizational levels. Such a project management approach intends that all intercultural partners can have similar experiences in communication. Additionally, the quality of communication can be improved which then makes it possible for cooperation and coordination to take place. It can be argued that the national cultures may not play such a critical role in determining people management in projects since each company can establish standards to be followed by all members based on what is deemed necessary for intercultural teams to work.
Another observation from the current literature is that trust is a major consideration for Chinese MNCs while managing global teams. In the case of the UK mentioned earlier, intercultural communication is used as the primary tool for building trust. For the Chinese companies, it has been established that trust is more difficult to achieve since China carried the label of an emerging economy. There is an additional liability for the Chinese firms to build trust in their subsidiaries and to attract talent (Cooke et al., 2019, p. 459). The same can be seen in project teams where some cultures may not trust the capabilities of a Chinese multinational to accomplish a project. This presents a challenge for the future of Chinese global teams, especially those in developed countries, where the suspicions and doubts could become a major hindrance to success. While the UK MNCs may not face the same challenges, they display more centralization in decision-making. The argument is that the parent companies in UK MNCs have greater control of the subsidiaries than the Chinese due to the tendency of the latter adopting practices befitting the specific countries.
It is important to highlight that comparative management of global project teams is a relatively novel area of research. This is because there are hardly any scholarly works dedicated to this discourse where countries and their management approaches to the global project are explored. In this case, only inferences can be made by using available project management case studies and the literature on IHRM. Additionally, the corporate and national cultures also play a critical role in predicting the behavior of global teams, especially when they work in a multicultural setting. For example, it would not be uncommon for a Chinese worker in a project team to fail to ask for help from members. Such a phenomenon has been described by Väyrynen and Hekkala (2018), who explore communication challenges in a global virtual team. In this case, it can be argued that the employees of Chinese nationality are not used to deliberating on project matters since they are used to receiving orders and directives in a hierarchical organization.
Even though it is difficult to present a comparative analysis of different countries, several central themes in international project management can be emphasized. First, it is important to highlight that leaders with multicultural experiences are more effective in international project teams. According to Lu, Swaab, and Galinsky (2021, p. 1), soccer managers were found to be better leaders across the UK and China, as well as a few other countries included in their study. The rationale is that soccer teams represent some of the most culturally diverse groups comprising individuals from virtually all continents. Even though the soccer clubs may not operate the same way as commercial corporations, the cultural diversity and how it is managed offers the best-case study of how global teams function. The key theme is the multicultural experience of the leaders, which facilitates more effective communication and fosters greater project success.
Conflict management in global project teams is another concept worth mentioning. Some scholars believe that conflicts can arise from the lack of trust among members (Yu, et al., 2021, p. 25). However, it is important to acknowledge that multiculturalism is a critical risk factor for conflicts due to differences in interest. This problem can also be resolved through effective communication by all parties, including the leader. Therefore, conflict is an issue that touches on both leadership styles and communication alongside other theoretical frameworks. Cultural differences can hint at a diverse and culturally inclusive international project team. However, there needs to be more scholarly work to explore the cultural composition of the teams and how it influences project management practices. Additionally, comparative case studies between MNCs from different countries with varied cultures should be given more scholarly attention.
Consideration and Evaluation of Options
With the knowledge of the international management of project teams gained and the gaps found, there is a need to reflect on the potential recommendations and options for MNCs and virtual global teams. It is important to reiterate that the differences between the UK and China explored in the sections above have reflected on the national and corporate cultures, s well as the competencies of the corporate leadership. Without adequate literature on the comparative analysis, this section formulates recommendations based on what is considered best practices in managing global project teams. The themes discussed include multicultural experience, communication, trust, and leadership.
Build Multicultural Experience
Multicultural experience in international project teams is an area that is not well-studied despite the increasing cultural diversity across companies. The available literature can be used to support the argument that individuals with better multicultural skills can have a better progress. According to Lu, Swaab, and Galinsky (2021, p. 2), the experiential learning theory can help explain why multicultural experiences matter by stating that people tend to learn and grow by processing new experiences. In this case, multicultural experiences mean that individuals with prior encounters with certain cultures will know how to deal with them. In other words, members of global project teams who have experienced certain cultures will work better in a multicultural setting. For example, the observation by Väyrynen and Hekkala (2018) that some Chinese workers fail to ask for help could help members from other cultures learn how to Chinese people in team settings. Similarly, employees from China with experience in western cultures can learn that asking for help is acceptable and recommended in a project team, which should make them better people with whom to work.
It is also important to emphasize that multicultural experience is a critical necessity for global team leaders, who will be responsible for fostering communication and cooperation. Lu, Swaab, and Galinsky (2021, p. 3) explain that multicultural experience is a critical predictor of leadership effectiveness in global project teams. Therefore, it can be recommended that all project leaders undergo a formal training program that equips them with the necessary knowledge and skills in leading multicultural teams. Such programs can be tailored to meet specific cultures that the leaders will encounter. Alternatively, general course instructions on what to expect can also be offered. The project team members will also need programs that allow them to build their multicultural experiences since their interactions throughout the project will require them to understand and deal with their cultural differences.
Improve Communication Interpersonal Skills
All project teams have to engage in constant communication with each other throughout the entire project. Such scholars as Muszynska (2017, p. 234) have outlined the importance of communication to project success. In this case, it is recommended that communication and interpersonal skills be developed in a multicultural context. In other words, all project members need to understand how to communicate and interact with people from different cultures. Multicultural communication competence is a concept aligned with the multicultural experience in the sense that both can be developed through coaching. However, communication requires messages to be clear and considerate of all interests of the culturally-diverse team.
Applied to the context of global project teams from both Chinese and British MNCs, communication processes and channels are developed to suit all members. This may require such extreme measures as a behavioral modification to change how individuals behave in the presence of other people. Consider, for example, the case of the Chinese worker who does not ask for help. Good communication and interpersonal skills could change his or her behavior to help this worker embrace the idea of engagement and discussion. Additionally, colleagues can learn how to best make this worker feel part of the team by initiating communication and being in regular contact with him or her.
International project teams need to work together while located remotely from each other. Therefore, all the members are required to know, understand, and trust each other and their competence to work in the project. The theme of trust has been the focus of such scholars as Yu et al. (2021, p. 21), who refer to it as an enabler of project success. Some teams are virtual, which means that the interactions take place over telecommunications systems and the internet. Teams that cannot trust each other cannot work effectively and project success is derailed. The case of China is particularly interesting since it has been established that MNCs of Chinese origin have greater liability in building trust. Regardless of the difficulties experienced, all team members have to build trust.
Communication and interpersonal skills are two themes that have been recommended as key facilitators of project success. The essence of communication is broader than simply clarifying project objectives. In this case, it is argued that knowledge sharing is equally critical for project success. The nature of interactions between project members can determine how well information is shared. According to Yu et al. (2021, p. 21), knowledge is shared across all subgroups in global virtual teams, which is also made possible when the members trust each other.
Global virtual teams are emphasized since they are located remotely from each other. The distance between the team members can be a challenge, especially if the team members do not meet physically regularly. Each of the project team members has roles and assignments that are interdependent, which means that the members have to keep exchanging information regularly. The recommendation is that the project leader has to establish proper mechanisms to allow knowledge sharing to take place flawlessly. Virtual teams can conduct regular meetings or build a platform where updates are made regularly. All relevant project information has to be shared among all project members. It is the responsibility of the project leadership to facilitate constant interaction and knowledge sharing.
International project management is an area that needs to be given the attention it deserves by scholars. This is especially so with the comparative assessments of how different countries handle global project teams. The focus of this report has been on comparing and contrasting management of international teams between the UK and China. The rationale for the selection of these two countries is that the UK is a developed country with a well-developed global presence while China is an emerging economy starting to conquer the international market. additionally, the national cultures of the two countries are different, which raises the question of how these differences affect the management of global teams. The literature explored has revealed several things, including that national and corporate cultures are also reflected in the countries’ MNCs. However, it has also been established that the Chinese culture may play a smaller role in multicultural teams as only the behaviors of the workers seem to be affected. The subsidiary themselves make all efforts to reflect the specific contexts of the host countries, which includes adopting the host country’s national cultures.
On the contrary, the MNCs in the UK have been shown to display what has been described as the country-of-origin bias, which is manifested in the MNCs following the culture of the parent company and ignoring the host countries. Additionally, this has often led to an unexpected scenario where parent company control is tighter as compared to the Chinese MNCs whose flexibility sees them adopt universal best practices. However, this is a phenomenon that requires further exploration since it is an area that is not comprehensively studied. It can be expected that a country that is trying to modernize its economy will be looking at the best practices in the global markets while a nation with a longer presence will stick to its traditional practices. While this is only plausible theoretically, further investigations are necessary to confirm this position and help further differentiate between eastern and western MNCs in terms f their global project management practices. However, other expected differences have been supported, including that the UK MNCs engage their workers more than the Chinese, where power distance means that the Chinese workers are more accepting of the inequalities.
Lastly, several recommendations have been presented based on the literature reviewed. These suggestions have primarily focused on what both countries can do to improve global project teams. Multicultural experience comes first due to cultural diversity, where both team leaders and members need to be culturally competent. Communication and interpersonal skills help in improving interactions and helping the members boost their individual and collective performance. Trust is seen as critical, especially in virtual teams where the lack of physical interaction can be detrimental to cooperation. Building trust is necessary for all team members to carry out their duties are required. Lastly, an improvement in the knowledge-sharing framework has been recommended. The rationale is that teams undertake duties and responsibilities that are interdependent, which means they need to share and update all key information related to the project.
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