Cultural Compatibility in Project Management

One of a project managers (PMs) primary activities is to reduce conflict between different project stakeholders (Meredith, Shafer and Mantel 2017, 101). Since projects can often be comprised of many different team members, as well as a variety of senior management, clients, and the public, the likelihood of issues arising from cultural differences is high. Culture, or the way of life for a group of people, typically has four elements that are common to all cultures: technology, institutions, language, and arts (Meredith, Shafer and Mantel 2017, 101). Differences in these four elements between groups can lead to culture-based issues. One of the most prevalent issue I have seen working on projects at a large corporation stems from language differences. For example, in the energy industry there are terms like demand or capacity that have very specific meanings related to electricity but can often be used by non-energy people to mean different things. To avoid misunderstandings, often a glossary of terms is created upfront and discussed at the beginning of a project to ensure that everyone is using the same terminology for the project to avoid miscommunication.

Another issue I have seen quite often in large projects stems from institutional differences. Often job titles can mean something quite different across industries. For example, at one company a specialist may be the entry-level role in a career path but at another company it could indicate the person is highly trained in a specific task. This causes issues in projects that involve multiple companies due to misunderstandings in individuals’ skill levels. It also exposes potential “pecking order” biases that exist in certain organizations. These issues can be solved by a PM dropping the use of any outside role titles within the group and having each member state their subject matter expertise, so team members understand each other’s role in the team specifically. Every project and project team are unique, so it is important for a PM to anticipate and address potential issues that arise from various cultural differences.

Author: Logan Callen


Meredith, Jack R., Scott M. Shafer, and Samuel J. Mantel. 2017. Project Management: A Strategic Managerial Approach. 10th ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN-13: 9781119369097.

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