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How To Plan With A Cross-Cultural Team?

Written by: Liu Liu, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Once the goal and direction of a project are set, the next step is to work out how to get there, a project implementation plan. Developing any project implementation plan is no easy task, and it becomes more challenging when you are working with a team that is consisted of people from different countries.

A laptop and a paper works for planning on table

In my last article, I shared with you how high-context and low-context cultures view roles and responsibilities. You might or might not realize these cultural differences also approach business planning very differently. We will continue to explore how in this article.

High context and indirect approach to planning

Because of high-context cultures, communication is context-specific, based on many common understandings, and rooted in traditions, therefore people can be quite relaxed about things. You might hear people saying, “No need for a plan, “everybody knows” what to do, we have done it before.” But is it true and is it going to help everybody? especially colleagues from a different culture? Many times such assumptions end up in miscommunication which leads to a bad plan or no plan.

Low context and direct approach to planning

On the other hand, low context culture approaches planning in a very logical way. They know what they want and communicate it very directly, but this could be viewed as forceful. They want to plan to the finest detail possible, leaving nothing to chance. They will calculate the resources required and ask for them, whether it is money, people, or other things. Their task-oriented nature makes them want to know how the plan is going to work, but not that interested in who they are going to work with.

Group versus individual

When it comes to planning, group culture thinks from Macro to micro. One example is writing the envelope. In a group culture like China or Thailand, the address starts with country, province, then city, district, street, house number, and finally the person’s name.

They want to understand the hierarchical order of the plan and how different parts of the plan fit together and how they interact with one another to achieve the goal and deliver results.

There is also a tendency to wait for the boss to tell them what the plan is because of hierarchical thinking.

Individual culture thinks from micro to macro. Remember the writing envelope example we used just now, in the US, UK and most of Europe, the person comes first, followed by house number, street, district, city, state, and the country at the end.

This means they tend to go straight to the part of the plan they are responsible for, and not always consider how it fits with and affects other parts of the plan. For example, in my organization, when it comes to working on a business plan, each department is directed to the specific sections of the document to work on, but very rarely people are briefed about what the overall organizational plan is to start with.

Individual culture people also want to participate in every step of the planning, because they see everyone as equal. Planning is not just the boss’s job in their view.

Planning with a cross-cultural team requires careful consideration of cultural differences and effective communication strategies. Here are some tips to help you plan successfully:

  1. Establish a common understanding: Begin by ensuring that everyone in the team has a clear understanding of the project goals, objectives, and timelines. Provide a detailed explanation of the purpose and desired outcomes of the plan to minimize any potential misunderstandings.

  2. Consider cultural perspectives: Consider the cultural perspectives and preferences of your team members when developing the plan. Different cultures may have unique approaches to time management, decision-making, and work styles. Be sensitive to these differences and find common ground that accommodates various cultural perspectives.

  3. Communicate clearly and explicitly: When sharing the plan, use unambiguous language. Avoid idioms, jargon, or culturally specific references that may be difficult to understand for non-native speakers or those from different cultural backgrounds. Break down complex information into manageable segments and provide visual aids or examples, if necessary.

  4. Allow for open discussion: Encourage open dialogue and discussion during the planning process. Create a safe space where team members feel comfortable expressing their ideas, concerns, and questions. Be prepared for diverse viewpoints and encourage constructive debates to arrive at the best possible plan. Respectfully address any cultural differences in communication styles, ensuring that everyone has an opportunity to contribute.

  5. Seek feedback and adapt: Throughout the planning process, actively seek feedback from team members. Encourage them to share their thoughts, suggestions, and concerns. Be open to adapting the plan based on this feedback and cultural considerations. Regularly evaluate and adjust the plan as needed to accommodate evolving circumstances and changing requirements.

  6. Build relationships and trust Foster strong relationships and trust among team members. Invest time in building personal connections, understanding cultural backgrounds, and demonstrating appreciation for diverse perspectives. A foundation of trust and mutual respect will enhance collaboration and coordination during the planning process.

By embracing cultural diversity, promoting effective communication, and considering cultural nuances, you can plan successfully with a cross-cultural team. Remember to be adaptable, inclusive, and open-minded throughout the process.

Also, check out this related Brainz article:

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Liu Liu, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Liu Liu is a coach and manager with decades of experience, as a Cross-Cultural Intelligence Coach who specializes in helping international organizations and businesses to improve communications and cooperation among staff for better individual and team performance. He coaches managers and leaders working in a cross-cultural context to build trust, communicate effectively, and deliver results. He also coaches people on management, leadership, and career development. He is someone who helps you to imagine a greater possibility for yourself and supports you in achieving it.

As a senior manager in an international relief and development organization, he has worked with people in over 30 countries over his two-decades-long career. He uses a coaching approach to manage cross-country teams and complex programs to deliver results and impacts.

He is also an experienced trainer and facilitator who has delivered training on management-related and other subjects in over 30 countries.

With a cross-country marriage, developing a career in a second country, and working in an organization that has a reach of 50 countries, Liu Liu understands the importance and pitfalls of working cross-culturally and developing a career in an unfamiliar environment.

Liu Liu is an Associated Certified Coach(ACC), a member of the International Coaching Federation (ICF), and an Executive Contributor to Brainz Magazine.

He holds a BA(Hon) in International Studies and an MSc in Development Management.



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