Complexities Involved in Handling Projects under a Multicultural Setting

HomeEssaysLiterature ReviewComplexities Involved in Handling Projects under a Multicultural Setting

This literature review chapter seeks to explore the literature on how to handle projects in multicultural settings. The intent is to synthesize the material from various peer-reviewed articles to come up with a compilation of various findings and their implications for those working with multicultural teams or target people of different cultures in their projects.

With the effect of globalization, many companies and organizations are running projects involving a team of individuals originating from different countries and cultural origins. In many cases, a move is embraced based on the understanding of project managers. Such a diverse team is necessary to ensure pooling together of resources and increasing operational efficiencies. However, there have been complexities since the cultural diversity of any project team would mean that the project will have a longer learning curve. It is needed for the establishment of an effective comparison with a project being conducted within a group culturally homogeneous. According to Behfar, Kern, and Brett (2006), the losses and conflicts associated with the projected increase as teams grow to attain a more diverse demographic state.

It is the indication that project managers and multicultural project teams have had to overcome the challenge of coming up with the best way of accessing and utilizing the strengths of all individuals in a project team. It should be done while at the same time ensuring that such losses result from the problems related to communication, differences in languages, varying styles of working as well as understanding being also minimized. While the utilization of multicultural project teams is on an increase, the knowledge of how they can be managed effectively has been very limited to many complex projects of various kinds. They need to stall after the investors have spent millions of dollars.

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Behfar, Kern, and Brett have conducted a study on managing challenges in multicultural teams supported by the Dispute Resolution Research Center in 2006. The trio explored some issues related to the management of projects by conducting a comparison of challenges faced by projects. These ones may involve individuals from the same culture and those from multicultural teams. Their aim was to explore some challenges, which were common to all the two kinds of teams and those being uniquely experienced by the projects including multicultural teams. The researcher has identified various conditions under which project managers have to intervene. It has been done in order to enable them to address diversity-related challenges, and how team members can help create their own solutions. Moreover, such a problem as what happens when all members of a project team or a section of them choose to quit has been discussed (Behfar, Kern, & Brett, 2006).

The study has found out that projects with people of the same culture face such challenges as a conflict in personality and communication, differences in work-related opinions, and difficulty in making decisions regarding a work approach/method. Also, there have been such issues as scheduling and timing related issues, and those connected with the workload distribution. On the other hand, project coordinators managing multicultural projects had to deal with such challenges as confrontation; differences in norms for decision making and problem-solving; time, pace and urgency. Besides, there have been such issues as hierarchy and respect violations, inter-group related prejudices; a lack of common grounds in credit and language; fluency with regards to vocabulary and accents; and explicit versus implicit communication-related challenges. It was evident that projects involving multicultural teams had invoked the consequences of being more serious and complicated (Behfar, Kern, & Brett, 2006).

Where project managers are reluctant to face the complexities related to projects dealing with or targeting multicultural teams, the result may be biasness in the kind of programs implemented. It is demonstrated by a study conducted by Lechner et al., on the adaptation of a psycho-oncology intervention for Black breast cancer survivors. The project, CARE, has been designed to help deal with one of the effects of complexity in multi-cultural projects, that of biasness towards the black women. The article reveals that most of the projects targeting the treatment of cancer in women have been neglecting Black women. The authors have observed that the disparity was more evidenced when it came to psychosocial interventions. Specifically, their concern was that only a few programs had been designed to address the needs of the Black survivors with breast cancer. A project dubbed the cognitive-behavioral stress management intervention is a project aiming at helping women adjust to cancer. The project had to be modified to make it beneficial to Black women who complete breast cancer treatment. It can be argued that such adjustments to accommodate all cultures in a multicultural project could be a reason behind biasness against the minority groups. It happens when it comes to projects aimed at providing such services as health (Lechner et al., 2013).

On their side, Debbie and Gibson (1013) have conducted a study on collaboration for the common good. The study has examined the adjustment processes and challenges involved in multicultural collaborations. The two ones have defined multicultural collaborations as non-permanent entities. They are not embedded in the context of a single organization but able to perform certain tasks or projects by involving individuals from various cultures. The challenges faced by projects run by such groups seem to be more than those faced by multicultural teams. Difficulty in handling the challenges is based on the fact that multicultural collaborations lack the mechanisms used by teams. They are well organized at their disposal to help them overcome various challenges. In their study, the two researchers have identified a number of challenges faced by multicultural collaborations and how they react to them. The third objective was to carry out an examination of collaboration heterogeneity’s role in a process of adjustment. A final objective was to find out if the collaboration performance could be facilitated by adjustments.

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The issues were examined through the use of the comprehensive data gathered from 16 humanitarian home-building collaborations. They have brought together individuals from various cultures. The first finding was that to overcome challenges resulting from the lack of organizational structures, adjustment processes should be treated as very critical. Secondly, there is a need for collaborations to make use of various external and internal strategies to adjust. Another finding was that cultural differences had become an important factor in making adjustments whenever there were some challenges. They had been related to the way in which members could co-work in collaboration. Finally, whenever, there were significant challenges, the adjustment of multicultural collaborations’ members depended on the performance. However, whenever members were pushed to over-adjust, it proved to be detrimental. It points to the need for careful calibration whenever projects run by such collaborations are to come up with adjustment strategies. In this way, collaborations are able to make adjustments to tackle some challenges irrespectively of their nature and magnitude. The findings are key to project managers working with collaborations.

In another study, Lee and Baby (2013) have set out to study how to manage the dynamics in IT projects being global in scale through the use of service-oriented architecture. Due to its involvement of professionals of various cultures, managing risks in any global IT project has become very challenging. Such projects are normally based in various countries with the groups having different cultural beliefs. It is related to their use of technologies and standards. It is what causes dynamic risks as people interact with processes and technologies as internal elements. They cooperate with a natural environment and businesses as the external elements of global IT projects. The study has proposed a need for managers of such projects to embrace the use of an agile risk-management framework. It is related to dealing with dynamic risks that seem to affect the success of IT projects being global in nature. Apart from the framework, the study proposes the need for project managers to embrace a set of agile managing strategies to help to mitigate the dynamic risks. It would enable project managers to gain a better understanding of the challenges they are likely to face while coordinating global IT projects or any other project being global in scale (Lee and Baby, 2013).

In another study, Gaikwad et al., (2012) give a report of the research conducted on the effectiveness of community mobilization in the prevention of HIV among sex workers. It concerns the employees being highly diverse in their culture. Specifically, the study has examined the kind of association between the level of confidence in self-efficacy and the collective one for the use of condoms and empowerment among sex workers being heterogeneous. The settings were two Indian cities considered to be metropolitan, which had a high HIV prevalence. The level of confidence in collective efficacy was measured using the sex worker’s beliefs in a need for them to address some problems together and their power to achieve the goals they had set. The results have shown that a collectivization strategy can be used in such programs as those aimed to prevent HIV. It has been well evidenced that the strategy did not only help promote safe sex practices. Thus, the managers of such projects targeting a behavioral change can consider using the strategy in prevention programs.

On their part, Hossain and Aydin (2011) have conducted a study on A Web 2.0-based collaborative model for multicultural education. Web 2.0 represents a highly collaborative platform for web development which allows its users to come up with collaborative, interactive and effective virtual societies both abroad and locally. Being that multicultural projects are aimed at helping people to become more active in a democratic society and fighting against all forms of racisms, the interactive and advanced features of Web 2.0 technologies can be useful in such projects. The technology provides the media being appropriate for building numerous virtual collaborative societies amidst students in global and local classrooms. The technology enables individuals to be able to participate in such virtual communities and, thus, to take part in any relevant project. The technologies could be used by those coordinating projects targeting educators, students, social workers, and teachers to enable them to take part in numerous virtually collaborative societies. It may allow practicing effective multiculturism skills (Hossain & Aydin, 2011).

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Another study was carried out by Plessis (2011) on Exploring teamwork paradoxes challenging 21st-century cross-cultural conflict management in a multicultural organizational context. The study’s major focus was done on cross-cultural conflicts as well as how they could be managed in a work environment with the people of different cultures. The environment is characterized by teamwork paradoxes as experienced and perceived by the members of a multicultural team working within any project. The findings have revealed that the cross-cultural conflict-related obstacles are understated in most cases because of them being difficult to recognize. Unfortunately, they present themselves after causing significant damage. Thus, project managers must work to timely identify, understand, and manage paradoxes in the teams they are working with. In this way, the managers can be able to coordinate issues and ensure the high performance of the team.

Another relevant study was conducted by Ochieng, Price, Ruan, Egbu, and Moore (1994) on the effect of cross-cultural uncertainty and complexity within multicultural construction teams. It has examined various challenges that constructions managers face in their management of cross-cultural uncertainty and complexity. From the findings, it has emerged that there was a need for project leaders to learn how to have control over their own characteristics and utilize them in a selective manner. It has raised a need for a multicultural project team to have the main focus on the attributes and outputs as a social entity. The implication was that there was a need for those managing global multicultural project teams to possess superior interpersonal and multicultural skills.

Another research by Fischlmayr (2012) has found out that successful collaborations require skills in handling cultural differences in virtual multicultural teams. They propose the need for those in charge of multicultural projects to utilize a Grounded Theory. It should enable them to understand the multifaceted influence of reflections of all those being involved in the project. In their article, they note that besides the grounded theory, VIBu RealGame™, which is an online business simulation, can also be useful in overcoming cultural differences. The simulation can also be useful in acquiring the necessary skills in handling the multicultural teamwork. It makes coordination, collaboration, and communication among the project team members easier.

The complexity caused by the difference in cultures of those involved in the projects is also felt in the business field. The study by Watitu has found out that international businesses are increasingly finding it difficult in their operations. They have to meet their diverse needs. It requires a good understanding of the cultures of people they serve being dispersed all over the world. The greatest challenge facing global business projects is communication across the many cultures involved. The study used Oxfam Great Britain Kenya as the case study to establish how communication affects the performance of firms. It is related to the companies which deal with the projects of a global scale in nature. In his findings, he has found out that communication affects everyone involved in the project regardless of their difference in cultures. The managers must continue to embrace education as a backbone of the functioning of their organizations and that of the realization of individual projects.


The literature review has used two major approaches in examining challenges facing project managers dealing with multicultural teams. A part of the approach was to look for sources addressing the effects of some differences in the demography among project team members. Thus, it has looked at peer-reviewed scholarly sources reporting the studies regarding the effects of such factors as the difference in gender, race, and ethnicity on the success of the project. The second part of the approach taken during the literature review was the materials concerning various challenges faced by project managers working with multicultural teams. Of the great importance, there were various challenges caused by the cultural differences in either the project team or the target groups.

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