Communication In A Multicultural Project Team Management Essay

This chapter is an introduction to the main theme of this thesis. It presents the background, aim and the objectives undertaken for this thesis. It also includes the methodology applied for the realisation of this study, the scope and limitations; significance of the research, and thesis structure.


Nigeria is the most populated African nation with 1.7 million inhabitants. Situated in West Africa, it borders Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger. It was under the military regime for 16years before adopting new constitution in 1999 which saw the smooth transmission to a civilian government. It consists of more than 250 ethnic groups fraught with ethnic and religious tensions (Zagorsek et al, 2004). Out of these 250 ethnic groups, three of them remain the most largest and dominant; Igbo, Hausa, and Yoruba. Smaller ethnic groups include the Fulani, Kanuri, Ijaw, Ibibio, Tiv and Edo.

Fig. 1.1: An historical data chart of the Nigerian population (Source: Trading Economics, 2012).

English is recognised as the official and most common language of Nigeria which is used in schools and government relations. According to Curry (2006), ‘pidgin’ is a mix of African Languages and English and common in the southern art of Nigeria. This mixture of languages evolved from British sailors who were trying to find a way to communicate with local merchants and it is being used today often in culturally mixed areas as a common form of communication within people lacking formula education in English.

Prior to the European take-over, these groups had their various independent histories and never considered themselves as part of the same culture. This has resulted in severe internal ethnic conflicts greatly played by the lack of nationalism and often nature of national leadership, which is ethnically biased (Curry, 2006). The confrontations between these different ethnic groups still exist to date. This has created a great amount of concern on how these people from various ethnic groups cohabit and work together as teams from one project to another.

The increasing global nature of construction projects has given rise to the importance of multiculturalism and the new challenges it brings to project execution. Ochieng and Price (2009a) emphasized that contemporary international management literature has identified managing a multicultural team as a significant aspect of human resource management as multicultural project teams have become more common in recent years. The global business environment demands high professional expertise and understanding of cultural diversity. Organisational researchers who recognize the diverse nature of the workforce have increasingly focused on examination of work teams with multicultural members. (Jackson et al, 1995; Snow et al, 1996).

Understanding the use and management of languages has become a growing challenge in the world due to the increase in trend of globalization (Lauring and Selmer 2011). The effectiveness of a project team lies strongly in communication; hence this research examines how cultural factors (e.g., language, attitudes, roles, social organisation, and time) affect the communication process in multicultural project teams. It also investigates the role of cross cultural communication competence in project performance. According to Elron (1997), the most common challenge multicultural teams’ face is managing cultural differences and cross-cultural conflicts. Ochieng and Price (2009a) however stated that there has been limited research on ”people issues” within multicultural teams in construction management literature.

Earley and Mosakowski (2000) assert that multi-cultural teams are used because they are perceived to out-perform mono-culture teams, especially when performance requires multiple skills and judgement. However, Ochieng and Price (2009a) indicated that there has been little research into construction-specific multicultural teams, and many construction organisations, although expanding into global operations do not fully appreciate the implications and are often unable to respond to cultural factors affecting their project teams. However, little or no empirical work is yet to be conducted that quantifies explicitly the extent to which communication determines the success of multicultural projects (Ochieng and Price, 2009a).

With the rapid growth of diverse cultural backgrounds seen globally in organisations, it is therefore pertinent to carry out a study of such, as to how important the role of communication is. This study examines cross cultural communication competence from the Nigeria background, as Matveev and Nelson (2004) described it as a vital component of managers’ ability to address the common challenges faced by multicultural teams.


The Economist (2011) described Nigeria as one of the six fastest growing economies in the world. Being a developing country with impressive growth rate has necessitated the erection of infrastructures and good access roads as a mark of development. There are lots of construction works going on in different areas of the Nation to meet these needs and this has led to foreign investors and partners trooping in to offer their expertise.

This has led to diverse cultural workforce in major international outfits like Shell, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Total, Julius Berger, Schlumberger to mention but a few across the nation. It has been a challenging problem for project managers and clients to integrate a project team that consists of people from different cultural background (Ochieng and Price 2009b, p.529). Tijhuis and Fellows, 2012 as cited by Gajendran et al (2012) also stated that the inability to manage cultural conflicts has given rise to project failures hence it is imperative to understand cross-national cultural practices in construction at the international level.

Project failures in the multicultural environment as reported by Turner (1999) are high, which is attributable to the additional complexity of managing cultural differences among multicultural stakeholders. Biggs (2000) added that the bulk of project failures arise consequently because of inadequate communication.

Bruno (1995) in a study conducted on the cross cultural experience of expatriate managers in Indonesia, identified communication as a major factor in cross cultural interaction. Data from this study suggested that there was a definite influence of cultural backgrounds of participants in any cross cultural communication encountered. It is on this premise the need to investigate the impact of cross cultural communication competence on project performance of multicultural teams.


To develop a conceptual framework that demonstrates project success cognisant of cross cultural communication and multicultural team dynamics.


1 To identify the cultural factors that affects multicultural project communication as seen by Nigerian project managers.

2. To analyse which of these cultures; host national culture, organisational culture and project culture have the most impact on project communication.

3. To investigate the effects of demographic variables on project managers’ multicultural communication competence.

4. Develop a framework that accounts for cultural differences and communication competence of multicultural project teams.

5. Test and validate the framework with domain experts.


Company directors, project managers and team members involved in construction engineering projects will be selected from Abuja and Lagos states, Nigeria to give a variation in the project environments to be examined. The rationale of this is to explore expert views from successful project managers with project teams on cultural complexity within the Nigerian construction industry. This section is further explained in chapter five.


The scope of this study is limited and bounded to the context of Nigeria (Abuja and Lagos), the areas chosen for the purpose of data collection. This study focuses on senior managing directors and project managers as they are the primary channels of communication for handling multicultural project teams and decision making within construction projects.


Chapter One: Research Introduction

This chapter introduces the subject of communication with respect to cross cultural project teams. It gives an overview of the rationale behind the chosen dissertation topic and highlights the aims and objectives. Furthermore, it breaks down the structure of the dissertation by giving a brief summary of each chapter.

Chapter Two: Literature Review – Culture

Chapter two is a review of literature sources that extensively combines the summary and synthesis of previously published journals, scholarly articles and textbooks on the subject of culture. It defines key subject areas under culture that ostensibly covers cultural dimensions, organisational culture, cultural differences in project teams and the types of culture. The subjects raised in this review will serve as a basis for which this research is based upon.

Chapter Three: Literature Review – Communication

Chapter three is a review of literature that discusses the subject of cross cultural communication and multicultural project teams. It gives a review of cross cultural communication, project communication, cultural communication competence within a multicultural workforce as well as the responsibility of project managers in managing such teams and the position of an organisation in the global market working with multicultural project teams.

Chapter Four: Conceptual Framework Modelling

This chapter presents the research framework developed. It discusses each section of the framework and the variables attributed to the modelling.

Chapter Five: Research Methodology

This chapter succinctly defines the types of research methods available, research instruments for data collection, and justifies the use of the chosen method. It also presents a research design for this dissertation, the statistical tools used in analysing the collected data and the structure of the questionnaires used. Further discussed are the important procedures, methods and techniques that have been used to test for validity and reliability. This research methodology is presented in such a way that all the options available are at the researcher’s disposal.

Chapter Six: Analysis and Findings

Chapter four is a presentation of the findings obtained and data analysis found from the research conducted. It shows how the data were collected and then processed in response to the problems posed in chapter one of this dissertation. These results obtained will demonstrate the accomplishment of the stated aim and objectives.

Chapter Seven: Conclusion

This chapter gives a precise evaluation of the work conducted, identifies the common and distinctive features of the objectives and demonstrate the results of this research. In addition, it proves to the reader that in the process of this research, a critical understanding of range of problems set in the dissertation was developed. Also stated in this chapter are limitations that should be taken into consideration when conducting such research in the future.




This chapter synthesises core extent literature surrounding the research topic and focuses of significant knowledge areas that covers, sociology, psychology and management for the concepts investigated, which includes the following; culture, cultural dimensions, types of culture and cultural differences,. These concepts are the key target areas reviewed that discusses the relationship between project performance and cultural differences.


Pheng and Leong (2000) described culture as intricacies that include the following knowledge, beliefs, arts, morals, customs and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society. For the purpose of this study, Lustig and Koester (2006, p.25) says “Culture is a learned set of shared interpretations about beliefs, values, norms, and social practices, which affect the behaviours of a relatively large group of people”, this definition explains the link between culture and communication.

Schein, 1985 as cited by Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner (1997), says “Culture is the way in which a group of people solves problems and reconciles dilemmas”. Schein (2010) indicated three levels of culture that covers tangible manifestation to basic assumptions which include; Artefacts, Espoused Beliefs and Values, Basic underlying Assumptions.



Fig. 2.1: Trompenaars’ model of Culture (Source: Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner, 1997).

Schein (2010, p.24) described artefacts as visible processes and observed behaviours which remains hard to decipher, the basic underlying assumptions he tags the ‘taken for granted beliefs and values’, which determines behaviour, perception and feelings; Norms and values are the perceptions of good and bad which is less visible (Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner, 1997).

Hofstede is seen as one of the key writers and proponents of cultural theory, through his research in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s which was based on employees of the information technology company IBM. Hofstede performed an initial study of IBM employees in the 1960’s and continued the study for thirty years. This survey covers over 72 countries, and over 116,000 survey respondents from IBM. ( The central premise to Hofstede’s work is that culture and cultural identity are learned attributes developed over time Hofstede et al (2010, p.6) defines culture as “the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from others”. The three layers of mental programming identified by Hofstede included individual, collective and universal. Based on these three layers, Hofstede constructed the culture triangle (See Fig 2.1.) through the following areas;

The Individual level (personality) is focused on the mental programming exclusive to each person. Hofstede suggests that this level is at least partly inherited.

The Collective Level (culture) is focused on the mental programming that is learned from others, that is specific to a group of people.

The Universal level (human nature) is focused on all humans, and is likely inherited e.g. Instincts for survival.

Fig. 2.1: The three levels of uniqueness in metal programming. (Source: Hofstede et al 2010, p.6)


In studies conducted by Hofstede (1980, 1983, 1984, 1991, 1997, 2001) as cited by Jandt (2007), Hofstede based the four dimensions of culture on an extensive survey at IBM in which the investigation was conducted on the influence of national culture. These dimensions of culture Hofstede defined as a way of mapping and explaining differences in national cultures. Blodgett et al (2008, p.762), after thoroughly investigating Hofstede’s model argued that: “Hofstede’s cultural instrument lacks sufficient validity when applied at the individual unit of analysis”. Also, McSweeney (2002, p.94), went further to criticise and discredit Hofstede’s theories stating that “The scale problem of Hofstede’s research is radially compounded by the narrowness of the population surveyed” and that Hofstede oversimplified the importance of organisational culture as a component and a relevant factor when matching samples across countries. However, St Claire-Ostwald (2007) pointed out that rejecting the totality of Hofstede’s model of national culture, before a more suitably model is developed would be discarding very important insight to the subject at hand. Hence, the four cultural dimensions are explained in detail in the next section.

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2.3.1 Power Distance

It shows the amount of equality, or inequality, between people in a society. It is the amount to which the fewer powerful members of organisations and institutions believe that power is distributed unequally. This symbolizes inequality as defined from underneath, not from top. Javidan and House, 2001 as cited by Matveev and Nelson (2005), described the power distance as a dimension that controls each stratosphere an entity belong as regards material possessions, power, prestige, authority, wealth and status. According to Matveev and Nelson (2005), Low power distance culture is distributed equally among members of that society as they are likened to participation, consultation, cooperation and practicality whereas the High distance power prefers hierarchical bureaucracies, strong leaders and a high regard for authority. Bantz, 1993 as cited by Matveev and Nelson (2005) stated that there are bound to be difficulties in putting together a suitable pattern for communication and leadership that suits members of a multicultural team that exhibit significant difference in power distance.

Table 2.1 gives a summary of the two types of power distance present in today’s organisations and various workplaces.




Hierarchy in Organisations means an inequality of roles, established for convenience.

Hierarchy in organisations reflects existential inequality between higher and lower levels.

Decentralisation is popular.

Centralisation is popular.

There are fewer supervisory personnel.

There are more supervisory personnel.

There is a narrow salary range between the top and bottom of the organisation.

There is a wide salary range between top and bottom of the organisation.

Managers rely on their own experience and on subordinates.

Managers rely on superiors and on formal rules.

Subordinates expect to be consulted.

Subordinates expect to be told what to do.

The ideal boss is a resourceful democrat.

The ideal boss is a benevolent autocrat, or “good father”.

Subordinate-superior relations are pragmatic.

Subordinate-superior relations are emotional.

Privileges and status symbols are frowned upon.

Privileges and status symbols are normal and popular.

2.3.2. Individualism versus Collectivism

Hofstede, 2005 describes the ties between individuals in an individualist society as loose. In this society, individuals tend to look after their own self-interest (Jandt, 2007). Apparently they are comfortable with having the authority to make decisions based on what each individual believes is best. A collectivist society on the other hand is one in which there is a cohesive relationship between individuals as their bonds are a lot stronger (Hofstede, 2005). As succinctly put by (Jandt, 2007), the interest of such group or community supersedes the interest of the individual.

The national differences in individualism was obtained using the individualism index , in which high scores were found in the United kingdom, America and Australia, as they value autonomy and self-interest while the lowest individualism index scores were found in nations like Panama, Ecuador, Guatemala, Japan, Sweden and Russia, in which they value group harmony, cooperation and satisfaction. (Anbari et al 2008; Matveev and Nelson, 2007).

Hofstede et al (2010) assert that countries in which the individualist middle class culture is domineering, some rural subculture display a strong collectivist element in them. Further pointed out was the notion that this setting is applicable to minority migrant workers who become part of the majorities in a workforce in some countries and thus is a likely cause for culture conflict between managers and their workforce.

Bantz, 1993 op cit Matveev and Nelson (2005) also emphasised that multicultural teams with the individualist and collectivist nature such as the Russians and Americans will exhibit different opinions when it comes to organisational and individual responsibilities, as they are likely to encounter difficulties in developing team roles. See Table 2.2 for a summary of the differences between the collectivist and individualist in workplaces.




Diplomas provide entry to higher status groups.

Diplomas increase economic worth and/or self-respect.

Occupational mobility is lower.

Occupational mobility is higher.

Employees are members of the in-groups who will pursue their in-group’s interest.

Employees are “economic men” who will pursue the employer’s interest if it coincides with their self- interest.

Hiring and promotion decisions take an employee’s in-group account.

Hiring and promotion decisions are supposed to be based on skills and rules only.

The employer-employee relationship is moral, like a family link.

The employer-employee relationship is a contract between two parties on a labour market.

Management is management of groups.

Management is management of individuals.

Direct appraisal of subordinates spoils harmony.

Management training teaches the honest sharing of feelings.

In-group customers get better treatment (particularism)

Every customer should get the same treatment (Universalism).

Relationship prevails over task.

Task prevails over relationship.

2.3.3 Masculinity versus Femininity

This dimension deals with the issue of work roles between gender roles in a society. Pheng and Yuqan (2002) based on Hofstede’s work, described this dimension as division in gender roles in which society lays emphasis on work goals and assertiveness disparate to personal goals and discipline. The characteristics of a masculine culture include;

Performance-driven society, rewards and recognition for performance, innovations as outcome of financial rewards, prestige and a sense of accomplishment.

Competitive, ambitious, and assertive in order to achieve their goals. This type of culture tends to give the utmost respect and admiration to the successful achiever who fulfils his or her ambition and demonstrates assertiveness and willingness to take risks in order to achieve goals.

The characteristic of a feminine culture include;

Emphasis on the quality of the life rather than money, success and social status, which are easier to quantify.

Organisations with a feminine culture are not as competitive as those with a masculine culture, because the former places higher priority on concern for others and little distinction is made between men and women in the same position. (Hofstede et al, 2010).

This suggests that cultures with masculine dimension are likely business oriented while those from feminine dimension prefer to first develop relationships.

2.3.4 Uncertainty Avoidance

People feel comfortable when exposed to ambiguity or uncertainty to this limit. Anbari et al (2008) describes this as the extent which culture has programmed its member to be comfortable or uncomfortable in unknown situations different form the usual and the degree to which society controls the uncontrollable. This implies that people in low uncertainty avoidance society are willing to take risks and be informal as opposed to those in high uncertainty avoidance society. In addition, the awareness of this dimension would give help in operational strategies a project manager uses in the project environment.


Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner (1997) distinguished cultural patterns on three different levels; national, organisational and professional level. However Eberlein (2008) argues that this classification does not reflect the fact that organisational cultures of multi-national organisations covers the boundaries of national or professional cultures in its entirety. For the purpose of this study, the four types of culture being analyse includes; organisational culture, project culture, individual cultural and national culture.

2.4.1 Organisational Culture

Reference for business (2010) describes organisational (also known as corporate culture) as “shared values, attitudes, standards, codes, and behaviours of a company’s management and its employees” Tichy 1982 as cited by Ojo (2009) says organisational culture is the ‘normative glue’ that binds an organisation. Jaspal (2010) describes organisational culture as the totality of attitudes and psychology that are exchanged between the leadership team and its employees in which the values and norms are adapted for work to be executed. Lok and Crawford (2004) in a study conducted on job satisfaction and commitment stated that organisational culture was a driving force in achieving that. Martins and Terblanche (2003) stated that the organisational structure and operational systems of an establishment is being influenced by the degree of creativity and innovation. A good example of the role of organisational culture in an establishment as pointed out by is the mission, vision and objectives statement (Martins and Terblanche, 2003). Recent research on organisational cultures indicates the presence of sub-cultures present in an organisation that influences organisational performance in a positive or negative way .The four types of organisational culture recognised in present day organisations includes; control (hierarchy) organisational culture, compete (market) organisational culture, collaborate (group/clan) organisational culture, create (adhocracy) organisational culture (Tharp, 2009; Duygulu and Ozeren, 2009).

Control (hierarchy) Organisational Culture: A structured work environment with guidelines and techniques that governs the behaviour of its individuals. Significant interest in running smoothly and dependable delivery within its budget constraints.

Compete (market) Organisational Culture: is a demanding culture that is result driven while achieving a high market share. Leadership style in such organisation is focusing on long term targets.

Collaborate (clan) Organisational Culture: An organisation said to be the most effective as it is built on teamwork, participation and consensus. Here everyone is given an opportunity to contribute to the decision making process.

Create (adhocracy) Organisational Culture: All about innovation and risk taking when entering new areas with emphasis on gaining new resources and growth. Employees are charged to think differently and experiment in the dynamic environment created. Carpenter et al (2010) stated that such organisations are characterised by the non- existence of hierarchy as status tend to be on a low profile

Carpenter et al (2010) characterised organisational cultures by values which are profiled to compare and asses an organisation fit, hence aiding in managing culture more effectively. The values are seen in Fig. 2.3 below known as the OCP (Organisation Culture Profile), and the profiles are innovative culture, aggressive culture, outcome oriented culture, stable culture, people oriented culture, team oriented culture and detail oriented culture. These values are all similar to the four types of organisational culture discusses above in section 2.4.1. The innovative culture would easily fall under the adhocracy as it is all about experimenting new ideas and taking risk. . Deutschman (2004) also corroborated that in such organisations, employees hardly have bosses hence risk taking is highly encouraged no matter the outcome of success or failure.

Fig. 2.3: An organisation culture profile. (Source: O’Reilly 1991)

Aggressive organisation profile is all about competitiveness where an organisation is out to beat the performance of other companies and falls under the Compete category as discussed earlier. Outcome-oriented cultures focuses on results achieved and this serves as the core values for such organisations. Probst and Raisch (2005) further argued based on such culture that rewards are tied to performance indicators rather than loyalty.

In a research conducted by Nohria, Joyce and Roberson (2003), it was discovered that organisations that is based on performance-oriented culture has a likelihood of outpacing other organisations without such culture. People-oriented culture organisation has it focus on the people, their rights, respect and dignity (Erdogan, Liden and Kramer, 2006). Team-oriented culture can be found in organisations that encourages cooperation amongst its employees (Bolino and Turnley, 2003). Such culture should be encouraged in multicultural teams as it makes individuals better team players. Gareis (2004) stated that the idea of organisational culture in its entirety is not limited to permanent organisations but also temporary organisations e.g. projects.

2.4.2 Project Culture

Project culture according to Laufer (2012) is what binds and organisation together in as much as the project members share the same values, behaviours and adhere strictly to the rules binding the project. Gareis (2004) also emphasised that development of team spirit within a project and the orientation of team members is because of the project culture which can be perceived by the way project members behave and the modes of communication used during the project. Furthermore, Ajmal and Koskinen (2009) added that having the same vision and shared values are vital for projects due to the energy it provides for creating knowledge. However Agile anarchy (2012) argued that since project culture is where people serve projects by time, values and beliefs within a project cycle, it could serve as a detriment to honing or developing new skills.

Gareis (2004) listed the elements of project culture as project name, project specific values, project slogans, project related artefacts, project infrastructure and project events.

Project name: Contains all project information that relates to the project which can be easily recognised, identified and promote the objectives of the project. This element includes the project logo and project colour.

Project Specific Values: This project mission statement serves as a benchmark to the desired outcomes it intends to achieve. It gives orientation the actions of the team members and further controls the conduct of the members in the project organisation. This project values can be determined by asking key questions like specifics of the project outcome, ‘what is significant and not significant to the project teams’ and ‘what distinguishes a project to other projects’? These questions can help shape the project value and in turn the project culture as this can have implications for project performance (Laufer, 2012).

Project Slogans and Project related anecdotes: This is used to give direction to project teams as it communicates the important factors in the project. It could be done for the entire project or given at each phase of the project. The anecdotes are also used to convey the image of project to the customer.

Project related artefacts, Project language and Project room: This include the project documents like project plan, project organisation chart. The contents of these documents forms and communicates the project culture. The language in which these documents are termed and designated describes the project management documents. The project room is where the project meetings takes places and should be decorated with the artefacts like the project organisation chart, WBS (work breakdown structure) and the organisational structure of the project.

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Project related events: Events that mark the start and end of a project, where team members can have outdoor weekends together visit pubs and celebrate together as a team. This is a good way of developing the project culture.

All these elements pass through a process which makes up the project culture. Each profession has its own cultures that sometimes conflict with fundamental cultures of the entire project (Reifer, 2006; Ruuska, 1999). Project culture is embedded between organisational culture and professional culture as seen in Fig. 2.4. According to Wang (2001), when a set of work-related values and norms are shared by members of the same profession in which they think and behave as required by that profession, professional culture is said to be established. Ruuska (1999) stated that project culture can be found in professional culture as well as organisational culture but Reifer (2006) highlighted that there is a need for these subcultures to co-exist together in other to (Ajmal and Koskinen, 2008) achieve harmony and give the project a strong directional culture. The peaceful coexistence of these cultures requires creativity (Reifer, 2006), suitable approaches of cooperating and communicating with one another (Ajmal and Koskinen, 2008) in other to unify these cultures.



Project Culture



Fig. 2.4: Project Culture. [Source: Ruuska, 1999]

In a research conducted by Thomas et al (2002), project culture was assessed and tested to know the influence it has on project outcomes and the role it plays, hence attributes related to performance were associated to some cultural characteristic using the organisational culture profiles (Clan, market, adhocracy and hierarchy). It was discovered that the clan/market axis was associated with project outcomes while adhocracy/hierarchy axis had little effect on performance. This was done using Cameron and Quinn’s competing values framework against project performance and project culture. See Fig. 2.5.

Fig. 2.5: The relationship between project performance and project culture. [Source: Thomas et

al 2002].

Research done by Marrewijk (2007), suggested the need for project managers and organisations handling projects to improve on project cultures during project life cycles as they tend to be risk of such cultures becoming dysfunctional when moving to a new project phase.

2.4.3 National Culture

Hofstede et al (2010) described the values of national culture as being learned at very early stages where an individual is born into it and held deeply which may slowly change over the course of generations. Katz (2005) from research suggested that strong value systems in the midst of its members are being shaped because of if the influences of national culture, and this shared values and behaviours of various groups differ greatly between countries.

Scott and Davis (2007) indicated that the culture of a nation is quite similar to that of an organisation as it is made of symbols, values, rituals and traditions of individuals habiting in a certain area; these variables include language, family and food traditions. Hofstede et al (2010) stated that values that differentiate various countries from one another as Power distance, Individualism versus Collectivism, Masculinity versus Femininity and Uncertainty Avoidance. (See section 2.3).











Power distance






Uncertainty avoidance


















The Nigerian national culture exhibits a strict hierarchy culture (see section 2.4.1) where managers lead and are in control of the decision making. The empirical evidence to this was further purported by Seddon (1988) in a study conducted using the Hofstede’s cultural dimensions, where the cultural traits of Nigeria, Kenya and the United Kingdom were compared. Data obtained from this study showed (see table 2.3) that power distance is quite high for Nigeria compared to United Kingdom. Muriithi and Crawford (2003), described the high power distance as a trait that pushes towards high organisational structures in the African nations. Also, the collectivism nature of the Nigerian culture makes individual highly obligated to their families and communities which in turn causes problems for people working in organisations with rules that requires neutrality in the way the members of the community are treated. This culture is also characterised as moderately feminine and moderate in uncertainty avoidance (Zagorsek et al, 2004).

There are many ways in which national cultures differ; team members from different culture tend to have variations in communication behaviours, motivation behind searching for or giving away information and engaging in self-categorisation (Gudykunst, 1997). In a study by Matveev and Nelson (2004) on the role of communication in culture, national culture orientations were listed as context richness of communication, power distance, individualism, performance orientation, and uncertainty avoidance (see fig. 2.6). The rest of the orientations have been discussed earlier (see section 2.3).

Multicultural team performance

National Culture Orientations

Cross cultural Communication Competence

* Context richness

* Power distance

* Individualism

* Uncertainty avoidance

* Performance orientation

* Interpersonal skills

* Team effectiveness

* Cultural Uncertainty

* Cultural empathy

* Clear goals, role and


* Participatory leadership

* Constructive feedback

* Cooperative culture

Fig.2.6: Framework relating national culture orientation, cross cultural communication competence and multicultural team performance (Source: Matveev and Nelson, 2004)

Hall (1976) categorised this context richness into low context culture and high context cultures. The low context cultures as Matveev and Nelson (2004) indicated uses ‘programmed information’ at low levels to provide the context intended, that is to say, the code is explicitly states while the words carry the message. Marquardt and Horvath (2001) described a good example of low context communication as a communication where moderate rate of information is required about an establishment or individual before business transactions are conducted e.g. North America task centred communication. However the case is not the same with the high context culture as (Hall. 1976) message is being conveyed via a nonverbal context; which is through an individual’s beliefs, norms, internalised values and physical setting. Marquardt and Horvath (2001) further hinted that a high context communication is one characterised by behavioural and communication rules that are discreet in its context, hence the communicator requires huge amount of contextual information about the establishment involved before transactions can be successfully completed. Influence of National Culture on Project management

According to Caldwell and Pinnington (2012), a project is made up of individuals and organisations from various national cultures that consist of multicultural teams, international partners and foreign managers. Project management plays an important role in the success of any project; hence project managers are faced with copious challenges which include managing of multicultural teams (Milosevic, 2002).

Furthermore, Caldwell and Pinnington (2012) stated that problems could arise from understanding the variations that stems from organisational cultures, individual differences and project cultures. Hofstede (1983) indicated that the differences discovered between countries has an effect on project management; and claimed that project management exhibits individualism due to the fact that temporary tasks are being seen as the main focus. Hence, an individual from a collectivist culture is likely to experience difficulties being created by the incompatible nature of the culture and thus “lose their work identity’ (Hofstede, 1983: p.46).

Recent study by Milosevic (2002) showed that the project management scripts that are shaped by national culture vary in project members. Shaw (1990) gave one example which stated that leadership scheme (good or bad leader) and behaviour scripts (greetings, mode of communication and character) differ from culture to culture.

Zwikael (2009) succinctly put that the background and cultures of project stake holders, suppliers, customers and partners must be something project managers get accustomed with as decision making and problem solving (Eriksson et al, 2002) vary between culture as some managers may choose to study a problem before taking decisions while others may prefer trial and error. Furthermore, Turner (1999) asserts that there are variations in project management applications as regards culture. In other to avoid these issues, Yasin et al (1997) emphasised that it is expedient for project managers to exhibit competencies that are culturally specific to the undertaken project. Milosevic (1999, p.27) likewise stated that ‘project management is culture-bound, which means members with different cultural background interpret the same project management practices differently”.


Having discussed the various cultures (See section 2.3), the next thing arises is how the various cultures can be integrated and accepted by an individual. Lynn (2011) stated that “All integration is Cultural Integration”. Culture as described by Schein (2010) is a mind-set, which expresses itself in a peculiar fashion by norms and customs in any place or environment (Lynn, 2011). The amassed integration of diverse cultures seen throughout the world and the dispersal of a dominant global culture Moghaddam (2002) referred to as cultural integration. It could be argued that the integration of these diverse cultures leads to reduction of cultural differences and dissolution of local cultures.

Cultural integration allows individuals bring their organisational and professional perceptions and expertise into the frame work likewise those based on national upbringing (Lynn, 2011). Figure 2.7 shows a pictorial ideology of how an individual amasses all the culture to thrive in a global environment. Every organisation is made up of people from different backgrounds with different skills and ideas, and as a group will, situations or ideas that may arise will come from an array of perspectives.

Fig. 2.7 Cultural Integration (Source: Lynn, 2011)

However the variety in views of different individuals often leads to conflict due to the inability of an individual to recognise an issue from a viewpoint different from one’s own. The focus on extraneous subjects such as differences, being right or ‘our approach’, has led to various cultural differences in a multicultural environment (Lynn, 2011).


There has been a growing body of research and literature on cultural differences which shows that in a today’s multicultural society, project managers face challenges as regards cultural differences which can aid or obstruct project completion (Lee and Ma, 2007; Anbari et al., 2007; Eberlein, 2008, Milosevic, 2009) and also likely to affect project performance (Milosevic, 1999).

Anbari et al (2010) argued that cultural differences can be managed if the multicultural project teams are effectively managed as it could bring about innovation and variations in experience that could give an organisation a competitive edge and increase the probability of project success. However, if these differences are not conscientiously managed, it can affect the successful completion of a project (Anbari et al 2010; Yasin et al, 1997). Adopting the theories of Hofstede which described values and practices as the building blocks of culture Horii et al (2005) suggested that these values are the preferences to which individuals adopt to make communication and work related decisions in a project while practices are seen as the cultural norms for implementing specific project management styles and organisational structure.

Horii et al (2005) went further to add that there a three attributes in which these practices are characterised by at project team level which includes;

Level of formalization of communication

Level of centralisation of authority

Depth of the organisational hierarchy

This concept was concluded by Horii et al (2005) when a comparative study between Japanese and American firm was conducted to ascertain the effect of cultural influences on project team performance. The elements of cultural differences identified by Marquardt and Engel (1993) include religion, education, economics, politics and language. Religion was highlighted as the most influential factor when it concerns cultural thinking and living as it defines to individual what is important in life. (See table 2.4).



Most influential factor in cultural thinking, living and doing

Determining whether people see them as good or evil.

Defining what is truly important in life.

Describing how one should eat, dress, relate with others and work.


Means of transmitting knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to live in that society.

Class structures from open to closed.


Activities concerned with production and distribution.

Societies (free-market and capitalistic, centrally planned and government controlled)


Encompassing structures and activities related to allocation and use of power as well as regulation of access to resources and opportunities.


Words and structures available in a language, which influence a speakers values, beliefs, relationships and concepts.

2.6.1 Project Management

PMBOK (2008, p.5) defines a project as ‘a temporary endeavour taken to create a unique product, service or result’. The word temporary connotes the beginning and the end, and this end is reached when the objectives of the project has been met or not met. Projects are according to Verma (1997) uncertain in nature as changes, problems and conflicts are likely to happen in the project life cycle, which makes it hard to predict and consequently lead to substantial stress on the team members and project manager.

This is where project management comes to play; it is the ‘application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements’ (PMBOK, 2008, p.6). Managing a project can only be accomplished by using the appropriate application and integration of the process groups which include;




Monitoring and Controlling


In a recent study carried out by Caldwell and Pinnington (2012) between Arab and British project managers and their perceptions on project planning, it was discovered that cultural difference plays a role in project environment. This implies that in each of the above listed processes, there are bound to issues of difference in the context of culture either positive or negative. Likewise, Zwikael et al (2005) further discovered that cultural difference were present in the planning process of a project and suggested more research work be conducted in other countries. Hence, managing a project, includes the need to identify the project requirements, address the needs, concerns and what is expected of the project stakeholders at each phase and finally striking a balance within the competing project constraints which includes scope, schedule, quality, budget, resources and risk (Verma, 1997; Miller et al, 2000; PMBOK, 2008)

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Homogeneous projects in various countries are managed by project managers otherwise, and the degree of success of the project lies in the manner in which cultural differences are managed, in addition to the disparate significance a project manager gives towards the success of the project (Zwikael et al, 2005).

2.6.2 Team Management

A team is defined by Brooks (2006, p.84) “as a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable”.

Recent study on cultural differences and its impact on project performance by Lee and Ma (2007) showed that team performance is affected by techniques used in solving problems, processes applied in the decision making, the methods of communication and the level of trust these team members have for each other. Aaltonen et al (2010) emphasised that challenges and collapse in relationships between key project players are caused by differences in culture, language, work practices and values and hence serve as a basis of unforeseen events. Pheng and Leong (2000) specified that an employee’s behaviour can be anticipated if top management can build a positive culture that reflects the national culture since organisational culture has a strong influence of national culture. National culture difference should be studied careful in the planning stage as it has been found to play a major role in the success or failure of a project. (Enshassi and Burgess, 1990; Milosevic, 2002; Zwikael et al 2005; Yasin et al. 1997).

Marquardt and Horvath (2001) listed five most common challenges in project teams as:

Managing cultural diversity, differences and conflicts

Handling geographic distances and dispersion of team members

Dealing with the coordination and control issues

Maintaining communication richness

Developing and maintain team cohesiveness.

Cultural differences can be managed if project managers remain culturally sensitive, encourage respect, promote creativity and motivate the project team by exemplifying flexible leadership (Anbari et al, 2010). This implies that project managers must have adequate abilities, qualities and great leadership skills to manage a multicultural team. A high level of cultural competence is required in order to succeed in this environment. The attributes of a good project manager and his competence level in the multicultural environment is discussed extensively in Section 3.5


Different standards and factors in cultures like traditions, actions or words can be seen as irrelevant by other cultures or threatening to other cultures (Lieshout and Steurenthaler, 2006) and thus bring about cultural gaps and conflict between individuals within a given workforce. Cross cultural barriers in project management is becoming more tangible (Sohmen, 2002), which is due to the deeply rooted values in culture evident in diverse assumptions with similar existence (Hofstede, 1991).

The precarious barriers to cross cultural projects as listed by Sohmen (2002) include;

Distrust between ethnic groups

Culturally insensitive leadership

Culture shock and ethnocentrism

Mono-cultural information technology

Horii et al (2005) further assert that one major challenge is the increase in internal complexities because of pre-existing differences in cultural values, beliefs, norms and work practices. Gancel et al (2002) from experience studying managers listed the barriers to understanding culture and avoiding differences as:

Insufficient awareness of existence of difference: This is a situation whereby managers are not aware of the existence of cultural dimension of management.

Insufficient understanding: Managers are aware of the existence of culture but have no clear understanding hereby underestimating the impact of culture and have no need to tackle it.

Insufficient willingness: Situation in which managers are aware and understand culture but decide not to manage it. This decision is probably because managing cultural dimension is worth giving sufficient priority. Its importance is understood but not urgent enough as the pressure to complete the task. Economic issues and technical problems are rather given topmost priority than managing cultural differences. Similarly, handling financial problems are a lot safer and more comfortable since it has to do with facts and figures than to manage problems that involve people, emotions, behaviours and decisions that could lead to discomfort and uncertainty. Furthermore the cultural integration is not easy to quantify and its impact cannot be expressed in monetary terms and hence it does not prove success.

Insufficient level of abilities and skills: Managers are likely aware of the need to tackle the cultural issues that arise and may attempt to do it but fail due to the lack of intercultural competences.




This chapter aims to build a foundational understanding of the chosen topic in order to investigate the how project managers manage communication in a multicultural setting. It also covers the academic disciplines of sociology and project management with relevant topics ranging from communication, project communication, cross cultural communication competence, communication in a multicultural environment and multicultural project teams.


Kaser and Johnson (2011) described communication as fundamental to piloting day to day activities in workplaces, neighbourhoods and anywhere people interact, hence it is perceived as a vital skill. Communication is defined by Deresky (2003, p.126) as the “process of sharing meaning by transmitting messages through media such as words, behaviour, or material artefacts”. Verzuh (1999) stated that communication is one of the most important factors in the success or failure of a project and thus very essential to constantly and effectively communicate with everyone involved in a project. It is possible to have the best of ideas, but if that idea cannot be communicated effectively to another party then the ideas are as good as irrelevant.

The communication process (see fig. 3.1) as highlighted by Kaser and Johnson (2011) encompasses the sender encoding messages before sending and the receiver decoding the message received. Furthermore, in the course of passing information any form of interference may cause a breakdown in communication which Deresky (2003) calls noise, this noise is because of the “unique life space” of both the receiver and sender. The context (what, who, to whom, when, where and how) within which a message is transmitted and the purpose intended must be understood by the receiver in order to make the communication effective (Mead, 2005).


Meaning Encode


Decode meaning






Fig.3.1: The Communication Process. (Source: Deresky (2003: p.127)

It is pertinent to note that culture and communication are closely interwoven as communication is based on cultural norms while culture is learned and shared through communication (Varner and Beamer, 2011). According to Deresky (2003), the divergent cultures of people involved increases the chances of being misinterpreted. Samovar et al (1981) stated that culture can be described as the bedrock of communication, and when cultures differ communication practices differ as well. This indicates that the inability of people to understand each other due to difference in culture can cause disturbances in communication. Communication can be classified into two categories: Verbal and nonverbal.

Verbal Communication: This is when choice of words, topic of conversation and title is appropriately use in a formal and informal setting (Mackenzie and Wallace, 2011). This can be narrowed down to language, as it is the most significant aspect of communication. From experience with people from various Language barrier

Nonverbal Communication: Behaviours that are being communicated without words using proxemics (use of space), haptics (touch), chronemics (use of time), kinesics (use of gestures) attire (dress) in a formal and informal setting (Deresky, 2003; Mackenzie and Wallace, 2011).

3.2.1 Project Communication

Project communication as defined by PMPI (2007) is the exchange of project specific information with the aim of creating an understanding between the sender and the receiver. It is the communication between team members and the surrounding environs and makes use of the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) framework.





Fig.3.2: Communicating WBS element

In a project environment, the WBS aids in communicating plans to members of the project team communicate plans. The supplier constantly communicates with the task manager (see fig 3.2) and provides the input needed for the project in terms of materials and could be described as the task manager of earlier deliverable. The task manager delivers the WBS elements to the customer (PMPI, 2007).

Dissemination of information in a project environment can be done formally or informally through verbal communication, non-verbal communication and written means like project documentation, reports etc. (Adu, 2004). Project communication on its own is part of the overall project plan and hence needs to be managed effectively in order to yield results as it communicates what to be produced in the project, who produces it and when, hence the need to be managed. Project communications management as succinctly put by PMBOK (2008) involves processes necessary for suitably generating, collecting, distributing, storage, retrieval, and ultimate disposition of project information. These processes (see fig. 3.3) included:

Identifying the stakeholder: Process of identifying every individual and organisations involved with the project and documenting information significant to their interest

Planning Communications: Process in which the information needs of the project stakeholder is determined and communication approach defined.

Distributing Information: Process of making relevant information accessible to project stakeholder as planned.

Managing stakeholder expectations: Process of communicating and working with stakeholders to address issues as they occur and meeting their expectations.

Reporting Performance: Processing of gathering and sharing performance information, progress measurement, status reports and forecast.

Fig.3.3: Project Communications Management Overview (Source: PMBOK, 2008)


According to DeSanctis and Jiang (2005), communication in a multicultural team involves two aspects. Firstly, communicating more often than less and secondly, incorporate the views of every team member. Each team member must be encouraged to communicate freely and share their opinions Reagans and Zuckerman (2001) emphasised that social ties between members of the same team becomes stronger over time if ‘inter-member communication’ occurs often than not. DeSanctis and Jiang (2005) implied that a strong network tie between team members will give room for efficient harmonisation to tackle the challenges of task demands. Furthermore, even communication between team members rather than dominance by a few brings together the diverse knowledge resources each individual possesses during the harmonisation process.

DeSanctis and Jiang (2005) stated that there are various ways team communication can hamper project performance which includes; volume, evenness and structure.

Volume of communication: There should be higher level of communications among team members as there is a collective team memory and ability to coordinate effectively the use of information shared.

Evenness in communication: Equal contribution amongst team members should be encouraged instead of a few dominating with their views and opinions. DeSanctis and Jiang (2005) further conclude that teams that exhibit even communication among its members will definitely do better than those with less even communication.

Structure of communication: the degree of horizontal or vertical differentiation in a team’s overall communication structure is an aspect that may influence performance. This is evident in the mapping of the team’s communication plan as it shows the number of members who are dominant. It was further concluded that researchers are yet to verify the communication structure that best fits a multicultural team.

According to Kaser and Johnson (2011) the necessity to develop balanced work teams with regard to ethnicity, gender, culture etc. has been buttress upon by researchers, as there is a possibility that these balanced teams are likely to have different perceptions and variety of ideologies on how these challenges at hand should be solved. Bell and Smith (2003) further indicated that decision making can improve because of enriching discussion the diverse team members as this arises from diverse personalities, experience, expertise and other differences they possess. Matveev and Nelson (2004) consolidated on the fact that it is important for individual team members to have good communication skills as it helps in establishing good rapport within the team; it bonds members into a cohesive and high performing unit.

Gudykunst (1997) highlighted that language itself is not an issue in multicultural teams but the use of language and went further to claim that, the aspect of language that is bound by culture includes; direct and indirect use of language, the use of talk and silence, the use of exaggeration, topic management and influence. The absence of one common native language is often the nature of multicultural teams.


Marquardt and Horvath (2001) described multicultural teams as task oriented groups that are made of people from different national cultures. There are gains when an organisation employs multicultural teams, Townsend et al (1998) highlighted one of the gains as productivity. Earley and Mosakowski (2000) indicated that the formation of an emergent team is stimulated when multicultural team members interact unlike homogeneous team with commonalities among its members. In addition, Marquardt and Horvath (2001) assumed that assembling the energy and synergy of individuals from different cultures to work as a team can lead to creativity in the approaches to problems and challenges corporate teams face as a result Matveev and Nelson (2004), develop and rely on team cultures with simplified rules, member’s perceptions and performance expectations. Prabhakar and Duda (2009) noted that there is a strong possibility of acquiring new knowledge with the presence of multicultural project teams in an organisation because of the new dimension of creativity, variety and innovation they bring. Earley and Mosakowski (2000) stated that a strong emergent culture is the nature of an effective multicultural team as there is a possibility of shared member’s expectation facilitates communication and team performance.

Nevertheless multicultural teams are

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