Guest Blog by Hugo Teruzzi
Hugo tells us a real story about how (lack of) communication and understanding across different cultures within the same business can have a real impact on performance – and what to do about it.
In many projects, clients and suppliers are consistently dissatisfied with each other’s behaviour. This case, which involved companies from Belgium and Portugal, was characterised by a feeling of mistrust. The software project had deviated from its original targets and the relationship was deteriorating.
For the Brussels based North-Ltd team the Lisboan South-Ltd people used to change the scope of the specification too often and worked too close to deadlines. The office environment was adversely affected and working extra hours became the norm for North-Ltd. A high stress level reduced the company’s productivity and led to internal conflicts.
North-Ltd was losing confidence in South-Ltd. Only Manuel in South-Ltd was considered reliable by the North-Ltd team. Unfortunately, Manuel could only speak Portuguese so he never attended decision-making meetings which were conducted in English.
From the perspective of South-Ltd, the North-Ltd team could not understand South-Ltd business. South-Ltd complained about a long list of open issues and actions not performed on time by North-Ltd. This was causing damage to the business in Portugal, overruns to the budget and stress to the South-Ltd team as well.
As a consequence of increasing internal conflicts, North-Ltd’s project manager John (10-year seniority within the company) resigned. People in Brussels started thinking that the project was no longer viable.
Clearly, personalities and organisational cultures were very different and the barrier seemed impossible to cross. Hugo, a new project manager was brought on board. He was asked to review the situation and prepare either a rescue plan, or a close down plan for the project. Hugo was familiar with Portuguese culture and could understand and speak a little Portuguese. He decided to travel to Lisbon to listen to the opinion of the different participants in their own language.
Hugo’s attempt to understand the Portuguese team on their own terms and in their own country was well received. By seeing the Portuguese team in action he realized that the two sides were remarkably similar in their approaches and that there was mutual interest in helping each other’s team to save the project. Additionally, he discovered some new stakeholders on the client’s side who were happy to join in an upgraded management team.
Hugo took the following steps:
- Appointed a trustworthy team on the Portuguese side, acting as local coordinators. Manuel worked with Hugo in overseeing the new requirements.
- Appointed a senior product engineer in Brussels, to work exclusively, and separately, on the open issues.
- Implemented a rapid prototyping method to synchronise the understanding of the changes on both sides and a formal change management procedure linking the constraints of scope-quality, time and budget.
With these three simple and inexpensive BRIDGING actions the project was rescued and new projects were initiated between North-Ltd and South-Ltd. Hugo had succeeded in building a BRIDGE of understanding between the two companies.
For more information on Hugo’s work, please visit http://www.globaliseuk.co.uk/
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