Most projects are made up of several sub-groups of people. On a construction project you can imagine there is a group of people tasked with looking after the physical safety of people working on the site. You can also imagine another group that looks after checking that materials and installed units meet quality requirements. These sub-groups of people have interfaces with each other whereby they exchange and share information, documents and outcomes. They also provide and request support from other groups to start, complete and execute a process. Most of the time project inefficiencies occur across the interfaces with internal and external sub-groups or functions.
The best way to ensure efficiency and effectiveness across project interfaces is to increase transparency around assumptions that people have . Test whether they are accurate and understood by others on the project.
Note that project interfaces can also refer to processes that involve multiple functions in the home office environment or the company structure. These “external” groups to the project may be setting high-level processes and goals, which create the environment that the project team needs to operate in. Examples may include HR, Finance, the group that tracks compliance with corporate policies and procedures etc.
This team building activity that I am sharing helps various interfacing groups understand differences that may exist between how they think they should be interfacing with other groups and what the actual expectations from other groups are.
Clearing up interface issues among geographically dispersed groups working on the same processes or projects;
Clarifying how different functions should interface with one another on a project;
Clarifying any differences in perspective among cultural groups or different shifts of people in the same function working on the same tasks interfacing with one another; and
Getting clarity on how multiple projects should interface with each other and/or the corporate groups they work with.
The reason that interfaces with other groups tend to be where delays and frustrations occur is because it is common for people to analyze and optimize processes only for the portion that they are responsible for. This perspective means they often overlook how their efforts impact others or how the efforts of others impact them and they fail to take the bigger picture into account. This activity will support efforts to improve the outcomes of inter-group processes as you work towards greater successes on your projects and initiatives.
In our globalized world it is very common for employees to have regular contact with people from other cultures and they may attend meetings at various international locations. When you are executing projects on a global scale it increases the importance of ensuring that communication and collaboration go as smoothly as possible in order to meet your project objectives.
Cultures and sub-cultures
You may be surprised to learn that even seemingly basic project concepts could have different interpretations across cultures and sub-cultures. This exercise that I am sharing with you focuses on intercultural aspects of international teams and can help by clarifying assumptions and expectations at an early stage of your project.
When I think of different cultures on a project team, I also include sub-cultures such as between different regions in the same country or different functional groups in the same company. (This link can provide context if you want to look at cultures more closely.)
In the exercise, participants answer questions from their own perspective being as true as possible to how things are done at the location or group that they represent in the exercise. Most people who have lived internationally for some years have already adapted to habits and ways that conform to expectations and habits for their new location and how people do things there. If your intention is to highlight the richness of different perspectives you have present at the event where you run this ice breaker – ask participants to think back to a time when they lived in location X or worked with group Y – how would they answer the question then?
The downloadable document above contains several project-related scenarios which can be used to explore differences in approaches and mindsets within your project team. You may also choose to use the topic of diversity and inclusion as an on-going exploration within your team where you could select one of the topics at each of your meetings instead of trying to cover all of them during a team-building event.
This ice-breaker can be a good item to include in a project kick-off meeting or when you are adding a few more people to the team from a different office/location. This exercise also works well when you have team members who are from the same country, but are from different offices. (It is not uncommon for offices/locations to have slightly different approaches).
Early exploration of different mindsets and assumptions among team members can be a valuable foundation to ensure smoother relationships and better collaboration on your project. Feel free to suggest additional important scenarios to consider for discussion after you have reviewed the attachment I shared in this post.