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Working Across Cultural Boundaries – A Case Study – Part I

Getting Everyone to Work Together – One Project Manager’s Challenge

Michael was managing his first virtual project team. There were 12 people on the core project team. Team members came from a number of different countries and all had experience working on project teams, but this was the first time each of the team members was working with team members from another country. Members came from Germany, France, California and Greece. Michael, the project manager, was from the New York City office of the company. This was the first time the company was launching a project that crossed cultural boundaries. Usually projects were managed within individual offices. Michael was excited about the opportunity, but also worried about how he was going to get the team to work together effectively. Michael was someone that Abudi Consulting Group (ACG) had worked with previously on a number of other projects. He got permission to bring us in to help kick off this project team to ensure it would be set up for success from the start.

ACG had three weeks to plan the kick-off meeting, which was going to happen in California at the company’s headquarters. All team members were planning on being in attendance and the meeting was scheduled for two days. Members would arrive by no later than mid after the day before the first day of the team kick off meeting. What was going to be most essential was enabling the team members to get to know one another and establish a level of comfort and confidence in working together, as well as sharing key information about the project.

In collaboration with Michael and the sponsor of the project, ACG developed an agenda for the two day meeting with the following goals in mind:

  • Share the vision and mission of the project.
  • Ensure a level of confidence and comfort in working together through a variety of team building activities.
  • Develop roles and responsibilities for team members.
  • Determine processes for: solving problems that arise, sharing and passing project work, managing conflicts, running team meetings and reporting on status.
  • Develop the initial project schedule and other key project documents.
  • Develop virtual team meeting schedules.

And possibly even most importantly – build strong relationships among team members so they can more effectively work together and support the work of the initiative.
We set up a meeting planning committee comprised of one team member from each office. We would have virtual meetings to plan the kick-off meetings, with ACG meeting participating from the NYC office with Michael. We staggered the times of the meetings to accommodate members from different offices (in this way at some point or another everyone was “inconvenienced” during a meeting.)

At the first meeting, we agreed on the goals of the team kick-off meeting (as outlined above) and determined that we would work collaboratively to develop the agenda. ACG would be responsible for developing and leading all team activities as well as facilitating process and procedure development for how the team members would work together and complete the project. The agenda developed looked like this (high level depiction):





Evening before

Cocktails, Dinner and “Get to Know Each Other” Activity

During the cocktail hour, participants were provided an activity that would require them to ask questions of each other in order to get to know each other on a personal basis. Questions focused on past work experiences, family and friends, holidays/vacations, hobbies, etc.

Dinner would be a casual affair to enable for casual conversation and relationship building.

ACG (activity)

Client (cocktails/dinner)

Day one


Focus on developing relationships/getting to know each other


Project Overview (mission, objectives, vision)

Details on project – alignment to strategic goals, expectations from key stakeholders, etc.


Team building activity

Focus: Understanding cultural backgrounds of our team mates


Project discussion – timelines, budget, roles and responsibilities, high level schedule discussion

Details of the project discussed as well as what needed to be done, by when, and within what budget as well as roles needed on project

Project Manager

Team building activity

Focus on developing relationships and learning how to work together


Development of processes and procedures for working together: managing conflicts, solving problems, passing work, use of project portal, etc.

Collaboration on processes and procedures for how the team will work together

ACG (facilitate)

Day two

Review of activity from first evening

Participants shared what they learned about each other



Finalize team roles and responsibilities

Ensure understanding of team roles and responsibilities, ensure use of skills and expertise on team

Project Manager, Team members


Agree on meeting schedules

Staggered meetings with times changing on a bi-weekly basis in order to accommodate all time zones.

Project Manager, Team members


Review processes developed day before and finalize

Second look at processes developed to ensure all in agreement; finalize and incorporate into project portal.

ACG (facilitate)


Develop agenda for next team meeting

The next team meeting would be held virtually.

Project Manager, Team members


Wrap up and closing team activity

Wrap up team off site meeting

ACG (facilitate)

The agenda was provided to all participants ahead of time at the same time that a survey was sent to capture information to share during the evening before activity to enable team members to get to know each other. ACG asked participants to respond to as many questions (of the 25 on the sheet) that they felt comfortable responding to. We were pleased to get back responses – every team member responded to every question we asked! And no prompting was needed to get survey responses in to us. It was apparent that team members were excited about the project and were willing to participate in the team building activities. Of course it helped that we set the stage by having a brief phone call with the entire team to let them know ahead of time about the activity, how we would use the information and its importance.

The next article will share the outcome of the initial team meeting.

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