With the exception of some particular cases, there is no EU project which implementation would not require synergetic cooperation among different actors. As a rule, both transnational and national project consortia funded by the EU programmes, include multiple stakeholders and associates. The importance of the transnational (and therefore transcultural) collaboration in EU-funded projects needs no justification. All EU-funded programmes remind us of this, implying that:
- multilateral partnership represents a project on the EU level
- partners’ expertise benefits from a complementary approach
- different perspectives foster better innovative solutions
A fruitful collaboration in a transnational consortium needs to be patiently built and nurtured daily. It is not a given that bringing together several professionals and organisations will go smoothly and productively. It is indeed a challenge to keep multiple project teams focused and aimed at achieving project results and delivering sustainable outcomes. Along with its obvious benefits, collaboration of different partners with different professional and cultural backgrounds hides many pitfalls.
Working in a multicultural team is challenging for both project managers and team members. Being aware of the challenges helps to:
- address them properly
- find solutions in a timely manner
- use the knowledge and expertise of each team member and the team itself
What are the typical challenges while building a project team?
Gathering different professionals and organisations on a transnational level might involve several sets of interests:
- the ones of each working staff
- the ones of the organisations
- the ones referred to the project implementation as a whole
These interests can be in many cases synergistic, although defined differently, but can also be in conflict with each other. For instance, for some partners, the participation in a particular project may express the desire to finally realise a plan which is a relevant goal of the organisation’s mission. For others, it may be a pure desire to participate in EU-funded activities in order to internationalise their scope. Even the staff within the same organisation may have different agendas when it comes to joining an EU project. Some team members are willing to meet other professionals for sharing experiences, others implement the European know-how into his/her profession or simply take part in transnational activities.
The role of project coordinator
To address these challenges, keep in mind that a good team building action needs to be taken into consideration, especially on the part of the institutional leader (project coordinator). Successful project teams are not created spontaneously and sustained through inertia. To ensure an effective team identity, strong motivation, and quality performance, project coordinators should take over proactive activities throughout the whole project life cycle.
Since the creation of a project consortium plays a strategic role, team leaders should be proactive already at this stage of the project. While selecting project partners, they should pay attention not only to the call requirements, but also to partners’ previous collaboration, mutual understanding, and trust.
When partners have been selected, it’s time for project coordinators to:
- become acquainted with team members and their specific expertise
- create a favourable working climate
- schedule regular meetings and manage them in a timely manner
- support teams with constant feedback and, in special moments, reward for achievements
- fine-tune productive energy of the team
During the project implementation phase, a project coordinator with a successful team keeps an eye on:
- open and ongoing communication with all team members
- empathic listening and monitoring group dynamics
- clear definition of roles, respect for all roles
- solid and clear description of project tasks
- productive delegation of project tasks
- a commitment to achieving goals (which is a real motivator in project teams)
Last but not least, high-performing team leaders recognise the benefits of:
- considering the human factor along with focusing on project results
- interpreting the leader’s role as a facilitator of processes rather than a captain
- foreseeing and anticipating problematic issues rather than solving them when they arise
The role of other project team members
According to our experience, a good leader is able to act in this role not only thanks to specific skills, but also because the team members “enable” him/her to play the role as such. In other words, good project coordination is only possible if the partners act appropriately.
To foster collaboration, project partners should attend to:
- transparent and prompt communication
- acceptance of leadership and guidance
- curiosity and passion for collaboration
- commitment and consistency
- feedback and constructive criticism
Trust – the key element of successful team building
Remember that the key driver of successful team building is trust. It is relevant to and important both for project coordinators and project partners. Without trustful relationships, teams can’t reach the highest levels of productivity. Trust enables the natural flow of communication and nurtures motivation, empowering empathy and facilitating delegation.
The above-mentioned skills can be learned through personal experience, which can take years, but they can also be acquired through training courses. According to the statistics, 83% of high-performing organizations have ongoing project management training and 79% prioritize the development of project management leadership skills. Building a successful team with multiple partners in a multicultural environment is indeed a challenge. We hope that our expert tips will support you in this process.
Alessandro Carbone, Senior Project Manager & Consultant