It’s interesting how Zachary Wong, in his book Human factors in project management: Concepts, tools, and techniques for inspiring teamwork and motivation, felt that personal space is the most complex and least transparent of the three spaces (Wong, 2007). I have to agree wholeheartedly as my experiences show how putting a team together can be very challenging. It’s hard enough trying to pick the right mix together of onshore resources, especially if they’re of similar cultural upbringing and experiences; but try to create that mix from onshore resources of multiple cultures along with offshore mixed cultural resources. That is quite a handful of challenges.
I would consider the most important aspect of picking resources, besides making sure they have the technical knowledge and experience to complete the tasks, is are they of the right personality and temperament? Do their cultural beliefs and upbringing allow them to work effectively in the position being considered? As Wong suggested, everyday people are making judgment calls based on their beliefs and values (Wong, 2007).
I have had situations in which a fellow Project Manager had to determine when a task was going to be completed. This fellow Project Manager was a Junior Project Manager under my command. He needed to follow up with a Vice-President of the company to determine when he could reasonably expect approval of a document we need to move forward on a task. This Junior Project Manager was from India. In India they do not just go up or email, or leave a voice-message asking the question. They go about it in a roundabout way so as not to show disrespect, to show deference to authority. The problem here was that by the time he would get around to asking the question we would be behind schedule. Knowing this cultural difference meant my recognizing when to step in to cover a task while also showing respect to the Junior Project Manager so he wouldn’t lose face to his colleagues.
I will have to disagree with Wong on his feeling that some values are derived genetically (Wong, 2007). I believe that all values are learned or chosen by the way we’re raised. The only genetically passed on behaviors for humans are those dealing with survival. As Abraham Maslow described, people are motivated by five psychological levels of needs in which the most important one is physiological; basically the need to survive comes first placing cultural after this one is satisfied (Maslow, 1943). The balance of those needs: security, social, esteem, and self-actualization are all cultural, not genetics.
I have worked with many people from many different cultures. Many of these colleagues have successfully assimilated themselves into the American culture, their differences notwithstanding. It seems to me that if culture was genetic than these individuals would not be able to assimilate so easily. While there are differences in physical differences due to geographic location, and thus learned behavior due to those locations, our genetics is the same across the world. Our learned behaviors are only different due to location and society.
American Journal of Physical Anthropology. (1996). biological aspects of race. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 101, 569-570. Retrieved from http://physanth.org/about/position-statements/biological-aspects-race/
Maslow, A.H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review 50 (4) 370–96. Retrieved from http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Maslow/motivation.htm
Wong, Z. (2007). Human factors in project management: Concepts, tools, and techniques for inspiring teamwork and motivation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.