Chapter 10 – International Projects

10.7. Training International Project Teams

When a project team fails abroad, it is a huge cost to the organization. Training international project teams is important to the overall health of the team, and the success of the project. The training provided by Human Resources covers a wide range depending on the length of the project.

This type of training could be called cultural fluency which is the degree of understanding and interaction required with people from different cultures and backgrounds. The longer the project team is in the foreign country, the longer and more in-depth the training will be. The length of the project is not the only consideration. The training depth could be more extensive if the foreign country is more diverse that the home country. Example: A Canadian would require less cultural fluency to complete a project in Australia than in China.

Types of Training for International Project Teams

Pre-departure training helps the project team adjust to the new demands of working and living in a foreign country. At minimum, it needs to include understanding of the host country’s eating habits, family life, etiquette, equality standards, education, religion, dress codes, and holidays. Human Resources would provide mini-workshops that cover the topics of importance to provide an essential understanding.

The Project Manager may need to perform training in the foreign country to other company representatives. In this case, Human Resources would offer train-the-trainer for the Project Manager before the assignment. The Project Manager then becomes a person who can transfer knowledge to other people.

Longer term international projects would require further training. Human Resources may provide the training or hire consultants to provide training in the history and culture of the foreign country, language training, and cross-cultural training. Human Resources may arrange for the team to visit the foreign country and stay with host families, or at the very least in hotels where they are able to immerse themselves in the local community.

Language training for short and long term projects is important. Project teams need to be able to speak, write and listen in basic terms to the foreign language. This is considered respectful. In some situations, translators could be hired to help with communication. In either case, Human Resources would be responsible to contract out or hire the translators to teach the basic language skills or provide translation at the host country. For longer term projects, the team would complete more extensive language training to be able to speak semi fluently.

  • During the assignment, human resources need to provide ongoing supports for individual development, and team development. This project team is generally a high-performing group of employees who are selected for specialized projects to increase or enhance some type of international operation. This team needs to be guided, supported and be in constant communication with human resources to assure their performance and well-being are being sustained. Ongoing communication between the organization’s employee and human resources requires regular and routine check ins, either formal or informal.
  • Re-entry or returning from the foreign country has its own set of challenges. Often called repatriates, people returning to their home country from a foreign country, experience culture shock or sometimes referred to as re-entry shock. It is similar to culture shock only in the reverse. The project team will prepare to return to the home country with help from the human resources team. However, adjustment can be difficult. Repatriation is the final step in the international project management assignment. A well-planned repatriation plan affects the successful closure of a project. Human Resources plans an orientation for the returning project team. This may include a reflection of the experience, re-introduction to the organization and discussing changes, and chatting about next steps.

Some organizations offer individual counselling as well as group counselling either provided by human resources, or contract out the service to consultant’s skilled in repatriation. In this case, human resources would facilitate the process. These steps would be considered debriefing sessions. This enables the project team to debrief and have reality checks with ‘where they are at in their return’, financially, emotionally, mentally, and physically.

Other fundamental logistics are put in place for the project team that include:

1. Relocation to home, or a new home
2. Financial and tax assistance (loss of bonuses, perks, tax changes)
3. Support to form or re-establish social and professional networks
4. Career counselling
5. Reverse culture shock (re-entry shock) for project team (and families)
6. Assistance with finding schools for children
7. Workshops to discuss organization changes
8. Stress management training

All the above would be set up and delivered or contracted to specialists to support the repatriation of the team. Some project teams are part of multinational project teams and will move on to a different county. In this case, the training begins all over again.

Training and development play a crucial role in retaining high-performing individual team members, and International Project Managers. Regardless of its complexity, all training for these employees ensures a highly trained project team to meet the increasing need of international projects.