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INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF

PROJECT
MANAGEMENT
International Journal of Project Management 22 (2004) 387–396
www.elsevier.com/locate/ijproman

Coping with multicultural projects: the leadership styles of


Finnish project managers
Marko M€
akilouko *

Tampere Polytechnic, P.O. Box 21, Teiskontie 33, Tampere 33521, Finland

Received 7 February 2003; received in revised form 6 May 2003; accepted 21 August 2003

Abstract

Finnish leaders and key personnel of multicultural projects were interviewed about their experiences and perspectives on mul-
ticultural project leadership. The team members included Finnish–Chinese, Finnish–European, and Finnish–American cultural
combinations. The Chinese team members were mostly from Hong Kong with one team from Beijing. Three multicultural project
leadership styles were found. Forty out of forty-seven project leaders indicated a solely task oriented leadership style. The same
leaders also indicated cultural blindness, ethnocentrism, parochialism, or in-group favoritism. The seven leaders that indicated
almost solely relationshipsÕ orientation, or both task and relationshipsÕ orientation, indicated also cultural sympathy and three
leadership strategies to maintain team cohesion and to avoid cross-cultural problems. It is possible that they understand foreign
cultures as a social phenomenon and can use that knowledge in leadership. Obviously, the relationships and task orientation are
personality traits that have wide consequences for multicultural project management and the choice of leadership style as well as the
foreign cultures.
Ó 2003 Elsevier Ltd and IPMA. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Multicultural; Leadership style; Task orientation; Relationships orientation; Cultural blindness; Ethnocentrism

1. Introduction This study concentrates only on the second type of


team. The appointed leaders of the project teams are
Multicultural project teams are common in large in- often from the companyÕs home country. Some of the
ternational companies. Recent mergers in Scandinavia leaders move abroad as expatriates, but it is more
have further increased the number of multicultural common for them to remain in their home country and
project teams in operation in Finnish industry. In communicate via electronic media. Without exception,
practice, there are three basic forms of multicultural the project teams have frequent face-to-face meetings
team. (1) A project team with members from different where personal relationships between team members
cultural backgrounds working in the same country. develop. The benefits of strong personal relationships
These teams have expatriate team members or team include improved communication and reduced conflicts.
members that come from ethnic minorities that are Most of the project teams work on cross-border transfer
culturally distinct. (2) Project teams that are partially or of technology projects such as banking systems, or are
totally dispersed in many countries but meet face-to- engaged in the development of new technology and
face. (3) Project teams that have members based in many applications for IT companies. The metal industry has
countries, work together only through electronic medias, the longest tradition of using multicultural project teams
and have never met each other. This ‘‘virtual project to procure factories, paper and pulp mills, and in smaller
team’’ has no face-to-face or get-to-know-each-other business-to-business projects. In Finland, companies
meetings [1]. have recently started to use multicultural project teams
for a new purpose. Companies that supply global en-
*
Tel.: +358-50-5420-134; fax: +358-2647-222. terprises with engineering, technology, parts or subas-
E-mail address: marko.makilouko@tpu.fi (M. M€akilouko). semblies have also established multicultural teams to

0263-7863/$30.00 Ó 2003 Elsevier Ltd and IPMA. All rights reserved.


doi:10.1016/j.ijproman.2003.08.004
388 M. M€akilouko / International Journal of Project Management 22 (2004) 387–396

serve these enterprises in a coordinated manner. These study attempts to find what leadership styles and their
multicultural companies have a need for knowledge in determinants or moderator variables emerge in the
the field of multicultural leadership. Their experiences context of multicultural project teams.
have shown that not all multicultural projects go well. In
Finland, such failures are usually well reported by the
media and several cases are known to exist. In one case,
2. Literature review
a company disbanded all multicultural teams and re-
placed them with single nationality teams as a way to
2.1. Project leadership
solve multicultural project team problems.
There has not been enough research on leadership of
Projects set their own specific framework for leader-
multicultural teams (excluding virtual teams). Many
ship. Cleland [15] has summarized the project manage-
writers have suggested ideas, but very few have attempted
ment body of knowledge and found a definition that
to study this form of leadership, thus the determinants,
applies to this particular field of leadership. The defini-
attributes, and variables are largely unknown [2]. Some
tion emphasizes the role of leadership as the change
studies have focused on leadership traits in multicultural
agent even more than we may expect in organizations
management [3,4] and the team process [5–7]. A
with continuing leader and follower roles:
more general perspective is available through case studies
[8–10]. No studies are available, that clearly show Project leadership is defined as a presence and a process carried
what effective leadership patterns are in multicultural out within an organizational role that assumes responsibility for
leadership. the needs and rights of those people who choose to follow the
leader in accomplishing the project results [15].
There are ample studies regarding expatriate leader-
ship, especially in international joint ventures [7,10–14]. There is usually a limited amount of time, money,
The studies concentrate primarily on how expatriates and other resources, i.e. the project has several con-
tend to fit their style of leadership to the practices and straints [16]. Rather than a static organization, the
expectations of the team members in the country they projects follow rapid life cycles where the organizational
are working in, e.g. coping strategies [14], that concen- roles change. Because of this, the leader has to change
trates on what contributes to the role of ambiguity, and roles from being a technical expert to a manager, then a
the effective patterns of conflict management. The mul- leader and finally, at the end of the project, back to
ticultural project team is different from the expatriate being a technical expert. The roles may also include
situation. The expatriates do not clearly deal with the internal argumentation for resources and external clo-
problem of team dispersion. This may happen, but sure of sales [17]. The nature of a project team does not
studies do not indicate dispersion as one of the moder- follow traditional perspectives. Briner et al. [18] suggest
ator variables. The leaders of multicultural project teams that project teams are divided into a core team and a
find an array of expectations and practices, often si- visible team. The core team members are permanent
multaneously with the geographical dispersion of the members of the project but usually not on a full time
team. Thus, the project team members may not identify basis, i.e. they work on other projects at the same time.
themselves as members of the multicultural team, but The visible team members are temporary members of
representatives of their home organization [7], which the project and leave the project when their expertise is
complicates the leadership task. The differences in lan- no longer needed. They too are also rarely full time team
guage skills complicate the communication and forma- members. Even the project leaders usually have several
tion of the team effort [5]. It is possible; even likely, that projects and teams to lead simultaneously. Despite this
the multicultural project team presents far more de- loose nature, project team rather than project group is
mands on leadership than conventional leadership situ- the traditional choice of terminology.
ations including expatriate leadership. The typical loose and rapidly changing structure of a
Multicultural leadership is an interesting and chal- project team is likely to make project leadership more
lenging subject of research. The researcher has to deal challenging. Thus, project leaders may need both task
with a research-sample collection problem as project and relationships oriented leadership styles during dif-
teams work in different countries. There is also the ferent phases of the project to ensure order in the often
problem of the limited knowledge in this field. We do chaotic situation of time and financial pressure, and si-
not yet know how applicable the existing knowledge multaneous tasks [19]. The orientations in the project
obtained from other research sample groups is for context can be described as a rational process, outcome
multicultural leadership. Some claim that these earlier motivation, and social motivation for creating a con-
results are universal. The fact is, however, that the as- structive project atmosphere [20]. Many writers espe-
sumption of universalism is unverified. For this reason, cially emphasize the need for flexibility in the rapidly
this study uses the hermeneutic approach and the changing project environment [18–20]. Despite the lim-
grounded theory method with qualitative data. The ited time constraint that certainly challenges project
M. M€akilouko / International Journal of Project Management 22 (2004) 387–396 389

leaders, Kloppenborg and Petrick [17] suggest that tional group of team members [22]. High national scores
leaders have a key role to play in developing team in self-enhancement [24] may enhance parochial behav-
characteristics into a collective set of virtues includ- ior because of competitive attitudes [25].
ing ethics, respect and trust in others, honesty, cour- The question of failing to see and cope with foreign
age, prudence, and the responsible use and sharing of cultures is still an unanswered one and needs further
power. research. It seems that in researching cross-cultural
leadership we need some way to classify the leaders ac-
2.2. Multicultural leadership styles cording to their level or learning, their personality or
other determinants that may explain the choice of lead-
Bj€orkman and Schaap [12] have identified that ex- ership style, returning to the issue of personality traits
patriate managers in international joint ventures have and leadership [26].
three leadership styles that may apply to the multicul- Bloom et al. [4] studied leaders in European compa-
tural leadership situation. (1) Didactical leadership nies and suggest some common characteristics for mul-
where leaders sell ideas by pointing out how issues have ticultural leaders. These include attempts to manage
been solved in other companies and suggests a visit to international diversity, social responsibility of the em-
these companies. (2) Organization design leadership ployees, internal negotiation (participation in decision
where leaders carefully select foreign team members making), general orientation for people (rather than
based on their likely suitability to the existing thinking task orientation), and attempts to manage between ex-
in the company. The idea is to pre-empt cultural issues tremes to find a consensus in the multicultural envi-
to the maximum possible extent. The leaders and the ronment. Wills and Barham [3] found that cognitive
company stick to their traditional ways and do not ad- complexity, emotional energy, and psychological matu-
just to local culture. (3) Culturally blind leadership rity were common factors in what they called successful
where no attention is paid to cultural differences and multicultural managers. Managers need cognitive ability
traditional ways and methods are used [10,14]. The in order to relate with, learn, and understand other
culturally blind leadership style tends to cause severe people and cultures. Emotional capacity is needed for
problems and the practical disintegration of teamwork. channeling the stress caused by the confusion and am-
Expatriate managers are gradually isolated and they biguity of multicultural situations. Psychological matu-
later find that few of their decisions are actually imple- rity means the ability to choose open rather than
mented. It is likely that the learning of cultures and the defensive coping strategies in foreign cultures.
ability of managers to cope in foreign environments Several writers have proposed various leadership
depends very much on the individual [14]. Some man- styles that could help in solving cultural leadership is-
agers are well adjusted; some are sensitive to cultural sues. One of the first suggestions is the cultural syn-
differences and take actions to resolve the cultural ergy leadership. The goal is to find common ground
problems, while others tend to take no notice of cultures among the cultural differences. The leadership should
or the need to adjust to them. then be based on these similarities, e.g. fit the cultural
Suutari [21] indicates that few general conclusions can assumptions and expectations of all the cultures
be made about how expatriate managers cope. On av- involved.
erage, expatriates indicate only few cultural differences Schneider [27] has suggested standardization of
with a high mean deviation. This phenomenon where management principles such as decision-making, prob-
leaders do not see foreign cultures has been considered lem solving, briefing techniques, meeting techniques, and
from several perspectives. The perception of foreign task delegation. Agreement of basic working procedures
culture and team members may be guided by schemas, could reduce the amount of confusion and could form a
in- and out-group setting [22], or by projected similarity. common ground among differences. When managers
Slevin and Pinto [19] conclude that task orientation, the write management principles down on paper, it makes
need for power, and high cognitive capacity make it much easier to achieve agreements as opposed to
leaders inflexible in coping with the demands of the issues such as support, communication patterns, or
leadership situation. feedback.
Selmer [14] discusses various personality traits that Snow and Davison [28] suggest three leadership roles
may be behind the differences in the individualÕs ability for fully established multicultural teams. (1) Advocate a
to cope with foreign cultures. Agreeableness, conscien- role for defining the teamÕs mission and pooling re-
tiousness, emotional stability, intellect, and openness or sources. (2) Introduce an integrator role for maintaining
extroversion could be of help in developing successful clear mission and performance goals, and coordinating
coping strategies. Furthermore, some personality traits activity. (3) Use a catalyst role for encouraging and
are culture bound [23]. Members of collectivist cultures supporting team members. The three roles could sup-
may typically behave more ethnocentrically in cross- port the formation of the teams, the teamÕs mission, and
cultural situations as they feel loyalty to their own na- the socialization process of the team members.
390 M. M€akilouko / International Journal of Project Management 22 (2004) 387–396

2.3. Finnish leaders head office was in Finland. The organizational position
of project managers and key personnel were also similar.
Schwartz [24] found in his study of national values They were not direct supervisors of their team members
that Finns, from a cultural point of view, are charac- and could not decide salaries, employment, or careers.
terized by relatively high intellectual autonomy, egali- Such leaders can rarely use coercion but need to use
tarian commitment, and harmony. This could reflect persuasion. Thus, the task environment was different but
orientation towards self-transcendence, preference for the differences in task context were minimized.
cooperation rather than competition, autonomy prefer- The project teams comprised three cultural combi-
ences in organizing work, trust in followers, and open- nations: Finnish–American, Finnish–Chinese, and
ness for change and ideas. The leadership in general may Finnish–Northern European. The Chinese team mem-
be oriented to development rather than maintaining bers were mostly from Hong Kong with one team based
the status quo. The leaders may also indicate employee in Beijing. Cultural selection was based on three be-
orientation rather than task orientation [29]. At top havioral and cultural considerations. In the clustering
management levels, the leaders may emphasize team perspective of the cultures, the compositions present
spirit, effective communication, open dialogue, and distinctive differences [32]. Regarding the individualism
consensus in making decisions. They also may pay at- and collectivism dimension of cultures, the selection
tention to the organization design in detail [30]. An in- presents high, medium, and low individuality [33]. Re-
teresting notion is that the Finnish language does not garding the motivational continuums of cultures the
have an exact translation for the English word Ôleader- cultures present low, medium, and high in all four al-
shipÕ but has many words for describing management. ternatives: self-enhancement, self-transcendence, con-
This may be understood as a support for follower au- servation, and autonomy [24]. Thus, the cultures should
tonomy or as a sign of hierarchy. Both are general ap- be distinctive rather than similar allowing comparisons
proaches towards organizations with less need for on a meaningful basis. In each national culture, some
leadership. people display strongly their national values while
some are quite far from the national values. Therefore,
it would be ideal to have some way of sorting individ-
3. Research method ual differences from national culture differences. The
grounded theory approach deals with this under the
The research question is how does leadership relate to saturation principle, i.e. the saturation of observations
the multicultural project team and the various combi- can only be achieved in those categories where people
nations of national cultures within the project team. The are in close agreement with each other. The categories
data were collected using non-structured interviews. The with large individual differences should not be saturated.
sample group comprised forty-seven (47) project man- Together with the maximized differences in the sample
agers and key personnel, and seven (7) foreign team group, this should screen out the individual, the com-
members for triangulation of results. The key personnel pany, and the industrial sector perspectives and produce
were chief engineers and construction site managers, a cultural perspective, as far as possible, for the research
who led parts of large projects. The average age of the question.
interviewees was thirty-four (34) years and each had at Interviews were non-structured in line with the
least five (5) yearsÕ experience of working in teams of grounded theory literature [31]. The perceived leader-
different cultural combinations. ship style was measured by searching the interviews for
The interviewees were selected using the maximizing– self-reported leadership style dimensions. The method is
minimizing principle to focus on the leadership style similar to the more popular quantitative questionnaires
differences [31]. The maximized differences in the sample but relies on interviews. The dimensions that emerged
group were the team national culture combination, dif- from the interviews were named according to the names
ferent industrial sectors, and different companies. Thus, that are available from literature [34]. Similarly, other
the teams had different tasks, work histories, ways of perceived moderator variables and determinants were
working, and different organizational backgrounds. The recorded. The benefit of non-structured interviews is
teams included engineering teams in the consulting in- that the interviewees guide the research process, thus
dustry, engineering teams in the electronics industry, potentially giving a nominalistic perspective taken from
and engineering, supply, and construction teams in the inside the research question rather than an outside view.
metal industry. The minimized differences in the sample In addition, those concepts that saturate should be rel-
group were the project task, which was for a limited time evant to the research question and as the concepts are
and had the constraints of time, money, and scope. All not decided beforehand but emerge from the interviews,
teams were of the dispersed type with a core team in two the method follows a hermeneutic research strategy to
countries and had Finnish team leaders, key personnel the research question. Indeed, hermeneutics is the
and team members from two countries. The company strength of the grounded theory [31]. The results are
M. M€akilouko / International Journal of Project Management 22 (2004) 387–396 391

grounded to the interviews rather than existing literature Table 1


to better understand multicultural leadership. Leadership style dimensions of the ethnocentric project leader [41]
The interviews were processed into a coding tree, Dimension Finnish– Finnish– Finnish–
which was further axially coded for higher-level con- European Chinese USA
cepts. The leadership styles and their dimensions, cul- Internal negotiation + + +
tural issues, organization design, and their moderator Work facilitation +
variables emerged from the interviews using this meth- Coordination +
Production emphasis +
od. The coding tree was cross-examined for parsimony Appealing to superiors +
and internal validity (i.e. the integration of categories). Planning +
A number of potential concepts from literature were Role clarification + +
also studied in light of the interviews and the coding Lone decision making +
tree. Finally, the coding tree was triangulated with the Criticizing +
interviews of seven American project team members. + indicated dimension in the interviews.
Only the concepts that were common regardless of
company or industrial sector were retained. Individual
technical specialists, assistants for top management, or
concepts and dimensions were retained only when
handlers of practical project matters. Some said that
they shed light on the general trends that were found
they are not leaders, and some that they do not believe
through the saturation of concepts (i.e. the properties of
in leadership. Instead, they concentrated on matters that
a category).
can be written on paper and sent to other people for
execution. Often they sent their information to line
managers who then interacted with team members as
4. Results
leaders of the project team. The people in this group
included both project managers and project key per-
The study indicated three distinctive leadership styles
sonnel. However, it is important to note that the style of
that were named after the leadersÕ perception of foreign
leading projects or smaller parts of larger projects varied
cultures.
from person to person in all companies. While one
project leader interacted with the team members
4.1. Ethnocentrism
through line managers, other project leaders held team
meetings and had direct contacts with team members.
In close agreement with the literature, an ethnocentric
This may indicate task orientation or a need for inde-
leadership style was found and was most common
pendency, both with minimized people contacts.
among the project leaders (40 out of 47). The ethno-
The ethnocentric leadership style was found regard-
centric leaders indicate cultural blindness, ethnocentric
less of the company, team, organizational position, or
or even parochial attitudes, and task orientated leader-
cultures (see Table 1).
ship dimensions. Their leadership concentrated on for-
mal negotiation within the project team, which resulted
into project team disintegration. This disintegration was 4.2. Synergy
according to the national culture so that Finns worked
as their own team and foreign team members as another In the context of multicultural teams, a second, less
team. The two separate teams negotiated as separate frequent (3 out of 47), leadership style was found. This
parties about the practicalities of the project. Often the can be characterized as cultural synergy. The leaders
Ôtwo separate teams approachÕ had become the nor- actively attempted to build personal relationships with
mal way of working and leaders did not attempt to the project team members. They indicated cultural em-
change the status quo but considered division according pathy in their willingness to learn and understand the
to the nationality Ôself-clearÕ and every project was ways of other cultures.
started in that fashion. The leaders reported only task
My style is that I donÕt hurry up but start slowly through the
oriented leadership styles. Many of them considered technical background. Slowly we get to know each other and
Finnish culture and Finnish team members to be supe- build larger perspectives. My style includes quite careful listen-
rior in the task context and all project team members ing to the other side. What kind of people they are and try to
from foreign cultures to be inferior. Some noted, how- learn myself . . . Free-time contacts are important in leadership.
ever, that there are some foreign team members that are It clearly brings you closer to the person (Finnish project
leader).
more ÔFinnishÕ by behavior and can be trusted more
than others potentially indicating in- and out-group The project team interaction was often based on in-
favoritism. formal and direct interaction between team members
Of the 40 ethnocentric project leaders, only 12 pic- rather than formal negotiations between two cultural
tured themselves as leaders. Others saw themselves as groups. Meetings within the project team were held but
392 M. M€akilouko / International Journal of Project Management 22 (2004) 387–396

Table 2 like, when the Chinese hardly say anything direct, I would know
Leadership style dimensions of the synergistic project leader [41] how to interpret that so the Finns understand it. And when in-
structions come from Finland to China it is often quite direct
Dimension Finnish– Finnish–
text. This has to be interpreted to the Chinese so that they un-
European Chinese
derstand it in the right way (Finnish leader).
Maintaining good relationships + +
Flexible decision making + If the team worked mostly in the same office, the
Autonomy delegation + leaders chose one of the two cultures with its methods
Interaction facilitation + + of planning, delegating, degree of autonomy, and con-
Moral character (equality) +
flict resolution. In the studied cases, it was always
Internal negotiation +
Circuitous approach + the foreign culture rather than Finnish culture. The
Controlling (reporting discipline) + leaders were aware of practical differences between cul-
Role clarification + tures but had also a feel of how to translate their
+ indicated dimension in the interviews. knowledge into action. Some considered this leadership
style to be a next step from leadership that is charac-
terized as synergy. An integral part of this style of
the reported purpose was to tie personal relationships leadership was the selection of team members and
while agreeing on basic project practicalities. The rela- planning how the team works together including supe-
tionships were seen as the primary motor for intra-team rior–follower relationships, reporting systems, and work
communication. The project leaders pictured themselves process.
as leaders of people. The group included both project
. . .We started project planning meetings where all people wrote
managers and project key personnel. The leaders did not down their interdependencies with internal and external groups.
indicate culture blindness or ethnocentrism. Instead, Those were put on the wall and then we looked what software
they were aware of many practical differences between engineers need from the hardware engineers, purchasing and
cultures. These include the different needs for autonomy, factory, and what the factory needs from us (Finnish project
communication differences, and Confucian philosophy leader).
in the case of Chinese team members. Confucianism was An important notion is that the other two types of
evident in the circuitous style of communication. The leader did not actively design their organization or the
leadership dimensions concentrated almost entirely on work process but agreed on what was given from higher-
relationshipsÕ orientation, especially with leaders of level managers. The synergistic leaders also did not plan
Finnish–Chinese teams who indicated that their main the interaction but relied on the net of personal rela-
task was to interact with people and they do not need tionships.
technical competences. The polycentric leaders indicated both relationships
The synergistic leadership style was found only in and task oriented leadership styles. More relationshipsÕ
connection with Finnish–European and Finnish–Chi- orientation was found among leaders of Finnish–Euro-
nese teams. All possible efforts were made to find syn- pean and Finnish–Chinese project teams. The Finnish–
ergy in Finnish–American teams but none was identified European leaders were oriented towards team membersÕ
(see Table 2). autonomy and varied the degree of autonomy accord-
ing to individual skills and experience. The Finnish–
4.3. Polycentrism Chinese leaders were oriented more towards harmony
and interpersonal balance. The leaders of Finnish–
A third leadership style was also found that was in- American teams were more often oriented towards
frequent (4 out of 47) and was not indicated in the lit- transformal leadership but frequently used punishment
erature. This is characterized as cultural polycentrism. such as firing some team members for insubordination
The leaders did not attempt team building or especially (see Table 3).
developed interaction between team members. Instead,
they often acted as a link between the team members
according to the cultural division. The team members 4.4. Leadership styles
were allowed to keep their old way of working that they
were used to in the home countries. The leaders were The three leadership styles are conceptually depicted
confident that they understand how people from both in Fig. 1. The axial coding indicated that the results
cultures think and could integrate the team without might indicate a learning track towards higher leader-
team members being fully aware of their differences. ship versatility. The leadership dimensions tend to in-
They thought this a faster and safer way of meeting the crease cumulatively. The size of the boxes and their
project objectives than any other leadership style. overlapping is intended to picture this cumulative ten-
My most important and perhaps the most difficult task is being dency where some leadership dimensions are common
a link between Finns and Chinese . . . Being a link is something with the next leadership style.
M. M€akilouko / International Journal of Project Management 22 (2004) 387–396 393

Table 3
Leadership style dimensions of the polycentric project leader [41]
Dimension Finnish–European Finnish–Chinese Finnish–American
Maintaining good relationships + + +
Interaction facilitation + + +
Flexible decision making +
Autonomy delegation + + +
Conflict management +
Informing +
Circuitous approach +
Respect for elders +
Decision participation +
Initiating structure (planning, organizing, coordinating) + + +
Rewarding +
Work facilitation + +
Production emphasis +
Providing vision +
Turning mistakes into learning + +
Providing constructive feedback +
+ indicated dimension in the interviews.

leadership style) organized the project work against


Ôschoolbook instructionsÕ [17] with minimum pre-plan-
Initiating Structure Including
Polycentric Leadership Staffing, Planning, Delegating ning and process organization. They jumped almost
Styles
and Reporting directly into implementation, which resulted in maxi-
mum design flexibility and team member autonomy.
+
Synergistic This was considered to be a strength because of the
Leadership
Style
Personal Human Relationships much faster project start and the ability to make quick
design changes during the project. However, it may have
+
Ethnocentric created more confusion among Americans. They may
Leadership Internal Negotiation not have been used to or adequately informed about this
Style
type of project management. This could also be a cul-
tural issue as some studies indicate that Americans may
People Oriented Task Oriented expect leaders to take charge rather than give initiative
Leadership Leadership away to the team members [36–38]. Americans indicated
role ambiguity and that they were never sure how things
Fig. 1. Conceptual relations between leadership styles [41]. were supposed to be handled. On the other hand,
Finnish project leaders and key personnel indicated that
4.5. Cultural notions in their opinion Americans lacked initiative and under-
standing about the project as a whole.
The national cultures caused several notions in ad- Communication patterns were also different and
dition to more typical cultural differences that today caused tension. Finnish communication may have been
tend to be well known. Finnish–American teams suf- right to the point with no softening. As a result, they
fered from frequent, even constant, conflicts within the may have appeared unpleasant, harsh, and even insult-
project team. This was created by several overlapping ing. One suggested reason was their language skills, i.e.
reasons. Almost all projects were organized in the form some Finns apparently did not master polite forms of
of a matrix where each team member had at least two English language. The following quotation is one per-
supervisors. For the Americans this may have created ception of communication differences within a team:
confusion as to whom they should report, where to di-
They say that Finnish people are direct . . . I think we are a little
rect information, and whom to ask for decisions. The more political. More political if someone does bad job . . . I have
Finns may have been better informed or were used to worked with the Finns for a long time so I am used to them. So
matrix type organization and experienced little confu- they didnÕt really affect me that much. I knew what to expect.
sion. This could also be a cultural issue since some And then . . . I have learned to appreciate a lot of the things they
writings indicate that matrix organization may be diffi- do. At first it is harsh, but then I saw the effectiveness of it
(American project team member).
cult for Americans [35].
Finns and Americans may have been used to different Of the several overlapping reasons for team conflicts,
kinds of project work. Finnish leaders (ethnocentric the most important may have been communication. The
394 M. M€akilouko / International Journal of Project Management 22 (2004) 387–396

following quotations are an example how a team leader relationships or integrated the team by acting as a
and an American team member both feel insulted due to communication link in the role of a cultural interpreter.
the unawareness of different communication patterns. At the same time, project leaders that indicated solely
This may create an unintentional cycle of conflict. task-oriented leadership dimensions choose to maintain
or seek team division based on culture. They also indi-
The Americans are over confident . . . If you say that it is not
exactly like you said, they get angry. They are bully and think
cate more conflicts, perception defects, and cultural
that America is the best place. They know everything (Finnish blindness. It seems that ethnocentrism may be connected
project leader). to a leadersÕ task orientation and the favored approach
The Finns they get here and they do the technical things and towards multicultural team members is in- and out-
they donÕt understand why the fuss about human relations. I group setting with trustees and non-trustees. For inter-
am here to do my job . . . why should I bother with the feelings
of the other guy (American project team member). national companies it is important to realize that leaders
with relationshipsÕ orientation may be better in multi-
It is possible that Finnish leaders with an ethnocen- cultural leadership. This finding somewhat contradicts
tric leadership style also insulted the Chinese team the current assumption that both task and relationshipsÕ
members [13]. However, as dividing the project team orientations are required in different phases of the pro-
according to the cultural lines was considered normal, ject life cycle or in leadership in general.
the withdrawal of Chinese team members as a result One potential explanation for the clear distinction
may only have helped to maintain the status quo and between task and relationships orientated leadership
passed without notice. style may be the learning process of foreign cultures.
The leaders of Finnish–European and Finnish–Chi- Cultures as a social phenomenon can be learned and
nese project teams (synergistic and polycentric leadership understood through relationships with people [39].
style) tended to improve their personal relationships with Leaders with relationshipsÕ orientation may be naturally
the team members as a way of improving communication interested in building such relationships and can in-
and reducing project problems. The leaders of Finnish– crease their knowledge about other ways of patterned
American teams (polycentric leadership style) increased thinking and behavior in the social context [40]. As the
their personal position of power. Some of them were able number of the ethnocentric leaders is high (40 out of 47),
to negotiate more power while some were not successful. it would still seem also possible that many leaders
Only those projects where the project leader was able to choose personal influence as their response to project
decide wages, employment, bonuses, and influence team problems [19,40]. When the problems do not disappear,
member careers, were able to maintain team cohesion. In they finally may end up with solely task oriented lead-
these cases, no team division according to cultures was ership dimensions. Only a few leaders chose improved
reported. It may be that in multicultural management the relationships or organization design as their response to
cultures are differentiated in the same basic styles as the project problems. In addition, the leaders, in response to
leaders were found to orient themselves – task orienta- stressful project problems, may have chosen mental
tion and relationshipsÕ orientation. Finnish–European avoidance as their strategy to cope with the situation,
and Finnish–Chinese team may require more relation- which resulted in in- and out-group setting and finally
shipsÕ orientation while Finnish–American teams may into task orientated leadership [14].
require more of a balance between task and relationships Potentially, the high number of ethnocentric lead-
and possibly transformational orientation. ers can be partially explained by the limited interna-
tional experience of the studied companies. The project
leaders were the first generation of Finnish multicultural
leaders. The companies established their first foreign
5. Conclusions and discussion offices in the 1980s. Multicultural teams were first
formed in the early 1990s. Several project leaders indi-
Where do the findings lead us? Earley and Mosa- cated that top management had little first hand experi-
kowski [6] left open two questions. First, what leads to ence of international operations. As a result, some top
strong perceptions of acculturation in some circum- management decisions were perceived to be detrimental
stances? Second, what traits are relevant to particular to their projects and were sometimes changed when the
individuals and how might organizations use this in- situation could be pointed out. Thus, ethnocentric
formation to design effective teams? leadership may be a part of the learning process of
Certainly, it seems that Finnish project leaders that multicultural leadership. Under this perspective, ethno-
indicated a relationships oriented leadership style in the centrism may be gradually reduced in project manage-
non-structured interview also had a positive perspective ment.
to multicultural project teams. They had more empathy Of the three indicated leadership styles, synergy and
towards cultures and team members. They attempted to polycentrism have their foundation in the leadersÕ per-
improve communication through a network of personal sonal interest in human relationships and cultures.
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European and American managers in a United States projects. After his project management career he has become a re-
multinational company. Human Res Manage 1992;31(4):363– searcher on multicultural project leadership. Currently he works at the
83. Tampere Polytechnic as a program manager.