This week’s Vodcast is an excerpt from Chapter 2 of my Korea Perspective book. It shares divergent approaches tackling projects.
From a cultural perspective, the Korean approach to managing projects differs from the West. To better explain dynamics in the Korean workplace, we need to draw on two cross-cultural terms.
The first is "mono-chronic" in which people proceed according to linear plans made well in advance of the project start and carry out tasks one at a time from start to finish. For many this is considered a very western approach.
The second term is "polychronic" in which numerous tasks are addressed but not necessarily in a sequential approach. Multiple issues can be dealt with simultaneously while other assignments can be put on hold or elevated in priority. This frequently describes the Korean workplace.
A polychronic work style can result in negotiations, planning, and project activities proceeding at major levels with conversations jumping back to previously discussed issues mixed with new issues.
On the positive side, Korean organizations are flexible and teams are accustomed to change. Frankly, however, this can conflict with a workplace culture of high risk-avoidance and limited risk taking.
Having said all this, I have some suggestions. First, in many cases accept this as the Korean model and adapting accordingly will save considerable frustration and stress. I have seen efforts by western firms working with their Korean partners to suggest a structured project management process to align teams. In some cases this means bringing in experts and outside consulting firms to put in place a western project control system.
Although the Korean teams are open to the training and cognitively agree to the value of the procedures, they rely on their own time-proven systems and defer to their own methods, especially when under a deadline.
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