Thursday, November 6, 2008

2nd Interview: construction business

1st order: I had the pleasure to hold my second interview with a project manager working in the construction business. He himself is half German, half Iraqi raised and worked in both countries.
German Standard vs. British Standard
According to him two standards in the construction business can be distinguished: the German and the British standard. While the German standard combines design and building in the hands of one organization, the British standard splits the contracts for design and building to two organizations. According to him both standards occur in Dubai.
Construction projects in Dubai are by far larger in all dimensions than he used to have it in Germany and Ireland, he said. A project of around 200’ million United Arab Dirhams (approx. 40 million Euro) needs a management team of around 20-25 people and 1000-2000 workers on the construction site (building phase). The team is hierarchically organized in terms of operations with the project manager on top; below him two project engineers, which again have site engineers (around 4), who are supervising the foremen. Three levels of management are caused by the size fo the construction site. Then there are specialized roles such as quantity and quality surveyors (two each in respect to the mentioned project size), two accountants, one safety manager, and one safety engineer, plus the technical apartment (two according to the size). The management team is also responsible for the sub-contractors.
The company he is working for has approximately 120 people, responsible for the management. Twenty Germans, because it’s a Germany based company and the rest from very diverse backgrounds an equal mix of Westerners, Indians, Arabs, Pakistani, and Pilipino. He said that of course there are cultural differences, but in terms of work it depends on the personal qualifications and capabilities. There is no difference between background and culture on the one side and duties and job profiles on the other side.
The common ground and basis for communication is English. The company’s correspondence is in English, except for the official correspondence with authorities, which are most of the time bi-lingual. Arabic is seen as the officeal languages still. I’ve been introduced to three strategies, which seem to work quite well in terms of managing cross-culturality:
1) The project/management team needs a good mix of different cultures. Too many people from one nationality or background (e.g. Germans) would lead to difficulties when dealing with the outer world, suppliers, workers, sub-contractors, authorities, etc. The other extreme to have just locals would diminish the competitive advantage vis-à-vis other local competitors.
2) Too many people from one nationality tend to behave as a pride, which leads to a decreasing of awareness and sensitivity concerning other habits and behavioral patterns. Avoid the creation of prides if possible.
3) Clashing cultures: It is always a balancing act to keep your identity in terms of doing the things in the way you are used to (which is your competitive advantage) and the relativism how much you let go of your own culture in the sake of “harmonic and peaceful” collaborative teamwork. I’ve been told that this “battle” is to be fought on every day basis. He told me as of most importance: ‘never say that the things have to be done this way, because the company (with the respective cultural background) has always done it that way.’ Awareness and sensitivity is of most importance, don’t steamroll people.
Germans and Germans
About Germans, he said there are two types: the first one is open minded, interested in other cultures, curious about other people. This type sees working with people from different backgrounds as a challenging endeavor. The second type is there just for work, prefers to eat his local food, and be surrounded by people of his nationality. For this second type working with people from different backgrounds is rather an obstacle.


  1. Interesting to hear from German and British standards. It would be interesting again to observe the distinctions that discriminate the different practices. What is the British perspective to come up with teh difference of design and building. Is this a practical or legal reasoning? And what are the other distinction pracitices and references to identify and evaluate cross-cultural models?

  2. 2nd order: ON GERMANS AND GERMANS
    I made the observation when talking to a lot of people, most of them not originally from Dubai (85% of the population), that there are generally two of these types. The first I like to call cosmopolitans, which are interested and curious about other cultures, which do not care too much about different backgrounds and see working together as a worth while challenge. The second I like to call ethnocentrics, who are there mostly for financial reasons. They rather isolate themselves, staying together in groups, building of prides, getting in contact with other cultures just as much as really necessary.

  3. I must say Jan, that whether you are the "cosmopolitan" type or the "ethnocentric" type, when it comes to going about business in Gulf Countries in general, you have no choice! as a civil engineer, working on site meant dealing with at least 7 different nationalities just to get a small job done!

    Thats not the case when you are talking about social life though! cuz then,, it's just what u've described! and u pretty much have control over it!

    As for Project Management Models! German vs. British! i'd say that the overall management atmosphere follows a mixed US/UK Model with a greater inclination towards the US model building on the project/business management methodologies that strongly emerged and widely spread during the past 2 or so decades such as the PMI's and 6 Sigma!

    I'm not really familiar with the German or European model! but i expect that many other models are there! and in any case! any methodology is not universally adopted or implemented the same way everywhere!