Category Archives: Engineering

Cross-cultural Leadership in the Implementation of Systems Engineering Processes: A Study of Indonesian Expatriate Engineers

Ika Safitri Windiarti (Defence and Systems Institute (DASI), University of South Australia)

Introduction. Projects are often performed by people from diverse cultural backgrounds. The ability of engineers to manage and work in these cross-cultural teams includes cross-cultural leadership ability. Cross-cultural leadership competence for the engineers supports the quality of the project performance.

In this research we conduct a web survey addressing the perception of cross-cultural issues in the implementation of systems engineering (SE) processes in projects. Several questions investigated the engineers’ knowledge, experience and perception of how they manage their inter-cultural relationship related to cross-cultural leadership.

Elements of Systems Engineering Processes. The international standard describing the SE processes associated with the system lifecycle is ISO/IEC 15288. This standard is used as the basis of the INCOSE (International Council on Systems Engineering) Systems Engineering Handbook, which in turn is the foundation of the INCOSE systems engineering certification programme (Windiarti, Ferris, and Berryman 2011b).

ISO/IEC 15288 divides the processes to support the system lifecycle into four groups: agreement; organizational project-enabling; project; and technical processes.

Indonesian Expatriate Engineers’ Cross-Cultural Leadership Experience. All the participants were in a culturally diverse environment. Those who had familiarity with a multicultural work environment found that cross-cultural adaptation in their workplace was not a major challenge for work performance. They found that the multicultural team helped them to complement each other to improve project achievement and quality. In some cases the limited cross-cultural ability of engineers may reduce project performance rather than lead to improvement. What is leadership? Leadership is a role of influencing group of people or organization in terms of task and objectives, commitment and fulfilment of target achievement, group/organization identification and culture (Yukl 1989). Cross-cultural leadership is basically applying the leadership assignment in the multicultural work environment. The general duty of the leader is to manage the achievements of the project goal and manage job distribution among the team members under the leader’s authority. In cross-cultural leadership, power distance which was one of the Hofstede’s cultural dimension plays an important role (Hofstede 1983). The relationship between leader and follower is influenced by the perception about power distance based on their cultural background.

Conflict Management in the Multicultural Work Team. 45.79% of the respondents answer that the project leader was resolving the conflicts that may occur in the multicultural project team by using existing rules written in the project guidelines. This reveals that most of the project leaders preferred to make a judgment in the multicultural working environment based on existing rules rather than considering the cultural background of the team members. This result reflects a different result than was obtained in the pilot study, where conflict resolution was based on the uniqueness of each individual. The difference would appear to result from the survey requiring selection of a single response in contrast to the free-form response permitted in the interviews.

Decision-Making in a Multicultural Work Team. The research participants were asked about how the team members contribute their ideas to the leader’s decision in risky situations. Based on the accumulated answers, option D that the decisions are always made by collaboration of the leader’s and members’ ideas was the most chosen among the research participants. Given the combined options, we found that the important decisions in the project team were made collaboratively, combining the leader’s ideas and members’ contribution in analysing the supporting ideas.

Completeness and Perfection of the Project vs. Relationships Between the Team Members. The research participants were asked an open-ended question about which is the most important thing for their organization.

Sixty nine answered that the completeness and perfection of the project is the most important thing for the organization. These engineers explained why they chose this option. In this survey a number of engineers explained their reason that the most important thing in the project is to achieve the project goal. The other reason was that the objective of the company or project is to make profit from the production and services. Some of the research participants are expatriate engineers who work based on the contract. Their job is mainly to accomplish the project’s target in a certain country (within the same company) and they will relocate to another country for other different projects. These circumstances caused the engineers to choose the relationship between team members as being less important than completeness and perfection of the project.

In this question, 135 engineers answered that the most important thing in the organizations is the relationship between team members. Some of the research participants explained that good relationships among team members support the productivity of the team project in achieving the project goal. As discussed in the previous section, in this part, cross-cultural leadership skills also become important in a project related with the importance of team relationships. The last reason is because solid teamwork can be formed and with this solid teamwork the project will run well and the objective can be achieved.

From the survey result, 84 engineers answered that a combination of completeness and perfection of the project and relationships between the team members is useful for the project or organization.

Conclusions. This paper reports that as perceived by Indonesian engineers, conflicts within the project team were mostly resolved based on existing rules rather than considering the cultural background and the important decision in the project team was made by collaboration of the leader’s ideas and members’ contribution in analysing the supporting ideas. The other result from this study is that the relationships between team members were more importance to the organization than the project completeness and perfection.

Engineers suggested that a combination of completeness and perfection of the project and relationships between the team members is valuable for the project or organization in implementing SE processes and their implication on the improvement of cross-cultural leadership capability.

Finally, for future work, the diversity in a project team allowed an appropriate cross-correlation analysis between background (experience, demographic and type of industry) and the findings from this research may be used to look at cross-cultural leadership or other topics.

This article is prepared by Ika Safitri Windiarti, M.Eng.Adv. She is a PhD candidate from Defence and Systems Institute (DASI), University of South Australia


Filed under Culture, Employment, Engineering, Methodology, PPIA academic discussion, Project, Survey