Project Culture in the Chinese Construction Industry


Perceptions of Contractors
Jian Zuo and George Zillante (School of Natural and Built Environments, University of South Australia, Australia)
Vaughan Coffey (School of Urban Development, Queensland University of Technology, Australia)


In recent years culture has become one of the most studied topics GENERAL CONCEPTS
in project management research. Some studies have investigated
the influence of culture at different levels – such as national There are a few studies that discuss the concept of project culture
culture, industry culture, organisational culture and professional and its impact on business operations. Generally, project culture
culture. As a project-based industry, the construction industry is defined as the general attitude towards projects within the
needs to have more insight concerning cultural issues at the business (Widmen, 2004).
project level and their influence on the performance of construction
projects. Few studies, however, have focused on culture at the Korzilius (1988) stresses that it is very important to establish a
project level. This paper uses a questionnaire survey to determine unified, strong project culture for successful projects, as a lack of
the perceptions of Chinese contractors about the impact of project a unified culture can be detrimental to the attainment of the overall
culture on the performance of local construction projects. This is project objectives.
augmented by a series of in-depth interviews with senior executive
managers in the industry. The findings indicate that specific project Project culture was identified by Gareis and Huemann (2000) as
culture does contribute significantly towards project outcomes. an objective of the project management process, together with the
In particular, goal orientation and flexibility, as two dimensions scope of work, the project schedule, the project costs, the project
of project culture, have a negative statistical correlation with organisation and the project context. Furthermore, it is a project
perceived satisfaction of the process, commercial success, future manager’s ability to shape project culture that stimulates teamwork
business opportunities, lessons learnt from the project, satisfaction and high levels of personal motivation, as well as a capacity to
with the relationships, and overall performance. This paper also quickly identify and resolve problems that threaten project work
indicates that the affordability of developing an appropriate project (Gray and Larson, 2000). Similarly, there are many claims in
culture is a major concern for industry practitioners. the literature about the importance of project culture (Kwan and
Ofori, 2001; Walker, 2002) although these are rarely supported by
Keywords: project management, culture, project performance, empirical research.
affordability, construction industry, China.
Most empirical studies on project culture are of a quantitative
Many researchers and practitioners believe that culture is one of nature. Anderson (2003) applies the organisational culture model
the main determinants of management practice. Some studies and instrument developed by Harrison (1972) and advanced by
have investigated the influence of culture at different levels (e.g. Handy (1985) to measure culture at both project and organisational
national culture, organisational culture, industry culture and levels. The outcome of a project was found to have a weak
professional culture) on project management practice (Loosemore correlation with task-oriented culture, which is generally regarded
and Muslmani, 1999; Chan and Tse, 2003; Rowlinson, 2001; as the appropriate project culture. The results show that a strong
McGeorge et al., 2002; Wang, 2001). However, few studies task-oriented culture may improve the budget performance of a
have focused on culture at the project level and its influence project, while having no direct influence on other performance
on construction project management practice. Given that the factors of a project such as schedule, participants’ satisfaction and
construction industry is project-based (Black et al., 2000; Sözen functionality of the final product.
and Kayahan, 2001; Whyte et al., 2002), such issues need to be
examined at the project level. Gray (2001) conducted a study to examine the relationship
between project outcomes and the social and management climate
The main objectives of this paper are to: in which those projects are implemented. Based on extensive field
research involving project management professionals in major
• review the literature on project culture, British organisations, there is evidence to suggest that project
success declines as the level of personal and environmental
• investigate project culture in the Chinese construction industry threat perceived by project staff increases. Other organisational
and its impact on the performance of construction projects, characteristics, such as free expression, questioning, participation
and in the definition of goals, innovation and intrinsic satisfaction
from the work itself, are all found to be positively associated with
• discuss the findings and provide suggestions on how to successful project outcomes, while organisational change and
manage culture at the project level. conflict are negatively associated with project success.

Thomas et al. (2002) employed the standard ‘Competing Values
Framework’ model as well as the instrument developed by
Cameron and Quinn (1999) to assess the project culture of thirteen

The Australasian Journal of Construction Economics and Building [Vol 9, No 2] 17

Thomas et al. project requires a relatively simple.. (2002) subsequently suggested that the project Table 1: The components of the proposed project culture of construction projects should be shifted from the current culture model common market culture to a clan culture. 2001. the was considered to be an appropriate model to use to measure the integration between the functional departments of one culture of construction projects.g.. reduce conflicts). data. The way a project is processed is very flexible and easy to change in For example. Zuo and Zillante (2005) adapted the well construction projects (e. creativeness. The project participants are collaborative with analyse the origins and formation of project culture in construction each other. No 2] . a typical project culture is derived from Goal-oriented Results are always given the highest priority while the means to a set of four overlapping sub-cultures: i. non-traditionalism. With reference to the well-recognised definition of organisational Initially a letter was sent to major construction firms in South culture (Hofstede. organisational sub. recognised organisational culture models of Hofstede (2001) as they are derived from generic management organisational and Cameron and Quinn (1999) whilst considering the special culture models and pay little consideration to the specific characteristics of construction projects. especially DEVELOPMENT OF THE CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK AND in the context of construction projects. Failure is viewed as an opportunity for learning and life cycle using anthropological fieldwork methods to collect improvement.e. projects (Kog et al. Handy. Given the number of organisations and specialists involved in a typical construction project. operational sub-cultures. Schein. which is highlighted in numerous organisational culture models (e. Zuo and Zillante’s (2005) model is one of the very few studies that investigate project culture issues in the construction industry. with each other in the project environment’. Arditi et al. Opportunities are given to develop capabilities during the project process. The and beliefs that the participants involved in a project hold that response was overwhelming in terms of numbers and the projects determine the way they process the project and the relationship were selected at random. which include risk-taking. contributory components. The researchers simply observed the proceedings of the meeting In summary. 2002) are limited. Decision-making is pushed independency. communication methods. easy to use and context. Zuo and Zillante (2005) Australia requesting assistance in locating projects that the defined project culture as ‘the shared values. the common topics for the meeting. it is The aim of attending the project meetings was: (1) to understand not surprising that a lot of resources are required to diagnose current practice in the Australian construction industry. Kumaraswamy et al. design. Initially. 1985). Harrison. Risk-taking is acceptable to accomplish the individualistic sub-cultures. Flexible Project culture can also be evaluated via a qualitative approach. The culture of the Environ Megaproject was found to People-oriented consist of innovativeness. Subsequently they type cultures were positively correlated with quality outcomes proposed a conceptual framework (see Table 1) to measure the whereas market cultures. Empirical research was conducted to test the validity of the Zuo 1972. van Marrewijk (2007) investigated the development the projects with a flexible culture.g. Accordingly this model characteristics of construction projects.. obtain the goals can be tolerated in the construction projects with a cultures. In this framework. and goal-oriented culture. project culture in the construction context. The findings indicated that clan.g. These comprised observational studies of project meetings and preliminary interviews with project participants in order to identify • The framework proposed by Kumaswamy et al. 1999. down. Cameron and Quinn. observe any manifestations of project culture during the meeting. LIMITATIONS Previous studies about project culture have had several limitations including: RESEARCH METHODOLOGY • No clearly accepted definition of project culture. are encouraged and rewarded in the project of the project culture of the Environ Megaproject for the project process. 1985) must be modified to suit construction and Zillante (2005) model. measuring the project culture in one construction (e. professional sub-cultures. Interviewees 2002) is too complex to measure project culture by applying were also asked to nominate key performance indicators for Hofstede’s (2001) cultural model to each sub-culture and its measuring the success of their projects. Thomas et al. and The people issues are given higher priority in the construction projects with a people. and (2) to the project culture. They argue that a project Integrative culture should be designed to align organisational goals and Inputs of various contributing parties (for example. negotiation methods and dispute resolution methods) without specific framework. projects. organisation. field studies were conducted. (2001) suggested a framework to explain and Teamwork is popular. 2002). the features of project culture in construction projects. For instance. to enhance communication and coordination and Cooperative to increase the ease with which project objectives are achieved. more common on construction projects.oriented culture. There are few conflicts during the process of the project. Innovative approaches. Australian construction projects. • The few examples of a simple application of a conventional During the development of the definition and conceptual framework organisational culture model to measure the project culture of of project culture. were found to be negatively correlated with quality outcomes. objectives with those of the individual participants (which helps to construction and consultants) are encouraged in the early stages of the project process. 1988. resulting in significant ASSOCIATED RESEARCH INSTRUMENTS difficulties in conceptualising and measuring the project culture. asking any questions. task in specific conditions and project participants are comfortable with uncertainty within the project environment. basic assumptions authors could use for the purpose of attending site meetings. Emphasis is placed on aligning the objectives of different participants and organisations to a common goal – the objectives of the project. (2001. Ten projects facilitated by four different 18 The Australasian Journal of Construction Economics and Building [Vol 9.

users and other stakeholders are identified as registration system for contractors in that contractors are ranked one of the ways of measuring the performance and success of a into four classes according to their contracting ability: 1) special project (Diallo and Thuillier. aspect Bassioni et al. engineering and project management consultants. many years of professional experience in the construction industry. The evaluation The Chinese construction industry uses a qualification and of project personnel. Future business opportunities Shenhar et al. the quantity surveyor was then revised based on their comments.. The Ministry of Generally. Rather. (2005). answered completely or contained an unreliable pattern of answers Shenhar et al. The questionnaire also suggested that follow-up interviews should be conducted in was also tested in pilot studies (Zuo and Zillante. correlation between perception of project participants about the culture and performance of construction projects (see Figure 1). al. Wang and Huang The response rate was 79 percent (158/200). the special class contractors are allowed to performance. (2006) Overall 6. and then discussed with some Chinese of interviewees. construction industry in South Australia. Bassioni et al. Commercial success Chan and Chan (2004). The researchers believe that preliminary firms were selected for attendance. After one month. intention of this study to determine the best indicators of project As the highest rank. The measures of project performance these two cities represent the situation at the forefront of current adopted in this study are shown in Table 2. 2003. architects. Of those returned. 3) second class.. 2006a). No 2] 19 . A similar approach to Low and Shi (2002) was adopted.. practitioners had been involved in the local industry for at least ten years and accordingly they served as a good contextual The outcome of this process was a questionnaire and interview benchmark against which to test the Chinese version of the schedule developed from the theoretical model and tested and questionnaire. sample of the Chinese construction industry. 2001. Their feedback suggested that the content and modified following observations of project meetings and preliminary the format of the questionnaire were appropriate for China. (2001) researchers. A coordinator was appointed in each company to coordinate the survey process. the architect. The Chinese version of the questionnaire the client. cost. These two cities culture and project performance. collected the completed questionnaires and forwarded them to the 2. the main contractor. 1999). The English version questionnaire was firstly translated into Chinese Preliminary interviews were then conducted with a separate group by the research team. They also suggested that a study based on Some researchers suggest that safety should be added to that Beijing and Shenzhen could be considered as a representative list (Cox et al. especially in the construction management field. (2007) The Australasian Journal of Construction Economics and Building [Vol 9. the most important of which are viewed A five-point Likert Scale was used to examine the extent of as key performance indicators (KPIs). Their roles included acting as inappropriate translation. a list of common performance indicators bid for mega and complex projects. In particular. 158 project questionnaires were able to be analysed. Odusami et al. 1999. 2) first class. Others were either not Relationship aspect 5. all questions were answered with the same score). The target population was the was adopted in order to measure the relationship between project special class contractors in Beijing and Shenzhen. 4) third class. order to find out more in-depth information on the cultural issues in construction projects and how this would affect the performance MEASUREMENT OF PROJECT PERFORMANCE of these projects. (2005). It is not the class (highest rank). construction academic staff. This study examined the performance of a construction project by utilising the perception of the project participants. representing government agencies. Those dimension of the project culture model. These performance indicators are employed to measure the performance of a project. in the local industry. Sawacha et al. 2004. A total of 21 respondents took part in the preliminary interviews. They strongly recommended interviewing some officers of the relevant government departments. 2003. These practitioners were selected from Chinese version of the questionnaire was translated back into the major companies that provide services and functions within the English to test that the meanings had not been altered. construction practice in China. (2008). Baloi and Price. The coordinators helped distribute Performance Measures References the questionnaire to twenty randomly selected construction dimensions managers in their companies. They interviews with academic and industry experts. time and quality are recognised as the most Construction and the respective Provisional / Municipal Committee important performance dimensions of construction projects (Xiao of Construction were highlighted as the key government authorities and Proverbs. Those academic staff were bilingual and also had firms. Luu et (for example. (2008) One hundred and sixty-five construction managers from a majority 4. The contractors were approached for permission to distribute the Table 2: Dimensions and measures of project performance questionnaire within their companies and ten agreed to participate adopted in this study in the research. Overall performance Lam et al. Continuous 3. the coordinator Economic 1. Luu improvement project process et al. Lessons learnt from the of contractors answered the questionnaire. They comprised industry professionals who had been involved in they were experienced in detecting misleading messages due to a number of construction projects. Subsequently the and the project manager. These four QUESTIONNAIRE SURVEY AND INTERVIEWS construction firms were the four largest in South Australia and thus the meetings provided good insights about the way that projects The questionnaire was translated into Chinese for use in Mainland are managed in this State. Lim and Mohamed. 2002. 2003). 2003). The reason for attending the site meetings and conducting the preliminary interviews was Subsequently some twenty industry practitioners in China were to collect statements that enabled the quantification of each invited to participate in pilot-testing of the questionnaire. Satisfaction with the Chan and Chan (2004). Westerveld. A list of common performance comprise developed areas with many large construction projects indicators was shown to the industry practitioners during the already built or under construction. Satisfaction with the relationship with other parties Chan and Chan (2004). China.

The officials were drawn from the Ministry of Construction. QUESTIONNAIRE FINDINGS Government intervention in the Chinese construction industry DESCRIPTIVE ANALYSIS is still comparatively high when compared to Western countries such as Australia. Three quarters of the interviewees H1: an Eastern style of approach is responsible for improved had worked in the industry for more than 16 years. They were approached for their comments about project culture issues and the impacts of these Sekaran (1992) defined a hypothesis as a logically conjectured on the performance of construction projects. (2) the positions they held. more people-oriented. Project performance is meaured by of the cultural and procurement approach issues than junior the perceptions of respondents by satisfaction with the process. They were selected because of: (1) their extensive experience in 2002). Accordingly. and be expressed in clear and simple language (Fellows and Liu. positive and senior construction managers and five government officers. lessons learnt experience in the industry. the industry practitioners suggested that As the literature survey found. managers and labourers. interviewees comprised executive managers or senior construction managers in major construction companies in China. and the national and municipal level and were thus in an excellent position to supplement the comments made by the interviewees • how project culture affects the performance of construction from the private sector. less (1) it is more probable that these people have more knowledge goal-oriented and less flexible. During the pilot studies. 79% of respondents had more than ten years of opportunity to interview government officials as this is rare in professional experience in the construction industry. were extremely useful about how the research findings could be implemented in China. This enabled The null hypothesis is: them to compare a variety of experiences in different construction projects regarding project culture and procurement approach H0: an Eastern style of approach is not responsible for improved issues. No 2] . an Eastern style of approach is seen interviews should concentrate on senior management because: as more integrative. (2) they normally have more professional commercial success. project performance. The researchers were fortunate to have the Overall. It is also project performance. important to note that 32 out of the 43 interviewees (a significant majority) had worked on international projects. These government officers’ comments projects. and (3) people in senior positions from the project. A hypothesis needs to be testable. Figure 1: Research framework In addition to the above. including 38 executive managers of testable statements. satisfaction with the relationship. contractor performance. and (3) they were available at the time when the research was undertaken. a range of in-depth interviews were the Beijing Municipal Construction Committee and the Shenzhen conducted to investigate: Municipal Construction Committee. China. and overall make project and corporate decisions. All The hypothesis for this study is: interviewees had more than 10 years professional experience in the local construction industry. 20 The Australasian Journal of Construction Economics and Building [Vol 9. more cooperative. the local industry. thereby China. The interviewees were executive managers and senior construction managers of the major construction companies in HYPOTHESIS TESTING Beijing and Shenzhen. These government interviewees were in charge of the construction market at both • the manifestation of project culture in actual projects. future business opportunities. A total of 43 industry relationship between two or more variables expressed in the form persons were interviewed.

among the five dimensions of mutually exclusive. 1999). These correlations are comparatively small however – i. The strongest correlations (significant at the 0.33m) in value and 60 percent of all projects had a in the established project culture model explain at least 41. RELIABILITY ANALYSIS The only exception is the regression model for lessons learnt from the project. No 2] 21 . The MRA results are consistent with the correlation for Chinese contractors.6 per construction value of more than RMB $500M (AUD$83. As shown in coefficients (Liu. and overall performance). (3) future business our construction capabilities could help to improve the opportunities. only flexible and people-oriented types of project culture have a significant correlation with the lessons learnt from Given all of the above.05): satisfaction with the relationships with other parties. the project team should aim to develop and whether the variables (dimensions of project culture and maintain an integrative culture. satisfaction with the performance of the project except lessons learnt from the project relationships with other parties. Therefore the following two sub- process. that an Eastern style of approach is responsible for (around 0. the hypothesis (H1) is accepted (p<0. as shown in Figure 2.2: Flexible and people-oriented types of project culture are responsible for improved project performance. constructs was accepted for further analysis. Table 4 indicated that only two project cultural The internal consistency of the questions belonging to the five dimensions (i. One interviewee showed his The majority of these correlations are positive except that goal. flexible and people-oriented culture) are cultural dimensions was checked by means of Cronbach’s alpha correlated with this project performance variable. Table 5 indicates that the integrative project culture dimension PEARSON CORRELATION ANALYSIS makes the strongest contribution to explaining most of the project performance variables.33m). which is • satisfaction with the project process – integrative culture measured by lessons learnt from the project. and that early involvement of the builder is an important benefit to a project and procurement systems often try to achieve that • the items in the questionnaire do identify those features of outcome through partnering or other relationship management the project culture that lead to better project performance. These show that. The Australasian Journal of Construction Economics and Building [Vol 9. in order to achieve exceptional The Pearson correlation coefficients were computed to determine performance. As shown in the Table 4.1: an Eastern style of approach is responsible for improved project performance that is measured by There are medium to large positive correlations between all satisfaction with the project process. five dimensions defined $50m (AUD$8. Since the coefficients are all above Table 4. techniques between designer. Furthermore. hypotheses will be accepted (p<0. five dimensions of the project culture and all indicators of the future business opportunities.2 per cent of the acceptable level of 0. (2) commercial success.” to achieve better project outcomes and that: This is an interesting response as the conventional wisdom • project culture does contribute towards the better in Western (or outside Chinese) construction organisations is performance of construction projects. client and builder.01 level .05) the project.e. and overall performance. and (5) overall performance. • H1. as cent of the variance in most of the project performance variables. as the contractor.3). The regression models can be seen in of the highest rank in the qualification and registration system Table 4. This is considered to be satisfactory. commercial success.70 (see Table 3). future business opportunities. We are left out of the door of the decision goal-oriented and flexible approaches should be avoided in order making room – quite disappointing. (4) satisfaction with the relationships with other constructability of the project. 90% of their projects exceeded RMB analysis results. This suggests that strongly chance to do so. disappointment by stating: oriented and flexible culture has a negative correlation with the performance of the project in terms of: (1) satisfaction with the “…From my point of view. satisfaction with the project in the lessons learnt variable. five project culture dimensions explain 11. • commercial success – goal-oriented culture INTERVIEW FINDINGS • future business opportunities – integrative culture THE CURRENT STATE OF PROJECT CULTURE ISSUES IN THE INDUSTRY • lessons learnt from the project – flexible culture The common theme expressed by interviewees is that a • satisfaction with the relationships with other parties – confrontational culture exists within a typical construction project. integrative culture Of the various reasons given for this is that it is not unusual for the client to dominate during the life-cycle of the project. project culture. (see Figure 4). But we seldom have the parties. There are also significant correlations between the improved project performance subject to some minor deviations rest of the performance indicators (i.2 tailed) are: • H1. shown in Figure 3.e. commercial success. Multiple regression analysis (MRA) was used to predict to what As mentioned previously. flexible and people- indicators of project performance) were statistically correlated oriented cultures are conducive to an integrative culture and not (see Figure 4).making them well-qualified to answer the questionnaire and MULTIPLE REGRESSION ANALYSIS comment on the research questions. I feel that project process. all the contractors involved comprised extent each project culture dimension contributed to each project major construction companies in terms of market share and were performance variable. Therefore. the reliability of the the variance of lessons learnt from the project.e. • overall performance – integrative culture thereby making it more difficult for contractors to be involved in the decision-making process.

802 Goal-oriented 5 0. No 2] . Figure 2: Experience of respondents (years) Figure 3: Value of projects (RMB) Figure 4: Perceived statistical relationships between project culture and project performance Table 3: Reliability of internal consistency Dimensions of the project culture Number of questions Cronbach’s alpha coefficient Integrative 10 0.899 22 The Australasian Journal of Construction Economics and Building [Vol 9.773 People-oriented 6 0.766 Flexible 6 0.886 Cooperative 8 0.

* p < .485** . party’s responsibility. subcontractors are vulnerable to being treated culture is in the project. From the beginning of the project. one interviewee stated: “Good relationships means that each The Australasian Journal of Construction Economics and Building [Vol 9.617** . important for achieving business success in Confucian societies such as China (Yeung and Tung.527** . In many cases. power and benefits should be stated very The owner. Being located at the bottom of project culture.689 .572** . especially interpersonal relationships.511** .01. 1996.652** Cooperative .435** .725 .602** .520 Commercial success .615** -.482** .412** -.727 . For the interviewees.574** -. Poor communication can frustrate team members and create Good relationships. EQUAL POSITION OF ALL PARTIES THE CLIENT”S NEEDS One theme that featured in the interviews was the need for all To satisfy the clients’ needs is identified as the major function of contracting parties to be equal. conflicts emerge simply because there is were identified as the most important stakeholders. a mismatch of objectives of the participating parties in a One interviewee went on to explain that the subjective measures construction project is detrimental to both inter-firm relationships important to him were good relationships. as parties.593** . whole project team having a common goal. 1999). a lack of such communication.587** -.721 . namely explicit requirements and implicit CONSIDERATION OF OTHERS requirements. The Chinese call it ‘thinking by standing in the All interviewees agreed that specific features of project culture other’s position’. Buttery and Wong.487** Flexible -.334 .485** People-oriented .541** .645 . unfairly and there were many occasions when subcontractors it is not a good culture.176 . Certainly the clients’ needs are the ultimate helped to foster a collaborative relationship among project consideration and should be the common goal of all participating participants and in turn achieved optimum project outcomes. Guanxi (关系) is objectives – rather than focusing on their own interests.628** . There are generally two types of requirements from the COMMON INTERESTS / VALUES / GOALS AND client’s perspective. According to the interviewees.235* .590** .498** -. For instance. Table 4: Multiple regression models Model R R Square Satisfaction with the process .529 Overall performance . EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION GOOD RELATIONSHIPS.112 Satisfaction with the relationship .526** -. No 2] 23 . COMMON FEATURES OF APPROPRIATE PROJECT CULTURE party would like to consider the other parties’ interests and objectives.261** -.591** Goal-oriented -. the main contractor and subcontractors clearly.512** ** p < .127 . relationships with the rest of the project team (and with the client all participants should have a common goal – the project and/or the client representative in particular). According to the interviewees.589** .416 Future business opportunities .” shown in Figure 5. could not secure their scheduled payments.469** -. the designer. each identified as key characteristics of an appropriate project culture. were a tense atmosphere.094 -. WILLINGNESS TO HELP AND Another feature that was identified as part of an appropriate TEAMWORK project culture was effective communication among participants. According to them. the implicit requirements (the subjective measures) rather than the explicit requirements The majority of interviewees stressed the importance of the (objective measures) were more important.474 Lessons learnt from the project .526 Table 5: Reliability of internal consistency Standardized Coefficients (Beta) Satisfaction with Commercial Future business Lessons learnt Satisfaction with Overall Model the process success opportunities from the project the relationship performance Integrative .05. especially personal and the performance of the project. no matter what the the supply chain. if it does not fit the client’s requirements.

For Certain resources. Furthermore. in later claims that will make the work profitable. One interviewee noted that. the cooperation and willingness in improving the performance of construction projects. and these indicated that project culture. The Chinese know this as “sharpening the axe means many companies prepared to make efforts to build an appropriate that you don’t waste time when you are chopping wood”. to help each other should not be based upon money lost. project culture. These two interests. Lacking common goals. 2003. This deliberate approach leads to distrust between the contracting parties. positive project culture throughout the project lifecycle. if the cost savings derived from an initiative are not to develop an appropriate project culture from very early enough to cover the cost of the commitment. manager interviewees highlighted the difficulties in establishing an appropriate project culture. interviewees emphasised that they recognised the benefits of being flexible and goal-oriented. It is interesting to note. drawn from the interview findings ECONOMIC BENEFITS different views – stressing that it was still necessary to develop and sustain an appropriate culture. FLEXIBLE AND GOAL-ORIENTED CULTURE RESPECT AND TRUST Interviewees were asked to make comments. the achievement of one flexible and goal-oriented project cultures should be avoided party’s objectives might be based on sacrificing another party’s so that a better project outcome can be achieved. performance of construction projects (Anderson. There was a consensus view that every effort should be made to minimise the uncertainties. interviewees expressed concerns about the IMPORTANCE OF THE PROJECT CULTURE uncertainties existing in the project. They explained that in order to run a project smoothly. 2006). With no support from that it is hard to achieve the project objective (outcome) if there senior management. 2006b.e. time and cost. had to identify features of project culture that lead to better project 24 The Australasian Journal of Construction Economics and Building [Vol 9. however. Interestingly. Senior managers. However. are required instance. Eighteen contractor interviewees were concerned about the affordability of developing a project Both the questionnaire survey and the in-depth interviews serve culture (i. however. it is very hard to develop and maintain a are no well-defined procedures or rules. No 2] . features of project culture have a positive correlation with the the contractor might submit a bid with little or no profit margin. there will not be on. it was perceived by interviewees that Chinese especially its impacts on the performance of construction project managers are generally reluctant to take risks. these need SUPPORT FROM SENIOR MANAGEMENT to be considered carefully in the Chinese context. Failure is projects. As one interviewee stated: Rewarding cost savings was highlighted by interviewees as an important feature of an appropriate project culture. in the expectation that he will be able to put Zillante. Zuo and or even below cost. even though they acknowledged DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS the crucial role that this played. Figure 5: Common features of appropriate project culture. it is not enough to focus on Interviewees commented that support from senior management the result whilst ignoring the process. In addition. that most construction not viewed as an opportunity for learning and improvement. From the “There is no doubt that the project culture plays a key role interviewee’s point of view. in order to win the contract. for example. Olsson. particularly on the Trust is another feature identified as part of an appropriate findings from the questionnaire survey. All interviewees acknowledged the importance of project culture. All interviewees believed is one aspect of appropriate project culture. resources required).

It is clear that Chinese practitioners focus on (or guanxi) which is defined as ‘a relationship combined with the process of the project as well as the outcomes. project. 2000). The survey findings also showed that the outcome-oriented There are three traits of Chinese traditional culture that are major and flexible types of project culture had a significant negative cultural barriers to the adoption of western project management correlation with the performance of construction projects. ‘Face’ is very construction project environment (Phua and Rowlinson. The results indicate that certain types of project among key project stakeholders is already known to be one of culture do contribute towards better project performance. Phua and Rowlinson. Chinese practitioners tend to be risk benefit significantly by having a better understanding of Chinese averse and uncomfortable with uncertain situations and prefer a culture when entering the Chinese construction market. 2007). Risk avoidance and risk aversion are the usual actions communication and exchange of information. They tend to fear unfamiliarity and risky or ambiguous Cooperation. 2002). From a national culture perspective. 2003). 2003). future business opportunities. and Interpersonal relationships are often referred to as Guan Xi. important for the Chinese people and face-saving behaviour This again indicates that Chinese practitioners prefer stable ensures harmony within the group. reciprocity of special relationships that two persons have with each other’ (Kwan and Ofori. 1997).. These comprise strong hierarchy. stable project environment (stable rather than flexible). Wherever possible. where the client others (Frank et al. a high uncertainty from construction. uncertain or unstructured situations. Brockner et al. This in Chinese enterprises. straight’. lessons learnt from the interpersonal relationships with other project team members. 2005). preparedness and is strong correlation between the project culture and the project involvement and creativity (Huse et al. participants that largely come from a collectivist society could have a significant effect on group members’ attitudes towards Chinese culture focuses on maintaining harmony and building each other as well as on their willingness to cooperate in the trust among people (Batonda and Perry. satisfaction with the relationships of other parties. most important criterion of project success in China (Wang and Huang. Guanxi connections are All those who took part in the in-depth interviews agreed that the preferred informational networks for the Chinese and may project culture has a significant effect on project performance. in that design is separated Hu. cooperative and people-oriented cultures should do business in China (Zou and Wang. indicating that a outcomes from the Chinese industry practitioners’ perspective . This is particularly This includes the loss of reputation or standing in the eyes of important for Chinese construction projects. 2006). which is identified in Western cultures as a key feature of positive project culture (Zuo et al. According members towards people from other organisations which results to the Australian Procurement and Construction Council (APCC). CONCLUSION Hofstede (2001) pointed out that a process-oriented culture is dominated by technical and bureaucratic routines. No 2] 25 . dimensions of the project culture.performance. and prefer predictability and stability. it is very hard for Chinese practitioners to ‘talk much to pay for the work (Chen and Partington. 2001). facilitate transactions (Martinsons and Westwood. as two making process. Face will be lost From the interviewees’ perspective it is clear that for the success when the person (or those related to him) fails to meet essential of the project. teamwork. integration helps to: (1) create avoidance ranking indicates the country has a low tolerance a culture of efficient and effective collaboration by individuals for uncertainty and ambiguity (Hofstede. to appoint or dismiss a project manager (and Coupled with the high power distance of Chinese culture consequently his long-term team) and to decide when and how (Hofstede. It is embarrassing if face is challenged in public. 2000. and boss orientation (Wang and Liu. 2001). Zhao and industry is its fragmented nature. openness and taken in such circumstances (Chen and Partington. the relationship with the client is more important requirements placed upon him by virtue of his social position. 2003). 2007). overall performance. commercial would like to pay more attention to building and maintaining success. In construction. 2006). 2004).. It is essential for the Chinese to avoid has absolute power to make the decision of whether or not to confrontation and preserve any vertical authority relationship. should be made to save the face of oneself and others. Uncertainty and organisations. 2004). than the relationship with the rest of the team. (2) promote a working environment where avoidance (UA) affects practitioners’ attitudes to risk and information is freely exchanged between different participants. be developed so as to achieve better project outcomes.. process-oriented culture is crucial for contributing to the decision It is interesting to note that goal-orientation and flexibility. 2004). open situations. openness and generosity.. honesty is identified as one of most important factors for the There is a sharp difference in behaviour among organisational success of construction projects (Walker et al. In addition. family indicates that Chinese practitioners focus not only on project consciousness. 1997). 2001. award a contract. This outcomes but also on the process of the project that achieved suggests that industry practitioners from western countries would those results. efforts rather than flexible project environments. 2001). have a (statistically) significant negative correlation with perceived performance of construction The interview results indicated that Chinese practitioners projects in terms of the satisfaction with the process. in greater hostility towards those who do not belong to one’s developing capabilities of employees is crucial if one wishes to own organisation (Phua. A strong UA culture of and (3) improve the effective and efficient delivery of the project Chinese practitioners indicates that they are uncomfortable with (Baiden et al. 2004).. The The questionnaire survey of the construction managers from the main characteristics of a process-oriented culture include: major construction companies revealed that statistically there cohesiveness. Collectivism and high uncertainty avoidance are also two features Naoum (2003) noted that one of the features of the construction of Chinese culture (Fan. Guanxi They acknowledged that a positive and appropriate culture does The Australasian Journal of Construction Economics and Building [Vol 9. improve the competitiveness and effectiveness of the Australian Perceptions of the in-group versus the out-group among project construction industry (APCC. characterised by mutual trust. approaches to the management of risk. 2006) – its development also being said to be a key The statistical analysis of the questionnaire responses indicated strategy for a foreign architectural design and construction firm to that integrated. Western project management practice will not necessarily be supported by Chinese culture (Chen and Partington.. 2002.

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