Open cooperation based on trust creates a well-functioning international team

The implementation of international projects requires good cooperation between experts from different countries. The formation of an expert community is based on trust, open contacts and direct communication between all actors.
Eija Korjonen ja Eija-Riitta Niinikoski

The challenge for the international project team is to take into account various organisations, countries, cultures, languages and time zones. It is typical to operate fully or partially in a virtual work environment, in which case trust is particularly important. The building of trust-based cooperation must begin early on, and it should be strengthened by building personal relationships as the project progresses. Ultimately, the most important resources for the project are the people involved, who can see and understand the big picture and who are committed to achieving the project goals.

The formation of a new team of experts during the launching phase of an international project is a process that can be supported by means of project management. The University of Oulu Kerttu Saalasti Institute was in charge of an international research project that lasted four years. The project developed the business opportunities and range of services of underground laboratories in the Baltic Sea region while creating a cooperation network between the underground laboratories.

During the project, Executive Assistant Eija Korjonen studied, in connection with her Bachelor of Business Administration thesis, how the success of an international research project can be supported through the methods of project management.

Based on the interviews I conducted, praise was given for the well-organised planning phase of the project and excellent support during the project. The responses emphasised the importance of communication in the building and strengthening of trust. According to the respondents, the two-stage application process and the kick-off meeting held at the beginning of the project were very successful. They made the group into a close-knit and committed team, and laid the foundation for trust, Korjonen summarises and states that the trust that was created helped the international team to function and succeed despite the sudden coronavirus pandemic.

Based on the results of the thematic interviews, particular attention must be paid to the project schedule, communications and the management of virtual groups. It is important that the project team has at least one language in common and a shared understanding of what is meant by specific words. The risk management analysis and action plan created at the beginning of the project helped people cope with personnel changes and other adjustments during the long project.

Project management methods can be used to support the success of an international research project from the perspective of costs, quality, communication and risk management. It is important to find a suitable level of project management so that the main focus remains on the activities associated with the project plan, not on internal reporting and project management itself.

Virtual communities are vulnerable to interruptions in communication. Cultural diversity brings an additional challenge to international teams and their members in different countries. It is also important to make room for informal interaction in the communications. In order to replace shared coffee breaks and discussions in the corridors, it is important to come up with other compensatory practices to strengthen trust and the sense of community, and to ensure a successful implementation of the project.

The project that I studied made use of informal discussions during the coffee and lunch breaks in connection with virtual workshops and meetings. In one virtual meeting, ideas were also stimulated by the performance of a visiting musician, Korjonen says.

Face-to-face activities have a special significance.

At the end of one virtual meeting and workshop, a Polish professor said that we can get things done like this, but the discussions that take place in corridors and the insights and new ideas that emerge from them will be missing.


Eija Korjonen, Bachelor of Business Administration, Executive Assistant, University of Oulu Kerttu Saalasti Institute

Eija-Riitta Niinikoski, MA, Development Manager, University of Oulu Kerttu Saalasti Institute

This article was originally published as an expert article in the Keskipohjanmaa newspaper on 30 April 2022.