ASA 007: Managing Projects in Mexico

Listen to a conversation about the experience of an Italian expert who spent two years on contract in Mexico.

Monika Chutnik
Managing Projects in Mexico

In this episode you will hear how to be successful in managing projects in Mexico. Even more importantly, how to work together in a sustainable way, and what makes cooperation with Mexicans really beautiful.

Alessia Serena is an experienced manager in HR and Project Management. At the time of the interview Alessia was working for a manufacturing company with headquarters in Italy. She moved to a plant in Mexico to run a project in the HR area, and stayed in Mexico for two years. After returning to Italy, she also worked with Mexicans virtually. There is plenty of experience to tap into and learn from, and I am very glad Alessia agreed to be my guest.


In this episode you will learn:

  • What was the biggest surprise in working with Mexicans?
  • How to build relationships with Mexicans?
  • What is the Mexican approach to time?
  • What does “ahorita” mean and how do you interpret such a response?
  • How are deadlines set in a collaboration?
  • What is the role of the project leader? What is expected of the boss?
  • How were Italians perceived by Mexicans?
  • What will Mexicans not tolerate when it comes to work behavior?
  • What to watch out for so as not to offend the feelings of your Mexican colleagues?
  • What do Polish and Mexican people have in common?
  • What are the key tips for successful cooperation with Mexicans?


Three things that I take away as key messages from this conversation:

  1. Learn to build relationships!
  2. Find your ways to navigate around time management and planning, act and react in a flexible way.
  3. In virtual contact, a phone call can make you so much more successful!


When you listen to this conversation, please think about who else might be happy to know what we are talking about and share with this person later on. I really care to be reaching the right people with my content, so thank you very much for this – in advance! 🧡

I wish you fun and discovery!


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If you want to educate leaders in how to create psychological safety in your remote teams, if you would like to increase inclusive leadership practices, or mental resilience of your employees – please feel welcome to contact us at ETTA

Additional materials:

  • ASA 004: What are Microaffirmations and why you want to have them in your team
  • ASA 002: Ukrainians – how to find a great candidate and ensure good onboarding
  • ASA 008: How to Make Friends with the Danes (available soon)


The ability to build relationships

Mexicans simply want you to feel like part of the family. Building relationships comes naturally to them. You’re not just there for work. They want to familiarize you with the customs that prevail in their country, invite you to family gatherings, outings with friends. They are interested in how you spend your leisure time, ask about your weekend. They show a real commitment to how you spend your time in their country and whether you feel comfortable there.

How can you set yourself up to work with Mexicans? Remember that the most important thing is the need to understand each other on a human-to-human level and not as representatives of a company. Be prepared to talk a lot about your personal life and small talk.


Mexican approach to time

Work hours start for Mexicans at 7:00/7:30 a.m. and end as late as 7:00/8:00 p.m. Their work days are therefore very long. Hence a lot of informal breaks and meetings during work, which can take about 30 minutes.

How then to organize a team meeting? Prepare for the fact that each meeting is always late, sometimes even by one or two hours. The first half hour of the meeting consists of small talk anyway, building relationships. Only after the whole group has gathered and gone over current topics, then you can move on to the actual topic of the meeting.


How do you set a deadline?

You can set a lot of deadlines, but with the assumption that they will not be respected.

The only way out is to set fake deadlines, for example, 10 days before the real ones. this is the way to survive the project.

You need to constantly “push” the project and have control over the next stages of the project. However, not only virtually! For by phone you may hear that everything is going fine, but at the end of the project it will turn out that everything does not look at all as good as in the stories. Therefore, ask to send photos of the stages, visit the factories, keep in touch. Just keep your hand in. If you discover that they are not doing what you agreed on – push even harder and escalate.

In Mexico, you have to assume that everything is always delayed.

So if your colleagues ask you to do something, immediately assume that they are already late and consequently you are late too. Therefore, always do your tasks ASAP – literally, as soon as possible, because the project has been known to get delayed anyway. Also, do it in the best possible way, because no one will check the results of your work, in such a fast pace of work there is no room for double checking. Take care to present proven data and figures, because there is no room for corrections.


Formulating expectations – the role of the project leader

Always give Mexicans a very elaborate action plan. List all the activities and people responsible. Don’t count on someone to show their own initiative and do something that wasn’t planned.

He or she can’t forget any aspect of the project, or it simply won’t get done.

In Mexico, project management is based on following the guidance of leaders. Therefore, the management structure has to be quite transparent so that decisions can be consulted with all superiors. Sometimes this is difficult, especially in a matrix organization where the project leaders are on the ground, but the bosses are also in Italy, while decisions have to be tailored to local expectations and capabilities.


Mexico: attitude to change

In Mexico, change is very common, and everyone is used to it. This is influenced by the labor market situation. Often key employees in a company suddenly leave and you have to adapt to this. Mexicans don’t see this as a stressful situation, they are relaxed. Maybe it’s because they are used to changes in bosses, responsibilities, commands, etc. They are taught that commands can change and they adapt easily to new guidelines.


Position of the boss in Mexico

What a boss says is considered practically sacred. Superiors are given a great deal of respect, sometimes even fear. The boss is not refused – I have never heard it said that Mexicans refuse to carry out the orders of their boss. It’s practically impossible.


Stress management – how did you cope?

For me, it wasn’t that much of a challenge, because I was used to working with Mexicans, I guess I learned to function under constant delay.

“The Mexican way of work” is something I learned during this period.


How were Italians perceived by Mexicans?

The biggest challenge for us was understanding that our voice scale was very wide compared to the Mexicans. They were shocked by our behavior, because it seemed to them that we were yelling all the time, we were angry with them. I was there in the role of HR, so people would come to my office crying and complaining that they didn’t understand why Italians were yelling at them so much, why such an attitude.

At first we had problems understanding each other’s approaches.

In the following months, we tried to adjust our way of speaking, to speak more calmly and quietly so as not to be perceived that way. Even in a phone conversation, because it is easy to misunderstand.

Another element of surprise was the use of vulgarities – in Italy we are used to using them naturally when talking to colleagues. After a while, the Mexicans realized that we were using vulgarities in everyday conversations and were shocked by it – especially when women said it. In their culture this is completely unacceptable! But then they realized that it was part of our Italian culture and got used to it.


Virtual communication – email or phone?

Always choose the phone if you want to communicate something. Mexicans don’t read emails, they always have too many, they are very likely to miss your message. For that during a phone call you have a chance to build a relationship, a personal contact. This initial part of the conversation lasts about 10 minutes. You ask each other questions about life, family, leisure time. Then you can move on to the actual topic of conversation, convey relevant content.

The phone is always a good way to get in touch with Mexicans. They just like to talk.

When I worked with the Mexicans while on site here in Europe, I participated virtually. Then I had to supervise the team remotely. I scheduled weekly calls with the team. I required showing evidence of completed work steps – showing photos, training surveys, attendance lists, etc. To make sure that the project was going on, that we would finish it on time.


Time difference – how to deal with it?

It’s not easy, because the time difference is 7-8 hours. Therefore, the only time to call together was late afternoon according to Italian time, when in Mexico it was morning. Sometimes I had to be available for them late in the evening or at night. There was a phone call at 11 pm, but this is acceptable at the end of the project, an intense time for everyone.

It’s also worth remembering that their workday is very long, hence forcing such long activity.

As for availability and calls, we don’t have to announce our calls, we just call and talk.


Work and private life – how Mexicans reconcile the two areas

Despite the fact that they work very long hours, Mexicans place a very high value on family, on spending time with each other, on cultivating friendships. There happens to be a scenario where it is the mother who stays at home with the children and the father who works. However, women are also active in the workforce.

At the same time, it is important to explain that our approach to leisure and work is different.

Mexicans have a lot of readiness to understand European culture, so it is worth communicating directly our rules about availability and working hours, they will understand. Just keep talking.


Conflicts and communication

Mexicans do not tolerate conflict. They would sooner hide a situation and not tell you about it at all than pursue a conversation that might end in conflict.

This is often a problem, because they don’t make you aware of the existence of certain problems in the factory, they hide. Often they come only when the situation is already very inflamed. They tell you about the situation a month ago, when “the bomb almost explodes”, then they give you information and you work diligently to solve it.

Mexicans are easily offended, they are very sensitive.

You must speak politely, use a soft tone of voice, avoid vulgarities. You will immediately notice when you have offended someone – by your behavior, facial expressions, silence, sometimes even crying. They can’t hide their emotions.


Poles and Mexicans – what they have in common

The main common element is that both Poles and Mexicans are very kind. Both nations like to build relationships, make contacts.

However, the Polish approach to work is very different – they are very precise, they do everything on time, they are careful about deadlines, they try to do their job as well as they can. That is, just the opposite of how Mexicans behave at work.


Summary. How has this project affected your life?

I feel that this trip influenced me a lot, I changed and changed my attitude. Thanks to this trip I got the opportunity to become more open to new cultures, a different approach to work and to life. I really opened my mind. I still keep in touch with my friends in Mexico. I would love to return there for another contract, without a second thought.

Even though Mexico is not a safe country, especially for women, I felt safe because of the people who surrounded me and who cared about me.

It was a great experience that I would recommend to anyone!


Key advice for those starting to work with Mexicans

  • Try to open yourself up to the new,
  • Forget the European way of working,
  • Set yourself up for a complete change,
  • Focus on people, building relationships and trust,
  • Work with people side by side and not just give instructions,
  • Lead by example – be the first to show how the work should be done – they will follow you!


Thank you!


Photo by carlos aranda on Unsplash

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