2011-06-28

National cultures: know your team, know yourself

Image source: http://www.tower.com/
Playing well together is important: communicating, learning, sharing, getting things done. Our native culture shapes how we think, how we behave, and how we perceive our coworkers.

Geert Hofstede is a master of understanding culture. In his book, Culture’s Consequences, 2nd ed., he shares the data and analysis of many years of research on national cultures. Hofstede defines culture as “the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another” [p. 9].

Like an economist, Hofstede analyzes the data he has collected, factoring out variables that have no independent influence on culture. He identifies five orthogonal dimensions that he uses to characterize a country’s culture:
  • Power distance
  • Uncertainty avoidance
  • Individualism and collectivism
  • Masculinity and femininity
  • Long- versus short-term orientation
Here’s a brief overview of each dimension and its importance to me, as a manager in a multinational company.

Power distance (PDI)
Definition: “The extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organizations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally.”[p. 98]

Selected ranking, from greatest to least [p. 87]:
  • Venezuela (5-6 tied with one other)
  • India (10-11 tied)
  • Hong Kong (15-16 Hong Kong tied)
  • Turky (18-19 tied)
  • (median)
  • Taiwan (29-30 tied)
  • United States (38)
  • Canada (39)
  • Australia (41)
  • Germany (F.R.) (42-44 tied)
  • Great Britain (42-44 tied)
  • Finland (46)
What it means for me, as manager of a culturally diverse team:
As an American, I exhibit relatively low power distance. Be aware that Finns exhibit almost no power distance--we are all equals--while Indians and Turks expect and express large power distance--they may be afraid of and deferential to me.

Uncertainty avoidance (UAI)
Definition: “The extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by uncertain or unknown situations” [p. 161]

Selected ranking, from greatest to least [p.151]:
  • France (10-15 tied with 5 others)
  • Turkey (16-17 tied)
  • Venezuela (21-22 tied)
  • Taiwan (26)
  • (median)
  • Germany (F.R.) (29)
  • Finland (31-32 tied)
  • Australia (37)
  • United States (43)
  • India (45)
  • Great Britain (47-48 tied)
  • Ireland (47-48 tied)
  • Hong Kong (49-50 tied)

What it means for me, as manager of a culturally diverse team:
As an American, I prefer and embrace ad hoc. Be aware that this is counter to the expectations of French, Turkish, etc., who prefer formalized policies and procedures.

Individualism and collectivism (IND)
Definition [p. 225]:
Individualism stands for a society in which the ties between individuals are loose: Everyone is expected to look after him/herself and her/his immediate family only. Collectivism stands for a society in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, which throughout people’s lifetime continue to protect them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty.
Selected ranking, from greatest to least [p. 215]:
  • United States (1)
  • Australia (2)
  • Great Britain (3)
  • France (10-11 tied with one other)
  • Ireland (12)
  • Germany (F.R.) (15)
  • Finland (17)
  • India (21)
  • (median)
  • Turkey (28)
  • Hong Kong (37)
  • Taiwan (44)
  • Venezuela (50)
What it means for me, as manager of a culturally diverse team:
As an American, recognize my extreme individualism. Try hard to empathize with everyone else, who all exhibit stronger collectivist bonds than me.

Masculinity and femininity (MAS)
Definition [p. 297]:
Masculinity stands for a society in which social gender roles are clearly distinct: Men are supposed to be assertive, tough, and focused on material success; women are supposed to be more modest, tender, and concerned with the quality of life. Feminitity stands for a society in which social gender roles overlap: Both men and women are supposed to be modest, tender, and concerned with the quality of life.
Selected ranking, from greatest to least [p. 286]:
  • Venezuela (3)
  • Ireland (7-8 tied with one other)
  • Great Britain (9-10 tied)
  • Germany (9-10 tied)
  • United States (15)
  • Australia (16)
  • Hong Kong (18-19 tied)
  • India (20-21 tied)
  • (median)
  • Turkey (32-33 tied)
  • France (35-36 tied)
  • Finland (47)
What it means for me, as manager of a culturally diverse team:
As an American, I am culturally on the more masculine end of the scale. My Finnish coworkers are on the extreme feminine end of the scale. Recognize that we have different expectations about our family roles and the role of the company in our lives.

Long- versus short-term orientation (LTO)
Definition [p. 359]
Long Term Orientation stands for the fostering of virtues oriented towards future rewards, in particular, perseverance and thrift. Its opposite pole, Short Term Orientation, stands for the fostering of virtues related to the past and present, in particular, respect for tradition, preservation of ‘face’ and fulfilling social obligations.
Selected ranking, from greatest to least (this index has the smallest list of countries) [p. 356]:
  • China (1)
  • Hong Kong (2)
  • Taiwan (3)
  • India (7)
  • Sweden (12, median)
  • Germany (F.R.) (14)
  • Australia (15)
  • United States (17)
  • Great Britain (18)
What it means for me, as manager of a culturally diverse team:
As an American, recognize that I have more of a short-term orientation than my Asian coworkers. They might view my decisions and advice as thoughtless and counterproductive to long term success.

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