Corporate Cultural
April 29, 2010 6:15 AM   Subscribe

Tell me about cultural differences in your workplace. How do German, English, Chinese, Nigerian, or Tazmanian workers differ when attacking a problem, reporting status, dealing with subordinates or drinking on the job? Use this infographic as inspiration. Are certain cultures more effective than others on a shop floor versus a trading floor? I understand this question flirts with stereotypes and baked-in cultural bias. I get it, but that is what makes organizational dynamics so......dynamic. Pointing to a study that says Latin American's have a higher power distance than Germans is a great answer. Saying that the French aren't productive because they take all of August off is probably not as good.

I am looking for differences in leadership styles, problem solving techniques, communication styles, use of numbers / statistics, autonomy levels, etc. This question is prompted from Gladwell's Outliers and his reference to "Hofstede's Dimensions". This work hit home with me when I started working with a woman from Brazil. She believes North American's rely far to heavily on numbers / accounting to manage projects. Her take is that numbers are a lagging indicator of project performance and therefore aren't very effective in getting things done. What other practical examples can you provide that will help me understand and hopefully thrive in a multi-cultural work environment.
posted by jasondigitized to Work & Money (10 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
When I came to AskMe about some issues we were having with a Russian co-worker a few years ago, mammary16 pointed me to this 2003 article regarding Russian cultural values and workplace communication styles.
posted by juliplease at 6:22 AM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands is a great resource on this.

I used to work in an organisation that was a multicultural broadcaster, so we had 80+ different cultural backgrounds working together by design. Humour, openness, transparency go a long way to overcoming differences.
posted by wingless_angel at 6:31 AM on April 29, 2010

Some notes on power-distance and aggression:

Indian workplaces have lower power distance and less aggression than English ones, non-performers won't be shouted at, just eased out. If you come from an aggressive business culture then do not be surprised if people "agree" to do what you demand when you shout at them, and then just don't deliver.

Arab workplaces have a large power distance, expect shouting and drama. Use proper forms of address and go through channels.

The Dutch are extremely blunt and casual, attached to consensus like the Indians, but much more aggressive.
posted by atrazine at 7:06 AM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Project GLOBE might be of interest to you:

I have a (hard) copy of a paper titled "Cultural Acumen for the Global Manager: Lessons from Project GLOBE" and it gives detailed, updated breakdowns of different countries along dimensions such as assertiveness, future orientation, gender differentiation, uncertainty avoidance, power distance as well as institutional emphasis on collectivism vs. individualism and in-group collectivism, and performance orientation, humane orientation. You can memail me for more info.

You could also try googling 'cross-cultural code-switching," it deals with the problems people face when adjusting to cultural differences.
posted by leedly at 8:39 AM on April 29, 2010

Oh also, this is definitely a topic that comes up in business schools. While trying to find that paper online I came across this, which also might be of interest to you:
posted by leedly at 8:41 AM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: France, less productive? Well yeah, that's not only unhelpful, it's patently untrue.
List of countries by GDP (PPP) per hour worked
Note that France is in third place, with Norway second and the USA first.

Others have given great resources for cross-cultural issues. Anthropology delves into a lot of this. And anecdotally, though I did study anthropology as part of my French lit and language degree, in France there's less aggression as well, and a lot more reliance on personal relationships and the interpersonal trust that arises from those. Americans tend to see/experience that as favoritism, which can irk their French counterparts, who see it as treating fellow human beings with respect. (Note that not all French businesspeople share that attitude, just as it's a generalization that doesn't apply to all Americans.) However, like Indians, the French are less aggressive, and since keeping face (for all involved) is also important to them, they'll never mention that they find it irksome.

They also like to take their time building those relationships before diving into contractual details. The biggest misstep I see American businesspeople make in France is when they make scornful remarks about the time they're wasting eating lunch (it's often two hours for business meetings, because it's so important to take that time to build a relationship outside the office). The French will either quietly let the remark pass and sink their business relationship as politely as possible, or there are those who feel their pride injured — because boy are they proud of their food and wines (who wouldn't be?) — and they'll tell the American how uncouth they are, ending the business relationship a lot more quickly. The rare times I've seen it end up working out were when the French had cross-cultural training and recognized the Americans' desire to "get down to business" as natural. (And I have seen Americans with cross-cultural sensitivity come here and be quite happily successful too, since they don't run into those issues.)
posted by fraula at 9:12 AM on April 29, 2010

This web site is a great resource for the very specific thing you're looking for. And it has a lot of countries to reference as well; it's mainly meant as a guide for international business travelers.
posted by KantGoOn at 12:35 PM on April 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Since you are focused on international communication in the workplace consider reading David Victor's book on International Business Communication. You might want to look at this earlier post and my earlier suggestions of the ppt. summation of LESCANT
posted by jadepearl at 5:50 PM on April 29, 2010

You might be interested in the book Start-up Nation: the Story of Israel's Economic Miracle. I haven't been able to get my hands on the book so far, but I read the first few pages online somewhere and it's really fascinating. To use the idea of "power distance" that you brought up, it sounds like Israelis have absolutely no concept of it, and as a result are able to be more frank, ask more questions and generally get more done.
posted by non-kneebiter at 10:05 PM on April 29, 2010

You might find this paper to be of interest: Cultural tendencies in negotiation: A comparison of Finland, India, Mexico, Turkey, and the United States (PDF).

The greater part of the paper covers the results of a survey of business people from those countries on 10 different cultural dimensions, rated on a 5 point scale. Some of them have a multimodal distribution. Do/Do Not guidelines are given for the cultures in question.

There are a number of other studies listed in the references that might be of use to you.
posted by yohko at 7:14 PM on April 30, 2010

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