There’s a lot of talk today about unconscious bias, diversity and inclusion, and how to successfully go global, especially hyper-growth companies. However, with all this talk, an important specific discussion point is being pushed aside—that of cultural diversity.
This is a mistake.
Very likely your business or organization is made up of people from different cultures, is located in multiple countries, and/or has customers from diverse cultural backgrounds. In today’s business world, we need to address cultural diversity head on. If we don’t, the success of our organizations could slip out of reach.
Here are three cultural dimensions for you to be aware of that can cause challenges in cross cultural teamwork.
Process- or results-oriented. The way we set goals and work to achieve them differs depending on culture. If a culture is process-oriented, that means they have a carefully thought out plan in place and understand how they are going to achieve the goal before they start moving towards it. If a culture is results-oriented, the plan or even the results may change as they work to achieve them—which is okay because it is all part of a greater vision.
Cultures such as American or Israeli are more results-oriented whereas cultures such as German or Russian are more process-oriented. There are pros and cons to both. Being a results-oriented person, one could get results faster but not to the level of quality of a process-oriented individual. On the flip side, being process-oriented may be more thorough and higher quality, but slower in execution than a results-oriented person.
Time-controlled and -uncontrolled. The way cultures view time is not uniform. Some cultures, such as the Swiss, view time as something that can be controlled. (I mean they make watches!) Other cultures, such as India, see it as something that is more flexible. For cultures in which time cannot be controlled, people take priority. For example, in these cultures, if you bump into a friend on the way to a meeting—you talk to that friend. Spontaneity plays a role. Deadlines are flexible. Schedules vary. In cultures where time is controlled, you tell that friend that you need to catch them later—you have a meeting to get to! Time is linear. Schedules are rigid.
High and Low Hierarchy. The org chart is higher or flatter depending on where you’re doing business. In high hierarchy cultures, the manager or supervisor is the expert and isn’t to be questioned. The culture is much more directive and hands-on. There’s less initiative and debate. In low hierarchy cultures, the manager and individuals of the team collaborate, they share thoughts, and debate questions. I’m reminded of a French manager I consulted with who was leading a team in Mexico, a high hierarchy culture. He asked one of the team members to present problems to the team related to a project. Soon after, the team member disappeared and eventually left the job. This was because he thought this act would be an insult to his boss and put his job on the line. Whereas, in reality, the manager—who comes from a low-hierarchy culture—merely wanted his expertise.
While these differences are profound, when you work to bridge and balance them, great synergy can arise. In fact, having a multicultural team with diverse perspectives is a rich breeding ground for innovation to meet the needs of the global marketplace. So, stop pushing the topic of cultural diversity aside. It is time to talk about our differences!