Review
6 July 2015
The Culture Map – how to navigate the complexities of cultural differences?
The Culture Map – how to navigate the complexities of cultural differences?

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I have met Erin Meyer at Project Management (PMI)® Leadership Institute Meeting (LIM)® held in May in London. Inspired by her talk decided to read her book and share some thoughts with you.   Erin is a professor at INSEAD, one of the leading international business schools. Her work focuses on how the world’s most successful managers navigate the complexities of cultural differences in a global environment. She offers cutting-edge insight and practical strategies to improve the effectiveness of projects that span the globe.

Globalization is a fact and whether you like it or not, today’s workplace is no longer defined by its bricks and mortar walls. Managing global teams is both challenging and interesting. Being open to individual differences is important but not sufficient to succeed in today’s complex global business world. We also need to be aware of cultural differences, which run deep.

The way a team functions is directly related to the organization, but challenges in teams also come about as a result of national cultural differences. There are regional, generational, departmental, functional, organizational plus cultural differences, which increase with virtual world as more boundaries need to be crossed. Additional to these a team creates its own culture.

In this complex environment, The Culture Map. Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business by Erin Meyer is a must-read for everyone who wants to be an effective manager. In the book Erin offers a practical framework to help leaders to navigate through cultural differences.

Although there are a few other culture typologies and a lot of books on this subject I found this 8 dimentions- model very useful and complimentary to others. It opened my mind a lot and made me realized that not the place on the scale is important, but the gap between one culture and another. Let me give you an example. British are more time focused  (linear-time) than French, so find French very disorganized and chaotic, always late. On the other hand Indians who are very flexible regarding time (flexible-time) find French too much rigid, structured, focused on punctuality. The same culture can be described completely differently depends the perception. We can have totally opposite perception of the same culture because we see it through our lenses. Very often we are trapped in  stereotyping, so become aware of the both cultural and individual differences help us in being more successful in a global environment. Interested in how Erin explains it- Watch the video.

For example Geert Hofstede divides cultures into 6 dimentions:

  1. Large versus Small Power Distance
  2. Individualism versus Collectivism
  3. Masculinity versus Femininity
  4. Strong versus Weak Uncertainty Avoidance
  5. Long Term Orientation versus Short Term Orientation.
  6. Indulgence versus Restraint

Solomon & Schell propose 7 dimentions:

  1. Hierarchy versus Equality/ Egalitarism
  2. Individual versus Group
  3. Direct versus Indirect
  4. Task versus Relationship
  5. Risk versus Restraint
  6. Long term orientation versus Short term orientation
  7. Work versus Family

Very similar to Solomon & Schell, Intercultural Awarness Model (IMAC) covers 8 groups:

  1. Hierarchical vs. Egalitarian
  2. Formal vs. Informal
  3. Individual vs. Group
  4. Interpersonal vs. Transactional
  5. Direct vs. Indirect
  6. Controlled vs. Fluid time
  7. External vs. Internal
  8. Status vs. Balance

Erin Meyer’s 8 dimentions:

  1. Communicating: Low-context – High-context
  2. Evaluating: Direct negative feedback -Indirect negative feedback
  3. Persuading: Principles-first -Applications-first
  4. Leading: Egalitarian – Hierarchical
  5. Deciding: Consensual – Top-down
  6. Trusting: Task-based – Relationship-based
  7. Disagreeing: Confrontational – Avoids confrontation
  8. Scheduling: Linear-time – Flexible-time

In this post I’m going to explain two of these 8 dimentions in more details.

Communicating: Low-context – High-context

Low-context societies communicate explicitly – what is said is meant, the message is simple and clear, they do not assume the same background, so repeat the message a few times which might be irritating for high-context cultures. In high-context the communication is implicit, the message is nuanced and layered, body language is crucial, so we need to learn to read between lines. Japan is the most high-context society due to long shared history, followed by Korea, China and Indonesia. US is the most low-context culture followed by Australia, Canada, Netherlands, Germany, UK. Poland is in the middle on the scale, closer to low-context which doesn’t mean it is easer for us to adjust.

Note: Multicultural Teams need low-context processes.

Evaluating: Direct negative feedback ” Indirect negative feedback

Don’t be surprised as not all low-context cultures are direct in criticism. Not only Americans and French (France is much higher context than US)  swaps their places. In US negative feedback needs to be softened so first 3 positive things are discussed followed by negative ones. Also down-grades are used (sort of, maybe, slightly), which might be very confusing for direct negative feedback cultures, like Israel, Russia, Netherlands, Germany or France who are so straight forward and use up-grades (totally, definitely, very). People from different cultures believe in constructive criticism, but constructive in one culture might be viewed as destructive in another. Reading the book I have realized that my friend is so direct in negative feedback because of her Israeli background and till now I had wrongly thought that it was her individual trait.

Low – context/direct criticism: Netherlands, Germany, Australia

High-context/direct criticism: Israel, Russia, France, Spain, Italy

Low – context/indirect criticism: US, Canada, UK

High-context/ indirect criticism: Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, China, Kenya, India, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil.

More to come in my next post.

PMI, Project Management Insitute, LIM, Leadership Institute Meeting are the registered trade marks of the Project Management Institute, Inc.

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