My wife and I are originally from Mexico and we’ve been living in Canada for the last 11 years. A few years ago, my sister in law (who is also Mexican) was about to get married with a guy from Spain. When they were about to get married somehow he said “I should get married using a charro suit”
This is what a Charro suit looks like. My sister in law replied “those are very expensive”. He said “Well, maybe I can borrow one from your father”. She said “You cannot do that!!!”. His reply: “What? We are about the same size!”.The point here was that nobody owns a Charro suit in Mexico, but he though we all did. When we talk about intercultural relationships, life is full of little misunderstanding like that.
Let’s begin with a story: A Canadian businessman goes to China to close a deal. He is having a very good meeting with the Chinese client, and at the end of the meeting he is asked about some details. He replies he has to go back to his office and talk to some of his peers to make a final decision. He never hears back from them. Why? Today we’ll answer that question.
Who can tell me what this is?This is a representation of the day of the dead, in Mexico. It is part of a culture, and no one who is immersed in that culture needs explaining of what this is. The simplest definition of culture is “what goes without saying”. Our culture is what is familiar, recognizable, habitual.
All of these are cultural expressions. The way we give logic to the world begins at birth with the gestures, words, tone of voice, noises, colors, smells, and body contact we experience. Culture influences everything we do, and how we interpret the world.
When we talk about culture, it is important to understand the difference between stereotyping and generalizing, where basically stereotyping is a bad word. Stereotype: A belief about a person or group considered to typify or conform to one pattern, lacking any individuality. Key: Judgmental attitude.Generalization: A principle, statement or idea having general, not specific, application. When applied to individuals, a generalization serves as a hypothesis, to be tested and observed. Key: open attitude.
To identify cultural differences, we can use the concept of “cultural dimensions”.Let’s take, for example, our host country, France, and use a very simple, basic set of dimensions.PDI – Power Distance IndexFrance scores high on the scale of the PDI. It is therefore a society in which inequalities are accepted. Hierarchy is needed if not existential; the superiors may have privileges and are often inaccessible.The power is highly centralized in France, as well as Paris centralizes administrations, transports etc.In management, the attitude towards managers is more formal, the information flow is hierarchical. The way information is controlled is even associated with power, therefore unequally distributed.IDV – Individualism France scores high on the individualistic index. This means that the French favor individual and private opinions, taking care of themselves and immediate family rather than belonging to a group. In the work environment, the relationship with work is contract based, the focus is on the task and autonomy is favored. The communication is direct and everyone is allowed to speak up, voice out their opinions even more if they do not agree.The management is the management of individuals and the recognition of one‘s work is expected.MAS – Masculinity France is a relatively Feminine country. With its famous welfare system (securitésociale), their 35 working hours/week and 5 weeks holidays per year, France cares for its quality of life and focuses more on work in order to live than the reverse. Competition amongst work colleagues is usually not favored as feminine societies have more sympathy for the underdog. And material signs of success, especially flashy ones, should not be too visible. The management should be supportive and dialogue should help resolve conflicts.UAI – Uncertainty Avoidance IndexFrance has one the highest scores on the UAI Index. Certainty is often reached through academic work and concepts that can respond for the need of detail, context, and background. Teachings and trainings are more deductive. In management structure, rules and security are welcome and if lacking, it creates stress. Therefore planning is favored, some level of expertise welcome, when change policies on the other hand are considered stressful.LTO – Long Term OrientationFrance is a short term oriented society. This means a great respect for tradition as well as a need for norms and absolute truth as guidelines. In terms of business this short term orientation focuses on quick results i.e. companies are driven by quarterly results. Consumption is driven by immediate gratification, sensitivity to social trends and rituals. There’s not much focus on saving. Management is based on self reliance, personal achievement, hard work and managers are judged on short term results.
This compares France and India’s five dimensions of culture. Side by side, we can compare and identify possible conflict areas. These differences get reflected in different aspects of everyday life, and most interactions between two individuals with different cultures, will reflect these differences somehow.
Next, we will se an example of how culture differences play a role in everyday interactions. The following is a clip from the movie “Fools Rush In”, set in the United States of America, portraying differences between American and Mexican culture.
Now, when we talk about a team, culture is one of the five centrifugal forces in a global team. We could talk for hours about the five of them, however today we are focusing only on culture. To deal with the cultural aspects of a team, there are simple tools we can use.
The first of these tools is the cultural liaison.The cultural liaison might be a team member, project manager, or executive who knows well the key stakeholder sites (in some cases travels back and forth). The liaison's roleis to facilitate the cultural, linguistic, and organizational flow of communication and to bridge cultures, mediate conflicts, and resolve cultural miscommunications.The liaison's goal is to reduce both national and organizational culture distance, and to overcome socio-cultural tensions within projects.• Translate polices and practices into local languages and/or cultural context.• Institute training programs geared towards promoting the benefits of cultural diversity.• Make sure project leader(s) are be aware of sites cultural differences, possible conflicts and possible cultural miscommunications.• Encourage inter-organizational communications and socializing.• Facilitate communication of company's values and vision.• Make sure documents and communications use English as the common language.
Another tool, and this one is not one that accountants like, is Site Visits.Honestly, even with all our technology, nothing beats face-to-face.And one of the goals of site visits is to BUILD TRUST.No trust in a team, no results“Trust need touch”Different cultures develop trust at different ratesAs a team goes through evolution, trust is builtMost useful technique:Face– to–face meetings
Cultural intelligence is about understanding how to deal with cultural aspects that influence the way we work together. Include aspects like:Means of communication: understanding if a culture is high context or low context.Introductory greetings: in some cultures it is good to know these exist, in some it is better to not even try.Conversation patterns: how often or permissible is it to cross the line to social and informal?Role of the manager: decisions are centered around the manager? How formal are relationships?Time management: is time fluid or punctual? Planning: how important is it to spend a lot of time planning, or is it a JDI approach? Conflict and debate: Is conflict something to be avoided? Some cultures vent personal issues openly, but avoid it in the workplace.
Cultural training is one of the vehicles to help the global team. Now, how does a cultural training look like?
A cultural training should be based on 10 cultural dimensions, which cover more aspects of culture in more depth. The Cultural Orientations Indicator (COI) is the center of a tool called The Cultural Navigator, which is a web-based, self-reporting tool designed to foster self-awareness and other-awareness so users can effectively communicate and collaborate in a global team environment.
Canada Harmony✓ Value harmony in interactions.✓ Generally engage in consensus building prior to proposing a solution.✓ Stakeholders expect to be informed, to ask questions, and toprovide input.India Harmony✓ Display harmony orientation towards their environment.✓ Mostly strive to ensure that all participants in a given interaction arein agreement.✓ Desire to avoid conflict in most situations.✓ In order for a task to be completed, all members of the group mustagree on the process and required outcome before any work willactually be done.
FocusCanada Single ✓ Describe themselves as planners and generally like to focus on onething at a time and separate work into a series of tasks, sequentiallyIndia Multi✓ Multi-focus orientation to time and enjoy doing many activitiessimultaneously.✓ Not averse to interrupting a task in order to have a chat or animpromptu meeting.PerceptionCanada Fixed✓ Tend to value time and divide it into discrete chunks.✓ Schedules are made, timelines are created, and meetings areexpected to start and end on time.✓ Generally time conscious and respectful of other peoples’ time.India Fluid ✓ Acknowledge that time is an important factor in their lives, but donot feel bound by it or feel the need to control or manage itPredilectionCanada Future ✓ Focused on long- term considerations, yet also influenced by shorttermdemands and historical factorsIndia Present✓ Short-term results and instant gratification.✓ Very little future planning or looking to the past for guidance.✓ Enjoy thinking about what can be done and achieved “here andnow.”
Canada Being/Doing✓ Prefer both being and doing orientations in their outlook at work.✓ Guided by a concern for building and maintaining good relationshipswith those around them, and at the same time, concerned withaccomplishing tasks quickly.✓ Focus on completing tasks may override building relationships,particularly in work environments.India Being✓ Display a being orientation by focusing more on buildingrelationships rather than the completion of tasks.✓ Historically have also embraced meditation, reflection, and thecontemplation of one’s life and deeds.
ContextCanada Low ✓ Sending emails, making telephone contact, and writingagreements tends to be directIndia High✓ More emphasis on tone, gestures, and personal interpretationthan on understanding the words, spoken or written.✓ Speak indirectly rather than saying exactly what they think.✓ Prefer not to say “no” in order to keep from being offensive.DirectCanada Indirect ✓ Handle conflict in an implicit way by avoiding directconfrontation and communicating indirectly India Indirect ✓ Tend to be cautious about the way they approach conflict andcriticismExpressiveStyleCanada Instrumental✓ Tend to expect factual, objective, and pragmatic exchanges ofinformation, including information about problems as well asprogress.India Expressive✓ Communication is expressive, involving feelings and emotions,and often contains a long, drawn-out eloquent expression ofone’s thoughts, ideas, and feelings.FormalityCanada Informal ✓ Casual, relaxed and friendly in workplace and businessexchanges. However, there is still protocol observedIndia Formal✓ Tend to be more formal in their communication style and aremindful of tradition, protocol, and etiquette when dealing withone another.
Canada Private✓ Generally place distance between people through separate offices,work cubicles, seating arrangements, or room size.✓ A first greeting or business greeting is usually done with a firmhandshake, standing about an arm’s length apart.✓ Tend to be private about their personal politics and religion, evenwith long-time colleagues.India Public✓ Public orientation when taking into account personal space and arenot averse to frequent interruptions during meetings, physicalproximity when standing, and touching one another whencommunicating.✓ They are also not averse to asking personal questions aroundmarriage, salary, etc. in the initial stages of interaction.
Canada Equality✓ Consistently see themselves as valuing equality.✓ Economic and social differences at work and within their ownpersonal lives are downplayed or minimized.✓ Are generally uncomfortable with overtly hierarchical powerstructures, yet they are well aware of these realities.India Hierarchy✓ Believe in rank and authority and place emphasis on one’s hierarchyin an organization or company.✓ They believe that position, age, and tittles are a good indicator ofstatus and authority.
Canada Individualistic/Collectivistic✓ Employers and employees exhibit both an individualistic andcollectivistic focus. While they tend to be driven, motivated, andrewarded by their own personal interests and accomplishments, theyalso strive for consensus making and community input.India Collectivistic✓ Feel a strong sense of belonging to their community and society,which is displayed in their collectivistic orientation and outlook.✓ They are likely to define themselves by the group, community, club,or organization to which they belong.
Canada Cooperative✓ Employers and employees tend to balance cooperation andcompetition in their work environments.✓ They generally balance work demands and work ambitions with thegoal of achieving harmonious communities for working and living.✓ Businesses and organizations compete for grants, contracts and salesrevenues, while individuals compete for promotion, personalrecognition, and material rewards.India Cooperative✓ Tend to be cooperative, and seek harmony over competition inmost scenarios.✓ Even when competition exists between two colleagues, it rarely isacknowledged publicly.✓ Would rather strive towards a conclusion that allows everyone tobenefit.
Canada Order✓ At work, generally feel comfortable with clearly defined parametersand guidelines for work activities.✓ They appreciate job descriptions that indicate clearly what isexpected of them. They also expect to have room for flexibility andindependent problem solving.India Order✓ Display an order orientation towards structure.✓ Prefer structure and definition in most of the things that they do,particularly in the workplace
Perceptionof ideasCanada Inductive✓ When listening to presentations or being presented with anargument, they expect to hear practical details, relevant experiences,and concrete data.✓ Businesspeople are generally inductive thinkers, relying more onexperience than theory. However, in thinking through decisions,logical foundations and principles are often referred to and provide ashared framework for analyzing projected outcomes, options, andsolutions.India Inductive✓ Indians tend to prefer to make decisions based on experience,examples, and experimentation, reflecting their inductive orientationtowards thinking.ProblemsolvingCanada Linear ✓ Tend to approach problems by breaking them down into separatecomponents, dealing with each component in sequence.India Linear ✓ They prefer to view situations as casually connected events andanalyze them in intricate details, rather than look at the ‘big’ picture.
barriers in an Agile
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan
Photo David Madison/Getty Images
Photo Dieter Spannknebel/Getty Images
Data source: http://geert-hofstede.com/france.html
The liaison's role is to facilitate the
cultural, linguistic, and organizational flow
of communication and to bridge
cultures, mediate conflicts, and resolve
• Translate polices and practices.
• Create awareness of sites’ cultural differences.
• Encourage communications and socializing.
• Facilitate communication.
• Make sure a common language is used.
Photo Martin Barraud/Getty Images
Avoid excess: cross-
Expensive and time consuming?
Allows room for the
benefit of the doubt
Helps to build a common
Photo Paul Burns/Getty Images
Cultural Orientations Indicator ® (COI)
Photos Dieter Spannknebel/Getty ImagesPhoto Dieter Spannknebel/Getty Images
COI® for India and Canada taken from The Cultural Navigator ®
How individuals view and relate to the people, objects, and
issues in their sphere of influence
How individuals perceive the nature of time and its use
How Time is perceived
How individuals view actions and interactions
How individuals express themselves
Low Context High Context
How individuals demarcate their physical and psychological
How individuals view different power relationships
How individuals define their identity
How individuals are motivated. This dimension measures
what motivates people in regard to others
How individuals approach change, risk, ambiguity, and
uncertainty. This dimension ranges from those who like to
work within orderly confines, to those who flourish in flexible
How individuals conceptualize
Perception of Ideas
• Culture plays a big role in geographically dispersed or
• Cultural awareness helps the team.
• Tools we can use:
– Cultural liaison
– Site visits
• Building trust
– Cultural training
• Cultural intelligence
Removing cultural barriers in an Agile Team