29 April 2013
According to the Oxford dictionary, culture is all the ideas, customs and social behaviours shared by a particular people or society. It includes language, dressing, taste, food, appearance, gestures, norms, values, symbols, beliefs, history, religion and taboos.
In a globalizing context, multicultural teams – composed of people from different backgrounds – are becoming more and more frequent. Therefore, managers have to take it into account: indeed, employees may have divergent points of view related to work. Perception of time might differ from a country to another, and a reasonable project deadline for somebody may appear to be ridiculously short for someone else from a different culture. Other example, the acceptable interpersonal distance between two employees may vary as well, resulting in one person feeling embarrassed because of an excessive proximity, or on the contrary, feeling rejected.
Referring to Hofstede, we can define a country’s culture using 5 indexes:
- Power distance (PD): “the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organizations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally”.
- Individualism (IDV) vs. collectivism: “the degree of interdependence a society maintains among its members”.
- Masculinity (MAS) vs. femininity: indicates if the society is whether highly driven by competition (masculine) or more into caring about welfare (feminine).
- Uncertainty avoidance (UA): “The extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by ambiguous or unknown situations and have created beliefs and institutions that try to avoid these”.
- Long term orientation (LTO): “the extent to which a society shows a pragmatic future-oriented perspective rather than a conventional historical short-term point of view”.
Let’s compare Thailand to another country I know well for spending there a couple months: USA.
Source: The Hofstede Centre
Thai culture accepts inequalities more easily than USA. Here in Thailand, employees are more likely to submit to hierarchy than Americans, raised in an “equal rights for all” society. Without surprise, USA has a highly individualist culture, promoting the “self-made man” image, whereas Thailand is a collectivist country, fostering the group over the individual. While Thai people are caring a lot about their quality of life, welfare and family (feminine society), American culture is definitely more about assertiveness and competitive spirit (masculine). They try to control everything and plan any unexpected issue, afraid of an uncertain future, whereas Thai culture relies on its ability to adapt to changes. For them, given that we cannot control elements, we have to be flexible and reactive to face unforeseen events. Finally, Americans measure performance in terms of immediate loss and profits: success depends on your turnover. On the contrary, Thai culture favors a long-term vision: what is well-made is most likely to last, thus a perennial company is synonym of success.
Consequently, an American-Thai-mixed team appears to be inconceivable.
So, what’s the point of building such a team if it only goes with problems?
At Broadgate, we do believe in the potential of multicultural management. The key for a success is communication. The mandatory condition is obviously to speak English (or have a common language): if employees are not able to understand neither each other nor the manager, it’s pointless. Moreover, the manager should spend time with its employees, to create trust and proximity on the one hand, and make sure people clearly get what’s going on, efficiently work as a team and get to know each other. In order to achieve this goal, a flat structure allowing informal communication is preferable. Not a coincidence if there is no door inside of Broadgate office!
Working with people from different backgrounds is a mutual enrichment. Every employee will widen his perception and open-mindedness. Moreover, though conflicts in a company are inevitable perhaps even healthy – we think their resolution is source of innovation. Sharing different points of views instead of imposing one to reach an agreement promotes creativity and will result eventually in a flexible team, able to adapt to any situation. In a nutshell: a valuable asset for any company nowadays.
To me, it’s also a double experience: I’m offered a unique experience to complete an internship overseas (which combines a professional experience and a total change of cultural scenery) as well as learning from my colleagues’ culture and thus improve myself.
Working in an intercultural team is for me both a challenge and a great reward.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of The Broadgate Financial Group.