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Managing people from different cultures can be a challenge.

Different viewpoints, needs and expectations can manifest in many ways within multicultural teams.

For managers with little awareness over the power and influence of cultural differences, it can be tough trying to figure out what might be causing problems within their teams.

However, with some effort and insight, it’s also possible for managers to unpick cultural differences and learn how to manage, or leverage, these differences effectively.

In this blog we’re going to set out the 6 cultural differences we believe every great manager should be aware of!


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6 Important Cultural Differences in Teams


1. Different Approaches to Time

Not every culture in the world experiences time in the same way.

This can be explained by many factors such as environment, history, traditions and general customs.

When it comes to time, the researcher Edward T. Hall categorised cultures as either being monochronic or polychronic.

In cultures where a monochronic approach prevails, time is experienced and used in a linear way. People tend to do one activity at a time and dislike having to move away from a schedule.

In cultures where a polychronic approach to time is preferred, people experience time in the now and tend to focus on several tasks at once. They are much less dependent on detailed structures to control time.


Time and cultural differences


Examples of Cultural Differences Over Time

Below are some examples of how these different approaches to time may be realised within the team or workplace.

1. Planning

 

2. Organising

 

3. Staffing

 


2. Different Expectations Around Hierarchy

Cultures vary in how they understand power, social differences and hierarchy.

The intercultural researcher Hofstede termed this, ‘Power Distance’.

In some cultures, inequality is taken as being the norm and no attempt is made to make any changes. Power difference is natural, good and to be respected as it provides order.

In other cultures, inequality is seen as undesirable, which means it has to be changed. Power difference must be corrected through legal, political and/or economic means.

At work, this difference often comes to the fore around expectations around management styles, responsibility and accountability.


 Hierarchy and cultural differences


Examples of Cultural Differences Over Hierarchy

Below are some examples of how these different approaches to hierarchy may be realised within the team or workplace.

1. Planning

 

2. Organising


3. Directing

 


3. Different Understandings of Co-operation

Do you think all cultures understand co-operation and collaboration in the same way?

They don’t.

In some cultures, especially those built on the idea of a ‘free market’, co-operation is much more competitive. Employees are encouraged to take personal responsibility, to be better than their colleagues, to acquire personal wealth and to push for personal success.

In other cultures, co-operation has nothing to do with the above but more about collective harmony, a pleasant working space and future security. Competition is seen as aggressive and selfish.

It is very easy for people from different cultural backgrounds to misinterpret the intentions of colleagues.


Teamwork cultural differences


Examples of Cultural Differences Over Co-Operation

Below are some examples of how these different approaches to co-operation may be realised within the team or workplace.

1. Planning


2. Organising


3. Directing


4. Different Emphasis on Tasks

Within teams, different cultures will place different emphasis on tasks.

Some cultures focus on getting things done, while others focus on how things get done.

Within the cultural training field this is often referred to as Task-Orientated vs Relationship-Orientated cultures.

For task-orientated cultures, they see success and progress as completing jobs, tasks, projects and actions. They seek challenge and love achieving personal goals. Their prime motivators are recognition of achievement and promotion.

For the relationship-orientated cultures, it’s all about the people – building and nurturing sound relationships. The emphasis is placed on working in the moment and living the experience rather than achievement itself. The prime motivators are is the promise of future rewards while maintaining social harmony.


Tasks cultural differences


Examples of Cultural Differences Over Tasks

Below are some examples of how these different approaches to tasks may be realised within the team or workplace.

1. Planning


2. Organising

 

3. Directing


5. Difference Levels of Personal Space

What is private and what is personal varies greatly from culture to culture.

Some cultures like to keep their personal lives private. They may expect more personal space, not only in terms of physical distance, but generally. They may interpret questions about their families as prying or jump back if a colleague tried to put their arms around them.

Other cultures expect a much more personal approach. They don’t keep their personal lives private and expect to know their colleagues personally. They tend to be more ‘touchy feely’ at work and become much more emotionally invested.

Within teams, this can have several consequences for trust and communication.


 Space and cultural differences


Examples of Cultural Differences Over Personal Space

Below are some examples of how these different approaches to space may be realised within the team or workplace.

1. Planning

 

2. Organising

3. Controlling


6. Different Communication Styles

Communication styles change from culture to culture.

Edward T. Hall categorised cultures as being either High or Low Context communicators.

In high-context cultures, such as those found in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, the physical context of the message carries a great deal of importance. People tend to be more indirect and to expect the person they are communicating with to decode the implicit part of their message.

In low-context cultures, such as the United States, Germany and the Netherlands, people tend to be explicit and direct in their communications. It’s in such cultures you’ll hear phrases such as “Say what you mean”, “Cut to the Chase” and “Stop beating around the bush.”

For those not aware of these basic differences, it can cause all sort of communication challenges within the workplace.


Communication cultural differences


Examples of Cultural Differences Over Communication

Below are some examples of how these different approaches to communication may be realised within the team or workplace.

1. Planning

 

2. Organising

 

3. Staffing


Thanks for reading our quick guide to managing different cultures. We hope your found it useful.


Learn more about Management across the World

Management Cultures

 

If you want to learn more about the management culture of a particular country, then have a look at our Cross Cultural Management Guides.

Over 60+ countries covered with great insights into expectations and norms around management.


Learn more about Managing Your Team

Manager learning course

 

If you are looking for some tailored training, we also offer custom training courses on managing multicultural teams.

Our experts will design and deliver a course specifically for you and/or your team.

 


Take a Course on Cultural Differences at Work

If you are new to cultural differences, then why not sign-up for our Cultural Awareness eLearning Course?

It’s a great introduction to the topic and a useful starting point.

You can watch a sample below for free or visit the course page if you want to upgrade for only $5.



Infographic: 6 Common Cultural Differences in Teams

Feel free to download and/or share the infopgraphic for this article.

Image by Commisceo Global Consulting Ltd. available via Wikimedia and can be reused under the CC BY License.

 

6 Cultural differences in team infographic


Main Photo by Jud Mackrill on Unsplash