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Cross Cultural Management Guide for Afghanistan

The guidance offered below is for managers who want to learn more about the management style and business culture of Afghanistan.

It provides some useful information for managers who are relocating to the country for employment as well as those who may have Afghani employees in their global or multicultural teams.

Topics include:

  • Hierarchy
  • Relationships
  • Communication 
  • Honour
  • Change
  • Time management

Management in Afghanistan

There are some key cultural considerations that you need to take into account if you are to be successful in your Afghanistan business management role:

  • The business culture in Afghanistan is extremely hierarchical which means that roles tend to be strictly defined. 
  • Managers in Afghanistan are often very paternalistic and relationships with their employees usually overlap in the personal sphere.
  • You may find that managers in Afghanistan give their employees help and assistance with family and even money problems, which might involve bringing their wages forward if this is considered necessary.
  • They may be invited to employee weddings or other important occasions too.
  • If managing an Afghani team, then you should be prepared for your team members to raise subjects with you which may not be strictly work-related. 
  • The concept of honour is extremely important in Afghanistan and managers go to great lengths to protect the honour and reputation of their employees.
  • One of the ways they do this is by ensuring that any issues concerning an employee are discussed privately.
  • To do so publicly would bring great shame on the employee if other employees became aware of any issues being discussed.
  • This need for privacy also extends to small issues too. 
  • Managers in Afghanistan also avoid challenging staff members or putting them on the spot in front of others, as the inability to answer a question sufficiently could again lead to feelings of shame or impact one's honour.
  • When managing members of an Afghani team, then you too should ensure that you never humiliate someone or cause them upset by discussing problems (no matter how small) publicly or challenging them in front of other team members.
  • If the need arises for an Afghani manager to raise an issue with someone fairly close to them in status, then it's likely they will only speak to that individual indirectly about the matter at hand. They might, for example, describe the situation as concerning a third-party act. 
  • In cases of dismissal, it's rare for managers in Afghanistan to communicate the real reasons underlying the dismissal.
  • Again, this is to protect honour and managers are, instead, more likely to outline the reasons for dismissal as being a result of budgeting problems. 

The Role of a Manager in Afghanistan

Let's take a look at the role of a manager in a little more detail:

  • As already outlined, managers in Afghanistan are often fairly paternalistic and for this reason, their involvement may extend outside of the workplace into the personal lives of their employees.
  • They often take on an almost parental role in some ways and employees typically see their manager as someone that they can approach for support. 
  • Managers are responsible for making decisions and shaping team direction.  
  • Managers are also responsible for ensuring that individual roles are well-scoped and that people perform within the remits of their roles. 
  • The concept of personal strength is important to managers in Afghanistan and as such, it is key that you do not demonstrate any managerial or technical  ‘weaknesses’.

Approach to change

The need to maintain the status quo and mitigate any negative impacts on the ‘group’ is greatly valued in Afghanistan. For this reason, you are likely to find that managers in Afghanistan are averse to change. How might this preference manifest in the workplace? 

  • Change takes considerable time to implement and decisions concerning change are preceded by a detailed analysis of risk.
  • As such, if you make a business case for change, then you must prepare a detailed and convincing rationale which outlines the business need and the subsequent business value. 
  • Managers in Afghanistan are only likely to follow through with changes if they believe the change will not threaten the working cohesion of the team.
  • You are unlikely to find people in Afghanistan who are inspired and motivated by opportunities for change.

Decision Making

Managers in Afghanistan are chosen based on their skills and broader business knowledge.

  • It is not considered appropriate for a manager to liaise with his / her subordinates when making business decisions.
  • In fact, this would result in a loss of respect for the manager as employees may conclude that they have insufficient knowledge to make the decisions themselves.
  • This may consequently result in the manager losing the trust and confidence of his / her team members.
  • Decisions are typically made by the most senior person in an organisation in Afghanistan.
  • Consequently, if a decision needs to be made, then it is more time efficient to direct the request to the most senior respective contact.

Approach to time and priorities

Afghanistan is a fluid time culture, and as is the case with many fluid time cultures, it is also very relationship-oriented:

  • People in Afghanistan tend to avoid upsetting others and make every to maintain harmony.
  • Since Afghanis typically place priority on relationships over deadlines, then it's likely that the deadline will be allowed to slip rather than the relationship being risked in any way. 
  • While appointments and schedules need to be set well in advance as a sign of respect for the individual, you need to understand that those schedules are seen as flexible, not necessarily needing to be adhered to.
  • The increased adherence however to global business standards means that local managers in Afghanistan may understand and appreciate the importance of adherence to schedules and deadlines.
  • When working with people from Afghanistan, or, when managing Afghani teams, then it’s advisable to reinforce the importance of the agreed-upon deadlines and to outline the impacts on the rest of the organization if they are not adhered to. 

Boss or team player?

Due to the hierarchical set-up of Afghanistan, the manager must maintain his / her role as ‘boss’ as this engenders respect from within the team:

  • When the manager needs to work collectively with his / her team however, then it is essential that the need to work collectively for the benefit of the task in hand is clearly stated and that the team are encouraged to operate openly in a non-threatening environment.
  • If contributions are made by a member of the team which are not useful/necessary to the discussion, then managers must ensure these comments are dealt with as sensitively as possible in a bid to protect the honour of the individual.
  • To do otherwise, would result in the individual feeling shamed and the rest of the team stepping back from participating.

Communication and negotiation styles

The concept of ‘strength’ is important in Afghanistan and as such the win-lose mentality is prevalent. How might this show in the business environment?:

  • Managers in Afghanistan feel that compromise is a weakness and may resist compromise even if it might be of mutual benefit to all concerned.
  • Likewise, if a manager is trying to sell something then securing the highest price is a testament to his / her strength.
  • This approach may make negotiation a challenge as Afghanis are typically very effective negotiators. 

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