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Cross Cultural Management Guide for Ecuador

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

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

Topics include:

  • Hierarchical leadership style 
  • Time and scheduling fluidity  
  • Indirect communication culture
  • Negotiation style 

Being a Manager in Ecuador

The business set up in Ecuador is very formal and foreign managers will be more successful if they are courteous at all times and treat those in positions of authority with respect and deference:

  • Spend time cultivating relationships and maintaining them once they are formed. Networking is extremely important in this relationship-driven culture.
  • This is a country where "who you know" is often more important than "what you know".
  • Interpersonal relationships, including loyalty to family and friends, are the linchpin of successful business interactions.
  • You may find that greater value is placed on relationships as opposed to meeting other commitments. 
  • This makes patience an important attribute in Ecuador. 

The Role of a Manager

Managers should be in mind that each person has a very distinct role within the organization: 

  • Defined roles and accountabilities are considered an important part of ensuring business flow, as such, people tend to work within their roles and rarely step outside of their roles to support other functions.
  • People believe that their supervisors have been chosen because they have more experience than those they manage, and it is, therefore, unnecessary, and even inappropriate for them to consult with lower-ranking individuals when decision-making.
  • In Ecuador, as in other hierarchical societies, managers may take a somewhat paternalistic attitude towards their employees.
  • They may demonstrate a concern for employees that goes beyond the workplace and strictly professional concerns.
  • This may include involvement in their family, housing, health, and other practical life issues.
  • Managers may also arrange for advances on salaries if someone is struggling financially. 

Approach to Change

Ecuador is seen to have a medium tolerance for change and risk. What might this mean for your experience of the business culture in Ecuador?:

  • Changes are unlikely to be accepted if they have not been fully scoped and researched. 
  • Due to the importance placed on the group and relationships, proposed changes should also benefit the company as a whole.
  • As such, you may find that emphasising the personal and group benefits of proposed change makes the changes far more likely to be accepted than changes which promote benefits such as time-saving, for example.  
  • The fear of exposure, and the potential of embarrassment that may accompany failure, bring about an aversion to risk and because of this attitude, cultural sensitivity is going to be required.
  • Failure can be viewed as a personal shortcoming and can cause a long-term loss of confidence in the individual as well as in the group.

Approach to Time and Priorities

Deadlines and timescales are fluid in Ecuador. You should consider that:

  • While timescales and deadlines need to be set well in advance and reiterated carefully, it should be understood that these will be viewed as flexible.
  • Global working means that some managers may have a greater appreciation of the need to enforce timescales and as such, agreed deadlines are more likely to be met.

Decision Making

Ecuadorian business is rigidly hierarchical. There are still remnants of social class distinctions in the business arena. Bosses are usually from a different social class than their subordinates and, although they may take an interest in their well-being, they do not socialize with them. You may also find that the business culture in Ecuador makes it more likely that:

  • Managers are more autocratic than in many other countries.
  • Managers do not seek a consensus before making decisions, as they believe it would make them appear weak.
  • For the most part, decisions are reached at the top of the company and given to managers to implement.
  • However, if the decision concerns something technical, the decision maker may seek group consensus, although he can override the group.
  • Subordinates often appear timid when dealing with someone in a position of authority.
  • They attempt to avoid confrontation and tell their manager what he wants to hear, even if it is not the absolute truth.

Boss or Team Player?

  • Due to hierarchy, managers tell subordinates what they want to be done and how they expect them to perform the task.
  • Employees follow a manager’s instructions without comment, as it would be rude to challenge someone of a higher status.
  • Successful management will rely on the individual’s interpersonal skills and ability to maintain cordial relationships with their subordinates.
  • This can be as important as their technical knowledge.

Communication and Negotiation Styles

Personal relationships are important to Ecuadorians. They prefer to deal with those they trust; therefore they take time to develop relationships and it may take several visits to accomplish a simple task:

  • If you are visiting Ecuador with the intention of negotiating a deal, then ensure you spend plenty of time getting to know your counterparts in advance.
  • You may wish, for example, to arrange an initial meeting which focuses purely on small talk and exchanging company and personal information.
  • This may then be followed up with a social meal to further build the business relationship.
  • To avoid any miscommunication, ensure you have all written material available in both English and Spanish.
  • The communication style in Ecuador is fairly indirect. 
  • This means that your counterparts may signal their feelings more indirectly through body language or facial gestures. 
  • You may also find that meaning is conveyed in what isn't said as opposed to what is said. 
  • As such, spend a great deal of time listening as this will give you the opportunity to decode intentions and meanings.
  • Part of the indirect communication culture means that Ecuadorians do not like to disagree.
  • As such, don’t assume that everything is going well just because nobody is challenging you.
  • Many companies have a purchasing committee.
  • Getting to know someone on this committee can speed up the decision-making process.

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