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Cross Cultural Management Guide for Indonesia

The insights offered below are for managers who want to learn more about the management style and business culture of Indonesia.

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

Topics include:

  • Hierarchy
  • Leadership style
  • Time
  • Communication style
  • Negotiation

Being a Manager in Indonesia

To ensure success when managing in Indonesia, you need to be aware of the strict protocols and rituals that exist.

  • It is important to keep in mind that each person has a very distinct role within the organization, and maintaining that role helps to keep order.
  • If you are a manager, then try not to disregard the hierarchy by being overly friendly with your staff or behaving as though you are 'one of them' as this will lose the trust of your subordinates. 

The Role of a Manager

In Indonesia, as in other hierarchical societies, managers may take a somewhat paternalistic attitude toward their employees. They may demonstrate a concern for employees that goes beyond the workplace. This may include involvement in their family, housing, health, and other practical life issues. You may also find that:

  • Managers are directive in their approach and subordinate staff diligently follow the directions of their manager. 
  • Subordinate staff do not expect to be included in the decision-making process, as decisions are typically made by senior staff.
  • However, they will expect to implement the decisions where necessary. 

Approach to Change

Indonesia’s cultural readiness for change is developing all the time. Indonesia is seen to have a medium tolerance for change and risk. It is important for innovations to have a track record or history noting the benefits if they are to be accepted and implemented.

  • Failure in Indonesia causes a long-term loss of confidence in the individual as well as in others.
  • Because of this attitude, cultural sensitivity is going to be required, especially when conducting group meetings and discussing contributions made by participating individuals.

Approach to Time and Priorities

Indonesians are generally quite careful about time guidelines in business situations where schedules and deadlines are regarded seriously. In addition, however, Indonesian society is concerned with relationships so there may be instances where there is some flexibility to strict standards of adhering to schedules.

  • When working with people from Indonesia, it’s advisable to reinforce the importance of the agreed-upon deadlines and how that may affect the rest of the organization.
  • Successful cross-cultural management will depend on the individual’s ability to meet deadlines.
  • 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

The business culture in Indonesia is very relationship and group-oriented, so a strong emphasis is placed on maintaining harmony and proper lines of authority in the workplace. The manager makes decisions and accepts responsibility for work performed by subordinates. The middle manager may consult with subordinates before reaching a decision, although it is more likely that he will confer with trusted advisors or relatives.

  • You will need to bear in mind the importance of people in the office maintaining the proper behaviour relative to their position.
  • For instance, it would be inappropriate for a manager to make copies or move a piece of furniture because these are tasks that lower-level people do.
  • To engage in behaviour beneath you would lower your esteem in the office.

Boss or Team Player?

If you are working in Indonesia, it is important to remember that honour and reputation play an important role. The risk becomes amplified in a team or collaborative setting.

  • When meeting together and moderating ideas, cultural sensitivity is necessary. It is important to qualify ideas that are raised in a gentle manner, protecting the reputation of those bringing up ideas, so no one is shamed.
  • The value placed on maintaining positive relationships means that managers may use an intermediary in some cases to manage a difficult discussion with a member of their team.
  • The concept of group and collectivism is very strong in Indonesia.  As such, teams are happy to work collectively and support each other in task delivery. 
  • Team members are typically very loyal to their teams and will not try to assert their opinion if it doesn't adhere to the opinions of other team members. 

Communication and Negotiation Styles

Indonesians are generally high-context communicators. They do not rely solely on words and are more attentive to body language and tone of voice to infer meaning. Speech can be ambiguous, often understating the point or corrective remarks to be polite.

  • Indonesians are non-confrontational.
  • This is why you will rarely hear a direct “no” in Indonesia, but you will come across a huge amount of different ways of skillfully saying no without saying no.
  • For example, if your Indonesian employee responds rather vaguely and evasively, e.g. with “maybe” or “let’s see”, you can take that to mean “no”.
  • In Indonesia, “yes” does not always mean complete agreement either but can be meant as a non-binding concession in order not to offend the interlocutor.
  • It is rare for them to overtly disagree, although this is beginning to change in the managerial ranks.
  • Decisions are reached by the person with the most authority but getting that decision can be a slow process.
  • Expect negotiations to be slow and protracted.
  • Relationship building, information-gathering, bargaining, and decision-making all take considerable time.
  • Be prepared to have several meetings if necessary to achieve your objectives.
  • Throughout the negotiation, be patient, control your emotions, and accept that delays occur.

indonesian business culture

Learn to Navigate Indonesian Business Culture

Sign-up for this eLearning Course on Working With Indonesians to learn more about the business culture, communication style and approach to management.


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