Cross Cultural Management Guide – South Africa


What will you Learn in this Guide?

In this guide, expatriate managers will gain an understanding of a number of key cross- cultural areas when working in South Africa:

  • Hierarchy
  • Leadership style
  • Time and scheduling 
  • Communication style and; 
  • Negotiation style 


Gain an Expert Understanding:

Once you've read this guide, ensure the success of your South Africa business venture by: 

  • Taking part in a two-hour live webinar,, customised to meet your unique needs, with one of our South Africa country and culture training experts or;
  • Contacting us in respect to our South Africa consultancy services

Management in South africa

Successful cross cultural management is more likely is you understand the importance of spending time developing personal relationships and getting to know your colleagues. Because the country was closed to outside influences for many years, some older Afrikaners remain suspicious of anyone who might dilute their culture, including foreigners.

  • There are strong regional differences that affect the way business is conducted. There may be a lack of time urgency in cities such as Cape Town that is best explained by the phrase "just now", which means immediately, just past, now, later, or sometime in the future; whereas business can be quite fast paced in Johannesburg.
  • The white "Old School Tie" or "Old Boy" network that ran major businesses two decades ago is slowly being replaced by a new generation of executives who are more interested in accomplishment than where someone went to school. This is a country in transition and successful cross cultural management is more likely is you understand that you should expect to find many different management styles.
  • Often the behavior you experience will be more a matter of personality than cultural dictate.

The Role of a Manager

The purpose of meetings in South Africa is to share information among co-workers. There is not a great deal of emphasis placed on position or status. All present are assumed to have value and therefore have value to contribute. The agenda will be set by the leader, and the leader will guide the pace and content of discussions, but all present have both an obligation and a right to contribute.

  • Meeting schedules are not rigid in South Africa. There may be an agenda, but it serves as a guideline for the discussion and acts as a springboard to other related business ideas.
  • As relationships are highly important in this culture, there may be some time in the meeting devoted to non-business discussions. Time is not considered more important than completing a meeting satisfactorily, so meetings will go on until they come to a natural ending.


Approach to Change

South Africa’s intercultural adaptability and readiness for change is apparent. South Africa 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.

  • The fear of exposure, and the potential of embarrassment that may accompany failure, brings about aversion to risk. Because of this attitude, intercultural sensitivity is going to be required, especially when conducting group meetings and discussing contributions made my participating individuals.


Approach to Time and Priorities

South Africa is a controlled-time culture, and adherence to schedules is important and expected. In South Africa missing a deadline is a sign of poor management and inefficiency, and will shake people’s confidence.

  • Since South Africans respect schedules and deadlines, it is not unusual for managers to expect people to work late and even give up weekends in order to meet target deadlines. Successful intercultural management will depend on the individual’s ability to meet deadlines.


Decision Making

As with many other aspects of South African business, the relationship between managers and subordinates is changing.

  • Afrikaner managers were known for being autocratic; however, the management style is becoming increasingly collaborative. That is not to say that hierarchical relationships are not respected.


Boss or Team Player?

In South Africa, groups collaborate well together as teams.

Members are generally chosen to participate based on tangible skills or the knowledge base they bring, and are equally welcome to contribute to any discussion that may arise.

The success of the cross cultural manager will depend on the individual’s ability to harness the talent of the group assembled, and develop any resulting synergies.


Communication and Negotiation Styles

Women have yet to attain senior level positions. If you are a woman, you can expect to encounter some condescending behavior and to be tested in ways that a male colleague would not.

  • Do not interrupt a South African while they are speaking. South Africans strive for consensus and win-win situations. 
  • Include delivery dates in contracts as deadlines are often viewed as fluid rather than firm commitments.
  • Start negotiating with a realistic figure. Decision-making may be concentrated at the top of the company and decisions are often made after consultation with subordinates, so the process can be slow and protracted.
  • Patience may be a necessary cross cultural attribute.

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