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Cross Cultural Management Guide for Tunisia

This guide is for managers who want to learn more about the management style and business culture of Tunisia.

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

Topics include:

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

Management in Tunisia

The business culture in Tunisia is conservative and hierarchical and to ensure effective management it is important to remember that strictly defined roles exist. Always err on the side of conservative behaviour through your dress code and general conduct and show and expect to be shown the appropriate deference to position, age and rank.

  • The hierarchical system means that people believe their supervisors have been chosen because of their greater experience.
  • Expect to be served tea each time you meet someone since this is important in Tunisian hospitality. 
  • If you decline the beverage, you will be seen as rejecting the person.
  • As in other Muslim countries, Tunisians pride themselves on being gracious hosts.
  • The French have also heavily influenced their business practices so expect both courtesy and a degree of formality.
  • Quite often business is discussed in cafés and restaurants.
  • Since business is considered personal, it is fairly common for Tunisians to request favours.
  • Even if you think that you will not be able to comply, it is a good idea to agree.
  • Your Tunisian colleague will appreciate your agreement and will understand that circumstances intervened that prevented you from doing so.

The Role of a Manager

Foreign managers will be more effective when they are working in Tunisia if they remember that honour and reputation play an important role.

  • When holding meetings, it is important to ensure that any ideas raised do not expose or embarrass the individual.
  • Managers should avoid praising individuals as all projects are to be undertaken collectively.
  • The paternalism between manager and employee means that the role of managers often extends beyond working life.

Approach to Change

Tunisia’s cultural readiness for change is low. Its’ conservatism means that change can often be seen as a threat to society.

  • Managers are therefore likely to be averse to change and it is essential that any changes are viewed as positive for the ‘whole’ and not just an individual.
  • Of course, change does happen, but effective management in Tunisia needs to take into account that any change is going to take longer to implement and will be driven by a group effort.

Approach to Time and Priorities

Deadlines and timescales are fluid. Patience is the key to successful management when working in Tunisia. Essentially a relationship-driven culture, it should be understood that taking the time to get to know someone will always take precedence over any timelines. Don’t rush the relationship-building process or you may jeopardise any future business dealings.

  • When working with people from Tunisia, it’s advisable to reinforce the importance of the agreed-upon deadlines and how that may affect the rest of the organization.
  • However, it isn’t unusual for a manager in Tunisia to avoid confrontation over a deadline in order to maintain a positive relationship within the team.
  • 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

Managers reach decisions after many discussions with the major stakeholders. Egalitarianism within the group is part of the Tunisian business culture.

  • Once a decision is reached, it is given to subordinates to implement.
  • Employees do not publicly question a manager’s decisions as this would cause both parties to diminish their reputation.
  • Risk-taking is limited to those in decision-making positions.

Boss or Team Player?

Due to the hierarchical set-up in Tunisia, it is important that the manager maintains his / her role as ‘boss’ and engenders the necessary respect from within the team.

  • Cultural sensitivity is essential as it is important any individual contributing ideas that are deemed irrelevant or impractical does not feel shamed in front of his/her colleagues and that the rest of the group feels able to continue participating and offering their contributions.

Communication and Negotiation Styles

Tunisians generally have an indirect communication style. It is common for people to understate their opinion in an effort to save face and remain polite. You may have to make assumptions about what is not said.

  • Tunisians must know and like you to conduct business.
  • Personal relationships are necessary for long-term business.
  • Business meetings generally start after prolonged small talk.
  • Companies are hierarchical.
  • The highest-ranking person makes decisions, after obtaining the consensus of the stakeholders.
  • Do not try to rush the process as it would be interpreted as an insult.
  • Never criticize publicly. It is important not to diminish your Tunisian colleague’s reputation.

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