Discussing Country Culture & Agreeing Ways of Working

Is your team or department multinational?

Do you notice differences in ways of working?

Wondering how to discuss this, without it getting awkward?

Here, red10‘s Will Sudworth introduces Erin Meyer’s recent research mapping country cultures, and her encouragement for teams to discuss preferences and agree ways of working.

Mapping Country Cultures

Erin Meyer identified eight scales for which you can map culture. By interviewing mid-level managers in 67 different countries, a bell curve emerges for each country with a hump for the majority of responses.

These eight scales decode how people think, lead and get things done – across country cultures.

The eight scales are explained in The Culture Map book, with extra tools available for subscription online so that you can map specific countries as well as profile yourself, your team or your department.

Doesn’t this risk stereotyping?

Meyer quickly tackles the concerns some may have that “speaking of cultural differences leads us to stereotype…and put individuals in boxes” by pointing out that this approach assumes “that culture doesn’t matter” leaving you to default to “view others through your own cultural lens and judge or misjudge accordingly”.

Rather Meyer advises us to “have an appreciation for cultural differences as well as respect for individual differences. Both are essential”.

How can you use this?

In red10 we’ve created a set of slides for each scale, and follow a process of:

  • Understanding the definitions on the scale, together
  • Using Zoom® Annotate to mark personal preferences, discussing this to understand each other better
  • The “big reveal” showing how their personal preferences match the country preferences the team are most interested in
  • Agreeing tactics to help ways of working between each other and staff/clients in the different countries in which the operate

What are the eight scales?

These are the 8 scales. Click on each scale to discover more.

Approach to Communication

Explicit Implicit
  • Few shared reference points
  • Precise, simple & clear
  • Expressed and understood at face value
  • Repetition if it helps to clarify communication
  • Sophisticated, nuanced and layered
  • Spoken and read “between the lines”
  • Often implied e.g. not plainly expressed

Approach to Leadership

Egalitarian Hierarchical
  • Act without boss’s approval
  • Facilitator amongst equals
  • Flat organisational structure
  • Comms skip levels
  • No seating/speaking order
  • Okay to disagree with boss in front of others
  • Strong or leads from front
  • Defer to boss’s opinion, especially in public
  • Comms follow hierarchy
  • Get boss’s approval before action
  • Status important
  • Organizational structures mostly layered and fixed
  • Seated and spoken to in position order

Approach to Trust

Task Relationship
  • Trust is built through business-related activities.
  • Work relationships may be built and dropped easily, based on the situation.
  • Reliable & consistent good work = I trust you.
  • Trust is built through sharing: emails, evening drinks, and visits at the coffee machine.
  • Work relationships build up slowly over the long term.
  • I’ve seen who you are at a deep level,
  • I’ve shared personal time with you, I know others well who trust you = I trust you.

Approach to Reasoning

Principle First Application First
  • Trained to first develop the theory or complex concept before presenting a fact, statement, or opinion.
  • Prefer to begin a message or report by building up a theoretical argument before moving on to a conclusion.
  • The conceptual principles underlying each situation are valued
  • Trained to begin with a fact, statement or opinion and later add concepts to back up or explain the conclusion as necessary.
  • Prefer to begin a message or report with an executive summary or bullet points. Discussions are approached in a practical, concrete manner.
  • Theoretical or philosophical discussions are avoided in a business environment.

Approach to Scheduling

Linear time Flexible time
  • Project steps are approached in a sequential fashion, completing one task before beginning the next.
  • One thing at a time. No interruptions.
  • The focus is on the deadline and sticking to the schedule.
  • Emphasis is on promptness and good organization over flexibility.
  • Project steps are approached in a fluid manner, changing tasks as opportunities arrive.
  • Many things are dealt with at once and interruptions accepted.
  • The focus is on adaptability, and flexibility is valued over organization.
Approach to Decision-making

Consensus Top Down
  • Decisions are made in groups through unanimous agreement
  • Decisions are made by individuals (usually the boss).

Approach to Negative feedback

Direct Indirect
  • Given frankly, bluntly, honestly.
  • Negative messages stand alone, not softened by positive ones.
  • Absolute descriptions are often used when criticizing.
  • Criticism may be given to an individual in front of a group.
  • Use Upgraders: “absolutely”, “totally”, “strongly”
  • Provided softly, subtly, diplomatically.
  • Positive messages are used to wrap negative ones.
  • Qualifying descriptors are often used when criticizing.
  • Criticism is given only in private.
  • Use Downgraders: “oh, by the way”, sorry, but..”, ”could you consider…”

Approach to Disagreement

Confronts Avoids
  • Disagreement and debate are positive
  • Open confrontation is appropriate and will not negatively impact the relationship
  • Disagreement and debate are negative
  • Open confrontation is inappropriate and will break group harmony or negatively impact the relationship.

Could this approach be of use to you?

Ask us about our Culture Skills Masterclass or about our Culture Sessions for teams.