25 Mar 2018

Conflicts in Cross Culture: Is it Me? Or is it We?

Cross Cultural Conflict based on Hofstede Scores

Conflicts in cross culture often occur in societies which differ in degrees of individualism. We spoke of cultural differences based on hierarchy. There is another overarching difference – that of individualistic societies and collectivistic societies. Individualism vs Collectivism is one of the dimensions propounded by Dutch culturologist Geert Hofstede. Hofstede’s dimensions have country scores and according to him if the difference in scores on any dimension between two countries is more than 10 points there is bound to be a conflict. The Indian culture shows a reasonably low score on Individualism (48) as compared to an exceptionally individualistic culture like the United States with a high score of (91)

What does the score on Individualism mean?

A high score of Individualism means that the person is more important than the group. Decisions are taken unilaterally rather than by consulting family or peer group. Also an individualistic culture is more likely to have neutral families consisting only of parents and children rather than extended families which includes aunts, uncles and extended families on both the maternal and paternal sides.

In India especially the collectivism score and the loyalty to the group and family is high. So much so that it can come in the way of work and cause cross-cultural misunderstanding. Not many managers in the USA understand when a person from their project team takes a day off because his ‘uncle’ passed away. In India however, being part of the funeral rites for all near and dear ones (including neighbours) is an almost mandatory social norm.

Misunderstanding due to a collective culture

This difference between Individualistic and Collectivist cultures is often the hotbed of cultural conflict. Most team members misunderstand the calls of a culture that is high on collectivism. On the other hand, the members of the individualistic societies come across as self-obsessed and insensitive. In a team this could lead to mistrust, lack of empathy and of course low productivity. Clearly collectivism can be something that drives a clear divide between teams of opposing countries.

What is the solution to a conflict like this?

No human relationships have a simple 1-2-3 solution. But there are ways of working, and workarounds that help in managing team relationships so that productivity does not suffer. In fact, managed well, the team could actually bond well and the resulting efficiency could be even greater. Most of the times it means creating the necessary awareness and the empathy between team members. And of course building on some common themes while accepting the differences.

If you would like to explore making teams work together through a cross culture workshop, drop in a line to me at vaishakhi@abacusyellow.com and we can talk about the various ways in which this can be tackled.

Cross culture can make or break a team. How is your team doing today?  

Seen earlier relevant posts?

Here, check this one out on hierarchy

Or choose between a consolidation of posts.