leveraging diversity

May 25, 2017

There have been numerous studies on the influence of individual cultures on the performance of project teams and the success of these projects. But the influence of varied cultures on the outcome and success of projects is less studied. An inter-cultural interaction model will enable project managers to manage different dimensions of culture within the team and take appropriate decisions and actions for better results.

Geert Hofstede’s cultural dimensions

Geert Hofstede is for many the most well-known theorist on national culture. His research was based on employees of IBM. He conducted an initial study of the company’s employees in the 1960s and continued it for thirty years. Today, this survey covers over 72 countries, and over 116,000 respondents from IBM.2

Hofstede identified culture to be a mental programming of the mind. Every person carries within him/her patterns of thinking, feeling, and potential acting, which were learned throughout their lifetime.3 He identified three layers of mental programming—individual, collective, and universal—based on which he constructed his ‘Culture Triangle’.

chart1

The individual level (personality) is focused on the mental programming exclusive to each person. Hofstede suggests that this level is at least partly inherited. The collective level (culture) is focused on the mental programming that is learnt from others, that is specific to a group of people. The universal level (human nature) is focused on all humans, and is likely inherited.

Hofstede’s study consisted of the Values Survey Model (VSM), a collection of 33 questions designed to classify members of national groups into cultural dimensions. He initially found that four distinct dimensions could be ascertained from the survey results. 2, 5, 6

  • individualism vs collectivism (IDV)—the degree to which individuals are integrated into groups
  • power distance (PDI)—the degree of centralization of authority
  • uncertainty avoidance (UAI)—a society’s tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity
  • masculinity vs femininity (MAS)—the distribution of emotional roles between the genders

Let us look at Hofstede’s country-specific scores on the cultural dimensions (refer Table 1). 7 These are relative, ie, societies are compared to other societies.

These relative scores have been proven to be quite stable over the decades. The forces that cause cultures to shift tend to be global or continent-wide. This means that they affect many countries at the same time so that if their cultures shift, they shift together, and their relative positions remain the same.

table1

PDI: India scores high (77) on PDI, indicating an appreciation for hierarchy and a top-down structure in society and organizations.

IDV: The country, with a score of 48, is a society with clear collectivistic traits.

MAS: It scores 56 on this dimension and is thus considered a masculine society.

UAI: India scores 40 on this dimension and hence has a medium-low preference for avoiding uncertainty. Having said this, an attempt is made to create a model for integration of a common culture in a multicultural work environment.

the model

Global software development is not just a technical process of building software or information systems but also a social process involving stakeholders from multiple organizational units. Culture plays a major role in the effectiveness of such global teams. The problem is more profound, especially for Indian companies that acquire or work with foreign entities. Figure 2 outlines some of the possible ways to better integrate diverse cultures within organizations.

 

chart2

 

  • collaboration and knowledge-sharing tools

It has been identified by many researchers that coordination and communication problems do exist in such a distributed work environment. One of the methods advocated by researchers is to have an IT platform that provides the glue for information sharing and communication across the distributed sites. However, having a common platform across different geographies is a difficult task. Each work group may use different tools and platforms. From a technical perspective, the integration of multiple software parts needs to be well coordinated through mechanisms for document sharing, reviews, communication, discussions, and assigning and tracking activities and actions. Such platforms, while improving communication and coordination, can also help bring down cultural barriers. Some examples are:8

  • audio and video conferencing: Wengo, Skype, Gizmo, Sipgate (uses H.320, H.323, SIP, H.264, others)
  • instant messaging: IRQ, ICQ, AIM, Jabber, Lotus Sametime connect, Slack
  • multi-user editors, whiteboards, version control: Google Docs, Zoho, MediaWiki, ACE, SVN, Rational Portfolio Manager
  • forum discussions: Yammer or Facebook @ Work

Some of the organizations using these tools are IBM (Lotus Sametime, Skype, Rational Portfolio Manager), Sasken (Microsoft Sharepoint, Skype for business, Slack), Accenture (Yammer), and Capgemini (Yammer), among others. These organizations have presence across the globe and collaboration is a great need to solve business problems. Hence, these tools are effective in managing cross-cultural challenges.

  • deploying global policies

Organizational policies need to be written in such a way that they meet the company’s vision and objectives. Policies/processes must be global as well as cater to country-specific requirements (legal, HR specific, medical, etc.). For example, holidays in Europe, paternal leave, contractual conditions especially in China, etc. Policies should integrate the different sites and their geographical requirements, thereby also satisfying the organization’s business and employees’ needs. In organizations such as IBM, Wipro, Infosys, Sasken, and Accenture, global policies are deployed to take care of common and specific regulatory business requirements.

  • intercultural awareness programs

Systematic, on-the-job cross-cultural training is less common in our experience. Employees involved in cross-cultural relationships learn ways to achieve better cross-cultural collaboration, but there tends to be no structured opportunity in which this experience can be reflected upon and shared with colleagues in a formal way. Informal sharing of experience is essential. It assumes importance in the absence of structured interventions. For example, cross-cultural meets, knowledge-sharing sessions across geographies, multicultural awareness trainings, frequent interaction with colleagues working across geographies to take guidance on culture specific requirements, etc.

At Sasken, there are e-learnings designed to make employees aware of cross-cultural issues. Common tools—developed in-house—for project management based on Redmine platform help project managers to handle projects effectively by connecting employees across India (Bengaluru, Chennai, Pune, and Hyderabad), the US, Finland, and China.

The top ten organizations promoting global diversity including cross-cultural mentoring are IBM, Accenture, EY, Dell, Sodexo, Wyndham Worldwide, Procter & Gamble, Deloitte, Caterpillar, and MasterCard.9

  • keep them involved

In a multicultural environment, it is a challenge to have an integrated work environment. However, with a small change in the methodology adopted to cater to such needs, a significant change can be brought into work practices and environment. This will bring in efficiency and motivation to contribute better to project objectives. These are:

  • Providing more responsibilities and authority to execute work
  • Providing flexibility to adopt work practices/routine through which they can operate comfortably in their respective geographies and give importance to their cultural practices
  • Involving them in key decisions or granting decision-making power wherever possible
  • Incorporating them in executive councils
  • manage conflict

Different cultures react differently to conflicts and thus the manager of a multicultural team requires an array of skills. Disagreements on projects often arise when project pressures increase, personalities clash, or when personal goals collide. This is intensified in a multicultural team by the different value systems of the team.

Crawley (1992) describes constructive conflict management techniques in various situations.10 However, his approach in a multicultural team situation can be summarized as follows:

  • Remain neutral, and use an impartial, third-party approach
  • Verify your understanding of each of the viewpoints
  • Work with the team members to establish options for resolution of the conflict
  • Agree to the course of action

There are significant competitive advantages that can be gained by efficient cross-cultural project management. A multicultural project group has a much broader range of knowledge, skills, abilities, and experiences because of different cultural frameworks, and is therefore better equipped to solve problems and make decisions.

01 https://www2.deloitte.com/au/en/pages/human-capital/articles/workingmulticultural-teams.html

02 Geert Hofstede (2001), “Culture’s Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions, and Organizations Across Nations”, second edition, or Geert Hofstede, Gert Jan Hofstede and Michael Minkov (2010), “Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind”, third edition.

03 Hofstede 2005, p4

04 Hofstede 2005, p5

05 Hofstede, G. (1991). Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind: Intercultural Cooperation and its Importance for Survival, McGraw Hill, New York.

06 Hofstede, G. (1983). Cultural Dimensions for Project Management, Butterworth & Co (Publishers) Ltd. 1 (1).

07 Hofstede’s country specific scores on the Cultural dimensions

08 ITU-T (March 2008). Remote Collaboration Tools, ITU-T Technology Watch Report #5, March 2008. Retrieved from < www.itu.int/ITU-T/techwatch>

09 DiversityInc, http://www.diversityinc.com/top-10-companies-global-diversity/?cm_mc_uid=53022601755514805871350&cm_mc_

10 Crawley, John, 1992. Constructive Conflict Management: Managing to Make a Difference. Nicholas Brealey Publishing, London.