Skip to Content

Do You Know How to Manage Across Cultures?

culture“In today’s global economy you might be an Australian leading a team in China, a Russian courting clients in Brazil, or a German acquiring a company in India. The ideal ‘power distance‘ between the boss and his staff is deeply woven into the education system and family structure of each society. If you’re the boss it’s particularly important to understand what to expect from the culture you are working with,” the Harvard Business Review points out.

“For anyone working globally, the nuances of hierarchy can be complicated. It is no longer enough to know how to lead the Australian, Chinese, Nigerian, or Danish way. You have to know how to manage up and down the cultural spectrum, and be flexible enough to adapt your style to the culture at hand. Here are a few pointers to get you started.”

In an egalitarian culture:

  • It’s okay to disagree with the boss openly, even in front of others.
  • People are more likely to move to action without getting the boss’s approval.
  • In a meeting with a client or supplier, it is not important to match hierarchical levels.
  • It’s acceptable to e-mail or call people several levels below or above you.
  • With clients or partners, expect to be seated and spoken to in no specific order.

In a hierarchical culture:

  • People will defer to the boss’s opinion, especially in public.
  • People are likely to get the boss’s approval before acting.
  • If your boss plans to attend a meeting, your suppliers or clients will send their boss. If your boss cancels, their boss will likely not come.
  • Expect communication to follow the hierarchical chain; people correspond with others on their own level.
  • With clients or partners, you are likely to be seated and spoken to in order of position.

“It’s natural for us to experience our own way of doing things as normal. But as we gain cross-cultural experience, we begin to see that every style has its advantages and disadvantages.”