Team Management Systems
 

Cross-Cultural Work Preferences

By Dick McCann
Copyright © Team Management Systems. All rights reserved.

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The research results in this article are part of the Institute of Team Management Studies (ITMS) study, which examined the work preferences of more than 303,000 people covering 198 countries, 87 industries, and 407 professions. This research has thrown up some interesting results that have implications for cross-cultural teams. Very often conflicts arise in cross-cultural teamwork because of the different values and work preferences that team members have.

It should be noted that titles of major role preferences are not reproduced on the figures below for clarity reasons and that rounding errors may occur.

Malaysia and USA

Using the Team Management Wheel as a basis for comparison we can see very significant differences. For example in the Malaysian sample (n=1,194) there are 42% of people in what are known as the 'controlling' role preferences - Concluder-Producer, Controller-Inspector and Upholder-Maintainer. People with these characteristics focus strongly on outputs and systems, delivering results to set plans and budgets. However in what are known as the 'exploring' role preferences (Creator-Innovator, Explorer-Promoter and Assessor-Developer) there are only 28%. Compare this with the USA (n=49,932) which has 31% in the 'controlling' role preferences and 40% in the 'exploring' role preferences. Therefore conflict could easily arise between Malaysians and USA personnel working in the same team. The Explorers like to constantly look to the future and to possible new ideas whereas the Controllers may well see the Explorers as having their 'head in the clouds' and not focusing on the key day-to-day issues which drive the bottom line. These differences in approach to work are often the basis of misunderstandings and conflict.

Figure 1. Major role preference distribution for country sample: Malaysia (n=1,194)

Figure 1.  Major role preference distribution for country sample:  Malaysia

Figure 2. Major role preference distribution for country sample: USA (n=49,932)

Figure 2.  Major role preference distribution for country sample:  USA

South Africa and the Netherlands

The Team Management Systems research highlights many other significant differences that may be the cause of conflict in cross-cultural teams. In the South African sample for example, (n=3,346) there are 34% of people with a Thruster-Organizer role preference. The characteristics of this role are 'action' and 'results'. If things aren't happening quickly, Thruster-Organizers will jump up and down until they get it. Sometimes they may put people as secondary to performance. Only 1% of the South African sample recorded a Reporter-Adviser role preference. This is the role that focuses on information first, action later. Compare these figures with the Netherlands (n=2,576) where there are 26% Thruster-Organizers and 3% Reporter-Advisers. So it is very possible that team members from the Netherlands could possibly see their South African counterparts as being too hasty, aggressive and action-oriented. Conversely South African workers may see Netherlands workers as having too much emphasis on gathering data but not enough on taking action with it.

Figure 3. Major role preference distribution for country sample: South Africa (n=3,346)

Figure 3.  Major role preference distribution for country sample:  South Africa

Figure 4. Major role preference distribution for country sample: Netherlands (n=2,576)

Figure 4.  Major role preference distribution for country sample:  Netherlands

Scandinavia and the United Kingdom

Another interesting comparison can be made between Scandinavia (n=13,769) as a whole and the United Kingdom (n=41,175). In Scandinavia the sample shows 49% of people in the 'exploring' role preferences whereas in the UK there are only 36%. Is this the reason why Scandinavian innovation and design is famous throughout the world? Conversely, in the 'controlling' role preferences, the UK sample shows 32% of people compared with 23% in the Scandinavian sample. This data highlights the potential advantages of cross-cultural teamwork and may be the reason why many multinational organizations in Europe are taking a pan-European approach and harnessing the different work preferences highlighted in the Team Management Systems research.

Figure 5. Major role preference distribution for regional area sample: Scandinavia (n=13,769)

Figure 5.  Major role preference distribution for regional area sample:  Scandinavia

Figure 6. Major role preference distribution for country sample: United Kingdom (n=41,175)

Figure 6.  Major role preference distribution for country sample:  United Kingdom

There are, of course, other cross-cultural differences which are more related to societal values rather than work preferences. For example, one of the most important difference between East and West is the difference between individualism and collectivism. Individualistic cultures put the individual first, with promotion, individual achievement and monetary rewards the name of the game. The role models are very much individuals perhaps like Bill Gates whom many of us want to emulate. In the East the emphasis is on collectivism where the group is placed before the individual. So the concept of the lone ranger in the team trying to push through his or her agenda will undoubtedly cause problems. In Japan for example, there is a saying which roughly translated says, 'The nail that stands up is quickly hammered down'.

Collectivist teams will never allow anyone in the team to lose face. So many western lone rangers think they have successfully got their own way but really the other team members are merely preventing a loss of face by not saying out loud what they really think.

Copyright © Team Management Systems. All rights reserved.

Please note that the data presented here is extracted from the Team Management Systems Research Manual.


With a background in science, engineering, finance and organizational behavior, Dick McCann has consulted widely for organizations such as BP, Hewlett Packard and Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank. He is coauthor of Team Management: Practical New Approaches with Charles Margerison; author of How to Influence Others at Work, the TMS E-Book Series and The Workplace Wizard: The Definitive Guide to Working with Others; and coauthor with Jan Stewart of Aesop's Management Fables and The Half-Empty Chalice. Dick is coauthor and developer of the Team Management Systems concepts and products and also author of the QO2™ Profile, Window on Work Values Profile and the Strategic Team Development Profile. Involved in TMS operations worldwide for over 25 years, Dick is now Managing Director of TMS Australia and a Director of TMS Development International.
 

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