We’ve already devoted a blog post to business culture and the challenges that await companies around this issue when they develop internationally (read it here). Today, based on a study carried out by Christine Congdon and Catherine Gall for Steelcase and published in the Harvard Business Review, let’s take a look at the different types of business culture that exist across 11 countries.

1. France and Spain: virtually identical business cultures

Not too authoritarian but without being totally participative; not too individualistic but without being totally collectivist. French and Spanish business cultures are both located in the middle ground on these points. However, as for the rest, these two neighbouring countries have more distinctive features in relation to business culture.

For example, they represent a so-called “feminine” style of business culture, that is one that encourages behaviours that are more usually attributed to women (even though behaviours do not have a gender!). Cooperation and harmony are strong values in office life in France and Spain.

In addition, both countries attach a great deal of importance to security: as highlighted in the Steelcase/HBR study “staff in France and Spain tend to be careful about sharing information and make changes only after deliberation”.

More focused on the short term than on the long term, both the French and Spanish business cultures favour indirect communication (non-verbal signals, visual clues, body language, etc.)

2. Morocco and India: very similar business cultures… with very little to choose between them

The Moroccan and Indian business cultures are very alike in many ways: both are rather authoritarian (communication and collaboration between different levels in the hierarchy are fairly limited), however they are quite collaborative. Thus, on an equal hierarchical level, priority is given to team cooperation and group cohesion.

Where the two countries differ considerably is on security and priorities: in Morocco, the emphasis is more on procedures or organisation, whereas in India an atmosphere of uncertainty reigns, with problems being solved as and when they arise without much advance planning. Additionally, whereas Moroccan companies are more likely to choose a short-term approach producing rapid results, Indian companies focus on their longevity through long-term investments.

3. The United Kingdom and the United States: business culture in English-speaking countries

Naturally, if any two countries are going to be alike in terms of business culture, it has to be two countries that are already very similar culturally speaking: the United Kingdom and the United States! As well as sharing a language, these two countries share common values when it comes to office life.

Firstly, the importance of the opinion of employees in the decision-making process is without doubt a key characteristic of business culture in the UK and USA: independence and autonomy are initiatives that are highly valued.

As stated in the HBR study “in the United Kingdom [as in the USA] managers’ offices are accessible which makes interactions between employees and the different hierarchical levels easier and accelerates decision-making”. A layout of the working space in line with the vision of the commitment of both staff and management.

Secondly, both the British and Americans are shown to be somewhat competitive within the company (a characteristic that the study considers to be rather masculine). In addition, “workers are at ease with unstructured, unpredictable situations. […] being fast, flexible and innovative is important”.

4. Italy and Germany: masculine companies are more focused on the short term

The two European countries are as well-known as their British and American counterparts when it comes to employee participation in the decision-making process but also in relation to competitiveness and the importance placed on success: “In Italy most firms have assertive, competitive corporate cultures. Visible symbols of hierarchy, like private offices are important”.  

In spite of the relative importance placed on procedures and organisation, the short-term approach is at the centre of business culture in both Italy and Germany: minimal investments and rapid returns should be the order of the day in the life of the company.

However, there is one major difference: whereas the Italians (at work and in personal life!) place great importance on non-verbal signals and other indirect forms of communication, the Germans expect “discussions to be straightforward. How a message is delivered is less important”.

5. The Netherlands and China: cultures that are almost diametrically opposed

It would be hard to imagine two cultures more different than those in the Netherlands and China. And the same thing applies to business culture: Chinese business culture is as authoritarian and collectivist as the Dutch version is participative and individualistic.

In China, supervisors exercise definite control over staff. Dutch managers tend to promote the independence and autonomy of their staff… in addition to their well-being. This is also reflected in the layout of workspaces: “in the Netherlands, organizations generally feature more fluid spaces that encourage equality and reflect a focus on well-being”.

Two other points on which the two countries differ completely: while China is completely focused on the long term (company history and rituals are very important there), in the Netherlands, they take a rather short-term view of things. And while the Dutch, like the Germans, have a direct and forthright approach to communicating with their staff, the Chinese pay a great deal of attention to body language and facial expressions to reinforce their understanding.

6. Russia: a singular business culture

It’s not really possible to compare business culture in Russia to that in the countries we’ve already looked at Sometimes collectivist as in China, sometimes feminine as in the Netherlands, it may also resemble the corporate culture in France and Spain with regard to its major procedures and somewhat short-term approach.

Nevertheless, there is one very clear point highlighted by the Steelcase/HBR study: Russian business culture is authoritarian. “In Russia, teamwork is valued within an individual group but the departments are often closed off and occupy distinct spaces. The staff have little access to managers”.

Just like traditions, cultural references and even languages, business cultures vary from one country to another. Although it is possible to compare certain features of countries (often next door to one another or with similar cultures) , even so, no two business cultures are the same. No two businesses have the same culture or the same values and all accord it greater or lesser importance. One thing is clear: some fundamental matters must be considered when establishing a company in new markets!

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