Continuing the series of posts on cultural diversity in virtual teams, I will next discuss the concept of individuality. The impact of individuality in a cultural sense can be important to the efficient functioning of a virtual team.
The concept of individuality and its opposite pole of collectivism was explored by Hofstede in his research along with power distance, cultural masculinity, uncertainty avoidance and the long term orientation. Each of these characteristics has its own bearing on how and how well a team will collaborate, understanding the differences and varying the communication strategy between groups will make for a much more aligned project team.
Characteristics of individuality in virtual teams
Individuality manifests its self in the way individuals and groups see themselves in the community and consequently, in the context of virtual teams, how they behave when working with colleagues they may never meet but who are likely to have different profiles on the individual v’s collectivist continuum. People from high individualist cultures, exemplified most strongly in the research as the United States, Australia and Great Britain typically think of themselves as the most important component of a group, look for roles and positions that afford them time for themselves, roles that give them a sense of achievement, and potentially afford them opportunities to develop their own ways of working. People from the countries at the opposite end of the scale such as the central american countries of Guatemala, Ecuador and Panama expect to work in collaborative roles where they will rely on each other, consider the collective rather than the individual to be more important and look for jobs with training opportunities so that they can develop their skills to do their jobs better.
Communications and rewards
Members of collectivist cultures will expect, and will respond better to communications that consider them as a group, they feel more comfortable having groups recognised for their contribution to the team, so individual rewards will not work well in team environments in these cultures, and equally, nor will singling anyone from the group out for any kind of special treatment, whether it is as a reward or a punishment, since that will disturb the collective conscience of the team.
Those from individualist cultures in contrast, are, as the name suggests all about the individual, individuals often seek recognition for their personal contribution to a project, sometimes even to the detriment of their colleagues and the collective effort. Personnel will expect to be treated individually in terms of their payments and employment conditions and are also more likely to leave a role for a perceived better opportunity elsewhere (though this particular facet is also highly dependant on the work and financial opportunities in the working environment).
So, how best to communicate with these different characteristics;
- Individualists cultures will expect you to speak to them as individuals, both in group conversations where the personnel should be named specifically where appropriate and in one on one discussions. They are likely to expect to be recognised for their personal efforts, and will be reasonably comfortable if one of their co workers gets singled out for either reprimand or compliment in a group discussion.
- Collectivists are typically most comfortable in environments where the team is discussed rather than the individual, so the use of collective expressions such as “so, how is the planning group going” rather than addressing the question to an individual, this approach allows the team’s effort to be considered as a whole rather than giving the perception of an individual being given credit for the work of the team.
It is very important for team members from cultures with different levels of individualism to recognise the characteristics and respect the differences between these views of the world, when a high individualist from, say, Australia is communicating with their collectivist colleagues from, say, South American, they must recognise the need for the collectivist to be treated as part of the group and likewise, the collectivist should respect the Australian’s need for individual attention.
One good way to tell where, along the individual/collectivist dynamic a particular group may sit is to observe the way they interact socially, an individualistic group will all have their own activities, even in social groups, where a collectivist group will tend toward doing more shared activities. This is very apparent in areas such as how they behave on beaches, collectivist cultures will form clusters on the beach, often bringing total strangers together to play beach sports etc, while individualists will look for their own piece of sand away from all everyone else.
As with all of the cultural characteristics, it is important to recognise that they are generic groupings and every group and team is made up a individuals with their own personal views of the world, so while these characterises will help in identifying broad strategies for communicating between cultures, these assumptions bust be continuously monitored and adjusted to ensure they really do fit with the particular group dynamic in your project.
Ulfire specialises in assisting organisations develop high performing virtual teams, please feel free to contact us for any assistance or guidance you may need in establishing or managing your team or project.
Please enter your details below to subscribe to our newsletter.