The Culture Map to the rescue

October 12, 2023
The culture map

Bring your cake and eat it, too.

Today was one of those days where life effortlessly teaches a lesson at the office. A dear colleague was celebrating their birthday and brought two cakes for everyone to enjoy. This simple act triggered the following discussion: one side thought it was weird for the person to bring their own cake while the other thought it would have been weird, or even impolite, for them not to bring a cake on their birthday. You see, it is a common tradition in the Netherlands for a person celebrating their birthday to bring cake for everyone. This, however, felt odd to the international elements of the office. They are more accustomed to surprising loved ones with a birthday cake as a sign of thoughtfulness.

Obviously, there is no right or wrong way to celebrate birthdays. But it was interesting to see how something so simple could expose such an interesting contrast of cultures; as simple as a piece of cake.

Jokes aside, this was a nice confirmation about our professional approach to the topic. Appreciating and aligning cultural differences is a key aspect of our day-to-day and product offering. To that end, we felt inspired to share with you another book recommendation which helps us help you:


What is The Culture Map about?

The Culture Map is a book about intercultural differences in the work environment. A better understanding of how different cultures perceive the world can help us better interpret and react to behaviours that we would have otherwise perceived as strange. Erin provides an “eight-scale model” to help leaders of all sorts efficiently decode and interpret the cultures that make up their team. The eight scales are: Communicating, Evaluating, Persuading, Leading, Deciding, Trusting, Disagreeing, and Scheduling. These scales can be used to answer questions such as “How does my Indian colleague prefer to receive feedback as opposed to my German colleague?” or “Is being 3 minutes late to a meeting considered equally rude by my French and Dutch teammates?”.

While leaders have the most responsibility when it comes to setting the tone, The Culture Map is not only useful for people in leadership positions. It can be a source of insights for anyone that can influence the work environment and the overall organisational culture. As the book brilliantly puts it:

“Just as fish don’t know they’re in water, people often find it difficult to see and recognise their own culture until they start comparing it with others.”

Why is this interesting?

Improving company culture is clearly becoming more and more of a priority. Besides the regulatory changes that advocate for more openness and transparency, there’s an increased awareness towards the advantages of positive, purposeful and psychologically safe work environments. Especially now that we’re finally in what we may call the ‘post COVID-19’ era, geographical location and distance don’t seem to mean much. The remote-working, borderless and culturally abundant atmosphere is the new normal for a lot of organisations. It is quite obvious why a pragmatic understanding of the different cultures present in your organisation is a must for enhancing communication and maintaining a conflict-free environment at work.

As you can imagine, this is a topic we discuss with our clients quite extensively. Speaking up against any sort of unpleasantness is already hard as it is. Going against colleagues and putting your reputation on the line feels unnatural. The level of discomfort, however, will vary from one person to another. And yes, you guessed it, it is highly influenced by personal factors such as the cultural background of the individual. Therefore communication methods and style cannot be defined using a one-size-fits-all approach.

The Culture Map is a book we systematically recommend to organisations implementing SpeakUp on an international basis. It does an excellent job at helping you understand how some nationalities are more likely to speak up. At the same time, it helps you look at those that might, for their own reasons, be more reluctant. In the US people have a very direct communication style. So, for instance, you can expect your American colleagues to easily say something when feeling upset or unhappy. That is not the case for eastern countries, such as Japan, where talking back to your superiors can be considered as foolish.

This is just a small example of the kind of insights you can gain from the Culture Map. We hope we have inspired you to bring cake next time a colleague of yours has a birthday. Or wait for them to bring their own. Only you know what’s right for your organisation.

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