Corporations in Culture

I’m studying The Power of Team Culture on Coursera. These are my revision notes for week 3.

Two Examples of Cultural Boundaries

  • A cultural boundary is any difference in culture, such as socially acquired preconceived routines for a specific situation, between two individuals or groups or between an individual and a group
    • Brushing teeth in the morning – some do before breakfast, some do it afterwards
    • Vietnamese couple: ask parent’s permission to start eating (or not)
  • Whenever differences exist, this is a mini-cultural boundary
  • Even small differences can affect team performance.

Why Police Boundaries

  • What are boundaries?
  • When we are talking about he control of movement across physical boundaries in space, we will call them social boundaries (or socio-spatial boundaries)
  • Most business enterprises have boundaries, as well as national countries
  • Sports team – maximum cooperation and coordination is required. Strategy and tactics must be secret, and the discussion must protected by guarding the boundary
  • Companies have trade secrets, keep outsiders out
  • Sometimes the boundary is required to keep things in (e.g. museum or cinema)
  • Since the movement of people affects who can interact with whom and since culture is transmitted through interaction, social boundaries also affect the movement of culture

Culture in Motion

  • Boundaries are about channelling or controlling the motion of culture
  • Culture can move across boundaries, but it can be resisted.
  • Example:
    • Vietnamese couple: in girls’ family culture, no expectation of “permission to eat”, but placed in boys’ family culture there is that expection. This clash  of expectations (a mini boundary) is upsetting.
    • If girl had adapted to different expection, this is an example of cultural movement. The upset feelings of the girl is an example of resistance.
  • Physical boundaries are there to stop cultural transmission.
    • Theatre or museum: boundary used to restrict access, commoditise culture and charge admission
    • Company: boundary use to restrict cultural move outside (trade secrets)
  • National boundaries: prevent national culture from being “watered down”

Golden Arches East

  • McDonald’s opened in 1955
  • Success can be attributed to standarisation and assembly line
    • e.g. Ford: any colour they want, as long as it’s black
    • In McDonalds, every burger should be “the same”
  • McDonalds moving into India was a problem:
    • Hinduism rejects eating meat.
    • McDonalds adapted: removed Big Mac from menu, replace with chicken replacement
    • Alternative: vegetarian McAloo Tiki burger
  • Culture moved across the boundary in both directions

The Art of Smiling

  • When and how to smile is are embodied cultural routines (part of the habitus)
  • In different cultures, using smiling (or not) can give the wrong impression
    • McDonalds in US: wants employees to smile (smiling = “friendly”)
    • However, in  China waiters are expected to be serious (smiling = “laughed at”)
  • “American smile” is considered insincere and insidious in Russia.
  • Japenese businessmen in India:
    • Indians preferred American businessmen, because they smiled more
    • Japanese businessmen took “smile training”
    • American s

The Right to Fire

  • Clash of business cultures:
    • American businessmen: focused on short term (quarterly) profitability
    • Japanese businessmen: focused on long term growth in market share
  • Right to fire:
    • American: emphasis on individual accountability, and the right to dismiss incompetent personnel in order to improve team performance
    • Japanese:  emphasis on teamwork and group responsibility, did not like to dismiss personnel. Team performance can be maximised by finding the right place on a team where an individual best fits.
  • Firing someone is a type of ritual.
    • Example: Donald Trump in The Apprentice: “You’re fired”
  • Many companies have laws that prevent firing without cause (especially in Japan and Europe)
  • Current moves in Japan to change rules to move towards American style “easier to fire” culture

The Law of Jante

  • Case study of globalised company “Scandanavian Technologies”
  • > 5,000 employees, but < 350,000
  • Based in Denmark, with branches in many countries (including US)
  • Company experiencing difficulties.
    • US employees feeling that their contributions were not values
    • Danish management worried that company was becoming too “Americanised”, and looking to keep control in head office
  • The Law of Jante: expression of Danish law from A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks
    1. You’re not the think you are anything special
    2. You’re not to think you are as good as us
    3. You’re not the think you are smarter than us
    4. You’re not to convince youreself that you are better than us
    5. You’re not to think you know more than us
    6. You’re not to think you are more important than us
    7. You’re not to think you are good at anything
    8. You’re not to laugh at us
    9. You’re not to think anyone cares about you
    10. You’re not to think you can teach us anything
  • Cultural norms regarding the presentation of the self
  • Self promotion is not valued. Boasing and bragging would be frowned upon.
  • Would the Americans be viewed as braggarts and blowhards?
  • Would the Americans be viewed as violating Jante law?
  • How should we respond to the discovery of cultural boundaries?

Cultural Relativity and Ethnocentrism

  • Methodological cultural relativity: trying to understand an aspect of culture on its own terms, not in terms of your own culture
  • First problem in dealing with cultural difference: defining them
  • When dealing with problematic team performance, ask the question: is there a culturally acquired set of behaviours or thinking that is contributing to the problem?
    • If yes, it’s time to make use of “methodological cultural relativity”
  • Example:
    • Very beautify friend visiting US from Brazil
    • Noted that on the streets of Rio, she received a lot of male attention. Whereas in US, male attention was much more muted, making her feel “ugly”
    • Conversely, american woman travelling to Rio was very uncomfortable with the amount of male attention.
    • Example of culture shock.
  • 3 kinds of cultural relativism:
    • methodological cultural relativism: a methodological principle
    • epistemological relativism: the clam that knowledge and beliefs are relative to the culture; no culture is closer to the truth than any other (not making this claim in this course)
    • moral relativism: the claim that values are relative to the culture; no cultural system has the one ultimately correct set of values (not making this claim in this course)
  • Think of cultural relativity as a tool in your kit.
  • Ethnocentrism:
    • Judging another cultural element in terms of your own culture
    • This is the opposite of cultural relativity

Avoid Stereotyping

  • Stereotyping: assuming that some general, or even specific but highly distinctive trait, found in a group or team applies equally to everyone in the group
  • Because cultural elements are socially acquired, their prevalence is usually a matter of statistical frequencies
    • e.g. Not all Brazillain men are demonstrative, and some American men are demonstrative
  • Some team members will learn cultural elements in different ways
  • Smiling is culturally aquired
    • e.g. Kanye West: don’t smile
    • e.g. bicycle shop employees didn’t smile
  • Shedding workers:
    • Toshiba in Japan – did lay off 7000 employees
  • To avoid sterotyping, when you think about a specific aspect of a culture (such as smiling), think in terms of a normal distribution. You can compare different cultures as a pair of overlapping distributions. e.g.

hypotheticalsmilefrequencies

A Checklist of Little Differences for Business

  • Good books inteneded for a general audience. Expecially recommended book:
    • Global Dexterity: How to Adapt Your Behaviour Across Cultures Without Losing Yourself int he Process
    • How to better adapt to the teams you join, and learn new routines
    • Need to be aware of cultural variation
  • Formality:
    • The amount of deference and respect your are required to exhibit
    • How formally or casually should you dress?
    • Is it customary to engage in small talk?
    • … or should you confine your interactions just to the business at hand?
    • How much personal informaiton about yourself can you reveal?
      • e.g. is it appropriate to talk about your family?
  • Speaking your mind
    • This refers to directness
    • Should you only hint at your meaning
    • … or should you come right out and say it?
    • What is the conversational style?
    • e.g. story about 2 brothers who were always fighting. Father didn’t comment on the fighting, but he did tell a story about 2 brothers who were fighting
  • Expressing your feelings
    • What kinds of feelings can you openly express in business interactions?
    • Is it OK to appear enthusiastic?
  • Self promotion
    • e.g. Law of Jante in Denmark
  • Aggressiveness

Gestures as Boundary Marker

  • Gestures are hugely important and powerful in defining (and crossing) cultural boundaries
  • e.g. Story of Nixon, who visited Brazil in teh 60’s. Nixon gave the American “OK” gesture, which is obscene in Brazil
  • Gestures that mark team membership (or exclusion)
    • e.g. Bryan brothers chest bump
    • e.g. High fives in a team
    • e.g. Scooby Doo “keeping it real” gesture

Corporate Personhood

  • “We” intentions versus “I” intentions.
  • The use of the pronoun “we” is important to the creation and maintenance of group boundaries and identity
  • The use of “we” also implies a contrasting “they”, indicating the people who are not in the group
  • When people form a team, the can both think and speak about themselves as a group
  • Part of the power of team culture is the create the idea of the team. The use of “we” can contribute to the creation of the team
  • e.g. the constitution of the United States, has a pre-amble that starts with “We the people…”
  • The legal idea of a corporation…
  • Corporation: a body formed and authorised by law to act as a single person
  • The collective corporation can own property, and be sued in court.

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