Cross Cultural Preferences: Individual or Group?

Matthew MacLachlan

5 Mar 2010

Have you ever considered why in some cultures it’s best to praise a team for their efforts rather than an individual?  Or why connections and networks are more important when doing business than individual achievement?  Or in education, have you noticed that in some cultures children are encouraged to participate and show individual creativity while in others the expectation is for children to recite lessons as a group?  There are many differences like these that can often be explained by a predominant tendency in a culture to place more importance on individuals or groups.

This distinction is often referred to as individualism and collectivism, the degree to which a society reinforces individual or group achievement and interpersonal relationships.  This concept, one of Geert Hofstede’s five cultural dimensions, helps explain many cross-cultural attitudes, behaviours and communication styles.

Societies which emphasise collectivism are those where people’s main concern is their in-group or community rather than their individuality.  Extended families and networks where everyone takes responsibility for fellow members of their group are typical of collective cultures such as China, Mexico and Greece.

Individualism refers to describe societies that are characterised by the importance of individuality and individual rights. In individualistic cultures such as the US or Germany, the self and immediate family come first while social bonds tend to be loosely tied.

Below is a table which summarises the key differences between the cross-cultural preference for individual or group.

Collectivism Individualism
‘We’ conscious ‘I’ conscious
Group comes first Self and immediate family come first
Focus on tradition and precedent Focus on growth and progress
Collaborative Competitive
Success and position are ascribed Individual achievement earned and rewarded

Understanding whether a culture places more emphasis on the individual or the group will help you maximise doing business in that country. These concepts are covered on cross-cultural training programmes such as Communicating Effectively across Cultures as well as cross cultural training for business and management programmes such as Doing Business in India.

 



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