In the 1960s, Geert Hofstede, Gert Jan Hofstede, and Michael Minkov did a seminal study on national cultures around the world.  Their work defined six dimensions of culture that have been the foundation for much cross-cultural work that has come since.

In my experiences teaching cross-cultural leadership at The Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, the Hofstede et al work was useful for comparing countries. I have also found the dimensions helpful when working with people from the US.  

And all of this helps me feel more Gutsy. Not only do I understand where I fall on these dimensions, I also can estimate where my US colleagues lie on these dimensions. As a result of this understanding, I can adjust my interactions with them accordingly, in an effort to be more effective.  

Six Dimensions of Culture for Understanding the World Around You

The Six Dimensions include:

Power Distance

Power Distance refers to how much people accept and expect power to be distributed unequally.  Some people think power should be distributed equally and others believe it’s ok for some to have more power than others innately.  This is important at work because it can help you understand how to approach a boss, peer, or subordinate if you can understand their power distance preferences.

Individualism

Individualism refers to how independent (vs interdependent) people feel in terms of what they are pursuing and how they are interacting with others.  This is important at work because it will help you understand why some are motivated more by team objectives (like achieving a common financial target) and others seem driven by individual objectives (like promotions).

Masculinity

Masculinity refers to expected emotional gender roles including males as competitive and forceful.  There is a focus on competition and winning, and losers are … losers. If you are a less competitive person in a company culture that is super masculine (by the Hofstede et al definition), you may struggle with cultural fit.

Uncertainty Avoidance

Uncertainty Avoidance refers to a society’s tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty.  If you find yourself managing someone who needs every detail and date and action plan mapped out in great detail, it is likely you’re working with an uncertainty avoider.  This can be great for implementing a system or software but this behavior may frustrate, for examples, creatives in an advertising agency who tend to work when the creativity is flowing not when the timeline dictates it.

Long-Term Orientation

Long-Term Orientation refers to how change is managed.  In a long-term oriented culture, change is expected and therefore should be planned for.  These types of colleagues will be thinking about 5, 10, and 20 year plans. Short-term oriented cultures presume that the world is as it should be and the past can inform what needs to be done in the present.  When long-term and short-term teammates come together, there can be fundamental disagreements about which direction the organization needs to go.

Indulgence

Indulgence refers to following impulses vs being more restrained and dutiful.  This will arise at work when some team members think another team member acts with too much exuberance. This can also arise when some team members find another to be unsupportive because they are restrained in their kudos and compliments.

Understanding where you are on these dimensions, and understanding where your boss, peers, and team members are on these dimensions, can open your eyes to understanding interactions, as well as help you map out ways to interact effectively with one another.

Additional Resources

For a more in-depth summary of the six dimensions of culture, see https://geerthofstede.com/culture-geert-hofstede-gert-jan-hofstede/6d-model-of-national-culture/ 

For more on the book, see https://geerthofstede.com/hofstede-books/ 

And to play around with country comparisons, go to https://www.hofstede-insights.com/product/compare-countries/