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 but I’ve also found the dimensions helpful when working with people from the US.  

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

The Six Dimensions include:

  • Power Distance, which 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, which 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, which 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, which 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, which 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, which 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 or when some team members find another to be unsupportive because they are restrained in their kudos and compliments.  

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

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.  

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/