Sunday, 2 June 2013

Intercultural Management

Perception of Time:
A Key in Intercultural Cooperation

What is a deadline? 
How definite is a meeting start at 9 a. m.?
What planning horizons are adequate? 

In our daily interaction, time plays a major factor whether it comes to assessing past successes, evaluating present status reports or defining future goals.

From an intercultural angle, this is subject to a lot of misunderstandings: different concepts of time exist across the world, and people have a broad variety of applying their own time standards to the private and the work environment. 

Recently, I have come across a wonderful animation film on youtube to touch this topic. With simple illustrations, it describes the differences and gives practical hints. It is 10 minutes long, but is definitely worth the time and highly engaging!

So, where would you place yourself? Past-, present- or future-oriented? And how does that show in working with you in daily life?

"Thinking in options" is my concept of opening up the own perception for different perspectives. Just imagine you are waiting for someone to arrive for a meeting and the person does not show up. This certainly has an effect on you, usually negative since you are looking at the consequences for yourself.

But what is the actual reason for the late-coming? Here is a list of intercultural options...: 
  • Traffic jam
  • Demonstration of power
  • Coincidential meeting of a friend
  • Testing of your patience
  • Negligence
  • Negotiation tactics
  • Meeting forgotten
  • Religious reasons
  • Emergency in the family
  • Wrong planning
  • Status
  • Control
  • Arrogance
  • Politeness
  • Respect
Coming late out of respect? Unusual concept, but applied in some cultures I have experienced it myself several times...

The author of the film above references a wonderful book on the concept of time, where Robert Levine measured the pace of life in different countries. The results are not really surprising, as my list taken from the book shows:

Here is the amazon link to the book: 

Robert Levine: A Geography of Time


From my personal experience as an intercultural manager and trainer, I perceive the different understanding of time as one of the top threats to successful cooperation. So deeply engraved in the values of cultures and people, it needs to be thoroughly included in the planning of joint projects. 

And even on a personal level, it can create strange situations: while in Germany, a dinner invitation at 7 p.m. should be followed quite closely the same timing in Latin America might mean an arrival of the guests some time after 8 p.m.... 


Andreas Hauser
Management Consultant | Intercultural Trainer | Lecturer