Time Management Across Cultures
by Jeff Toms, Marketing and Client Services Director, Farnham Castle
Friday, May 18, 2012
Meeting deadlines and managing project workflows when working with people from different nationalities across the world can be one of the most challenging aspects of managing intercultural business relationships. This is because alternative cultures have very different perspectives of time.
For example, across Asia, building good relationships is valued and prioritised over time keeping. A training workshop was arranged for an Indian-British outsourcing partnership. The British company had planned the schedule meticulously down to the last detail but the Indian team announced that they would be arriving one week later than planned. On arrival, when questioned about the delay, the Indian team manager told their British colleagues ‘we came late only by a week not a month!’
In fact, Indian time keeping is often better known for its lack of punctuality. Indian Standard Time (IST) or better known as Indian S t r e t c h a b l e Time means that deadlines are not always strictly adhered to in the work environment. Hence strict guidelines and enforcement may be necessary to adhere to western style fixed deadlines. Alternatively, business executives may need to adapt to this pace and educate their colleagues back home to thrive.
In addition, the importance placed on hierarchy in non-western society can often cause misunderstandings with regard to timing, if not understood properly. In hierarchical cultures, employees would not want to lose face in front of their boss and so may appear to agree to complete a task by a particular deadline. When it is not complete, the Western manager understandably feels frustrated, but in fact, the employee will also feel frustrated and unsupported as they were not asked additional questions, such as: “Do you have the resources to finish the task by tomorrow? Do you have the template? Do you have the licenced software to run the project?
The level of micro-management in these regions needs to be much higher to ensure successful delivery of any task. One way to achieve this is to take time to learn how a manager working in a hierarchical culture would manage his or her staff.
In addition, because of the importance of relationships in the Asian, Arab and Southern European cultures, more emphasis is often placed on good will and good faith than on the western priorities of performance and practicalities. Anyone wishing to develop an effective business relationship in these areas also needs to have a clear idea about how trust will be built and how it will be nurtured once it is established. A greater willingness to talk directly about differences helps build trust, facilitate decision making and open the way to a better way of working together.