In this two part post I am reviewing a new study conducted by researchers from University of Durham in the UK and the Jacobs University Bremen, Germany. The paper paper published in the European Management Journal looks at culture in organisations and the implications for culture change and management in organisations.
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In the last few years our understanding of culture and how we take on cultural attributes has shifted away from the idea that culture is a homogenous solid entity to the understanding that:
- Cultures are dynamic, ever changing entities
- Cultures don’t exist nor can be defined on their own. All cultures are in fact made up of a mosaic of different sets of behaviours, thinking and beliefs from a wide range of sources.
- Individuals navigate the range of cultures they encounter and learn to ‘fit in’. So for example our family will have a culture that most likely is very different from the culture at work or from a social group.
- From an individual’s perspective cultures are made up of identifiable layers or tiles which are shared or not shared between the various cultures they encounter on a daily basis.
This understanding is called the Mosaic Theory. The clear multicultural example the authors of the paper give is:
“Nadia, an Iranian businesswoman, is negotiating with a prospective alliance partner from Germany. When she enters the room her counterpart, Peter, extends his hand for her to shake as a first gesture of goodwill. Nadia hesitates but takes his hand briefly. While Peter is impressed by her apparent cultural openness, her Iranian colleagues are shocked, seeing as it is neither customary nor appropriate for Iranian women to touch unfamiliar men. But Nadia has studied in the United States, and worked with European firms throughout her career. She has learned to switch among styles of working when necessary.”
However even non-multicultural culture shifting takes place for most of us on a daily basis as we move from one culture to another, from home to work for example. We navigate these multiple cultures by bringing or sliding in a different selection of learnt cultural tiles in order to be able to operate in the various cultures we live with.
The researchers, from the University of Durham in the UK and the Jacobs University Bremen, Germany wanted to understand how these mosaics and tiles worked, particularly in organisational settings.
What they found was that tiles from different cultural background settings tend to have different weighting or a hierarchy of importance in different settings.
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