Decision making process preferences differ not only culture to culture, but also individual to individual. It makes it quite a difficult one to adjust to when moving abroad and requires a lot of patience and understanding.
This post will be looking in more detail into the Deciding scale of the Culture Map designed by Erin Meyer. The position on deciding scale is very often close to the position of the country on the leading scale, which makes it easier for us to create a coherent picture of many cultures in our minds. Usually whoever takes the lead is also making decisions, whether that’s a group or an individual. There are a couple of exceptions though which I will also mention later on.
Let’s start with briefly defining the Deciding scale. The two ends of the scale are Consensual and Top-down. Consensual means that the decisions are made by groups as a result of a discussion and inclusiveness of opinions of all the team members. Top-down on the other hand means that the decisions are made by individuals, usually the bosses, who are trusted to make the best opinions and have the knowledge to effectively lead the team on their own.
To give you an example of a relation of two slightly different cultures, I will again use my own example:
Decision making in Poland and Great Britain
Above you can see two scales, the Leading scale and Deciding scale. In case of Poland and UK the countries are both located more or less in the same place on both scales. It makes things much easier when it comes to interaction of the two cultures. If a British person comes to Poland, they might expect to experience a more hierarchical work environment, where you need to treat bosses or managers in a specific way, can’t really object to them very much. At the same time, they might expect to not be asked for input when making strategic decisions, they might find their colleagues waiting for manager’s decision patiently.
Imagine a situation when a manager needs to make a decision on a team topic. As it relates to the employees and the task split for the next couple of months he decides to ask for team member’s opinions and task preferences. Some people might tell the manager what they’d ideally like to do, some will just say that whatever they get will be fine, some will not have opinion on the topic… A British person might be surprised to see that some people might start perceiving the manager as weak, not able to make decisions, losing authority. They are not used to be asked for opinion about matters of that importance. That’s obviously a very drastic interpretation, but it indeed still happens in many Polish firms that asking employees for opinions is a sign of weakness. One of the reasons behind it is the above mentioned preference for Top-down decision making. We expect the bosses to be able to make decisions, delegate and assign tasks efficiently.
The situation in many firms in Poland now is changing as many of them are international companies, having their own specific organisational culture of making things happen. People get used to the new way and more and more often are very much involved in decision-making processes for their teams. As much as I believe that it’s good to know various perspectives before making a decision, instead of just working with our own individual view, I sometimes still find it difficult to be patient when the decision-making process is prolonging due to gathering various opinions. Sometimes I would simply expect my boss to say ‘this is what we’re doing, go and execute’. It’s an interesting experience especially that UK and Poland are not really that away on the scale.
Exceptions from the rule
I must say I would quite like to visit Japan and see how they work, experience even a bigger gap on the Deciding scale. Japan is one of the interesting exceptions on this dimension. With a very hierarchical leadership, it is one of the most consensual cultures as well. Quite an unusual combination. So how do they make it work? How do they manage to ideally blend the hierarchical and consensual into their work. The ringi system seems to be what makes it happen.
Whenever there is an important decision to make, a proposal document is issued on a mid-management level. Every mid-level manager needs to read through the document, give their input, maybe make some slight changes and approve it. When every manager on this one level approves, the document goes to the higher level of management. Again, every manager needs to give their input and approve the document. This goes up until it reaches the highest level management and the idea is either implemented or not. This is a perfect combination of hierarchical process, but where everyone agrees with each other. I’m truly amazed by how it works.
The advantage of this process is for sure the fact that everyone agrees with the final decision and if the idea goes ahead the implementation is much easier with everyone on board. The disadvantage however is that the ringi system takes a lot of time, which is very hard to understand and approve by American or European managers. What it means for managers working with the Japanese, is that very often they need to get involved in the decision-making a lot earlier than they normally would for their opinion to be truly valued. Apparently many Japanese companies are not using this system anymore, but quite a few still do, making the process more digitalized and using computer systems facilitating this decision-making style.
Tips for dealing with cross-cultural decision-making
As with all the dimensions, sometimes it’s easiest to give a heads-up of your own working style to your team. To do this though you need to be aware of the possible cultural clashes that might occur – self-awareness is the key!
If you’re moving from a Top-down to Consensual driven culture, make sure to listen to your team, create a space for expressing opinions, acknowledge them. I find this move slightly easier, because when you make the space for exchange of opinions, the people will control how much they find appropriate to contribute.
Moving from a consensual to Top-down spectrum seems to be slightly harder, because it’s really easy to cross the line of being ‘too harsh’ if we go all the way with making decisions ourselves. The best strategy here would I guess be to openly speak to the team and agree on the best possible working environment to fit all of you.