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The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business
Erin Meyer
Esseen arvioitu lukuaika on 14 minuuttia.

Written by Katrina Cirule, Seungyeon Shin and Flóra Lang



Decision-making, trusting, disagreeing and scheduling are all part of a company’s everyday life. In the second part of our culture mapping essay, we aim to observe these four phenomena when it comes to international teams and come up with solutions and tools for working more efficiently in an intercultural work environment.



2.1 Decision-making in teams

Deciding is freedom but also a big responsibility. Nowadays, more than ever, one needs to focus not only on making these hard decisions but also on the way they are made. Judith Stein from MIT categorized decision-making by putting them in 5 brackets.

  1. Team leaders decide by themselves

Depending on the culture this can occur more or less frequently. This kind of decision-making method is the best when the matter is time sensitive and urgent. However, this method puts a lot of pressure on the leader and can affect teamwork in the long run.

  1. Team leaders collect opinions from the team and decide by themselves

In this case, many people are somewhat included and are part of the decision-making process, however, the responsibility is on the leader to conclude based on the earlier inputs and expert opinions from the relevant team members.

  1. Consensus decision

Consensus decision-making can work differently on a case-to-case basis; however, the principles are the same. The team would discuss the matter at hand and come up with a solution together. Although this method is the lengthiest, it is also the most inclusive which encourages teamwork and allows many points of view to surface. While in every case the biggest responsibility is on the leader, in this decision-making process the role of the leader is relatively smaller.

  1. “Consensus with a fallback”

This method is a mixture of the 2nd and the 3rd points mentioned above. It starts with a consensus-type situation where everyone can give their input to solve a problem and come to a conclusion. However, if the discussion cannot lead to a decision or it becomes too lengthy, the leader can offer to make that decision alone, taking the team’s points from before into consideration.

  1. Leader delegates decision-making to the team

In this type of decision-making process, the team members get more responsibility and a chance to develop and improve their skills when it comes to efficient and good decision-making, by getting the trust to do it themselves with the support of the leader. (Stein 2020)


2.2 Consensual versus top-down

When it comes to deciding, cultures can be put on a scale from consensual to top-down, from left to right as mentioned.

Cultures on the left side of the scale are more focused on the consensus so that everyone affected, no matter the hierarchy is actively included in the decision-making process. Everyone can give their input, which makes decision-making slower. However, the long decision-making is followed by quick action, as the plan is by that point set for good. Countries like Sweden belong to the far-left side of the scale as they are very consensual. (Meyer 2014, 145)

Cultures on the right side of the scale are top-down cultures. In these cultures, the decision-making is rather quick, and it is usually made by an individual, mostly by the boss or a manager. However, in this case, the plan is not set in stone so the decision might change along the way which slows down the action taking part. Countries such as China and Nigeria are on the far-right side of the scale, the decisions are made top-down. (Meyer 2014, 145)


2.3 Leading and deciding

Usually, the leading style of the culture will also determine the deciding scale, meaning that the egalitarian leading cultures most likely will have a consensual deciding phenomenon and the top-down deciding is paired with a hierarchical culture. However, some countries don’t fit the mold. Good examples of this unusual case are Japan and the USA. While Japan is considered hierarchical, it is highly consensual, so it lies on the far-left side of the deciding scale. On the other hand, while the USA has a more egalitarian culture, it is more top-down when it comes to deciding something. (Meyer 2014, 146-147)


2.4 How to work together?

The easier options of 3 are that one works with a rather consensual team and would need to be ready for a slower decision and be involved and involve others, or that one works with a more top-down team and must make decisions fast but be flexible. (Meyer 2014, 158-159)

However, the hardest and most difficult is always working in international teams, when the ways of doing things may collide. When talking about making decisions in international teams, it is important to set the rules and practices ahead and at the same time take the other point into account as well. A helpful thing for this might be to make decisions with a small d or with a capital D. The small one represents the decision made with the top-down style, meaning that the decision can be changed at any point, so it doesn’t have that strong of power. The capital one means that the decision should be understood as a kind of law and should be strictly followed. (Meyer 2014, 160-161)

FIGURE 1. Deciding methods small d versus capital D on a timeline in different cultures (Meyer 2014, 147)



3.1 Cognitive trust and affective trust

One of the key influencers for fruitful leadership, business activities or relationships is trust. However, the ways trust is built and the assumptions one holds about it can vary dramatically within different cultures. If one thinks of a list of 5-6 trustable people in their life (whether it be a friend, a colleague, or a spouse), one might notice that trust between these different people has developed differently. It usually falls into two ways: cognitive trust and affective trust.

Cognitive trust is based on a rational point of view. It is built by working together or seeing the other demonstrate how trustable or intelligent they are. Cognitive trust is being confident about the other’s accomplishments and skills. On the other hand, affective trust is based on the emotional bonds and feelings. It is connecting on a personal level, developing friendships and empathy for each other, which results in trust.

In ordinary occasions relationships are built on affective trust, however it is not that simple in business life. For example, if a colleague needs support regarding their wishes or personal problems, one would choose a person to open up to based on a more affection-based approach. However, if the colleague is looking for a trustable person to execute a task, one would look for a person with the right skills, which is a more cognitive-based approach.

In the American culture, mixing practical and emotional can be seen as unprofessional. Whereas Chinese combine these two forms of trust: for them it is important to develop personal bonds before financial ones. When these two cultures work together, it may seem to Chinese that Americans aren’t loyal or trustworthy enough. This difference can also be seen in the ways different cultures view business. For the US or Switzerland “business is business”, but in China or Brazil “business is personal”. (Meyer 2014, 165-168)


3.2 Task-based versus relationship-based cultures

When looking at the Erin Meyer’s Culture map (see Figure 2), the countries on the Trusting scale are positioned between task-based and relationship-based cultures. The nearer a culture is to the task-based side, the more people in that culture are in a habit to separate affective and cognitive trust. Whereas the more a culture falls towards the relationship-based side, the more connected cognitive and affective trust is in the business world.

FIGURE 2. Trusting scale. (Meyer 2014)

A very interesting comparison can be noticed in the American and the BRIC countries’ (Brazil, Russia, India, China) cultures. The focus point of the global business has fundamentally changed in the last 15 years. Previously, when the USA was a more dominant player of the world’s markets, task-based (cognitive) trust had a bigger importance when doing business. However, now, when the BRIC and other southern hemisphere countries, such as Saudi Arabia, are expanding their influence in the business world, it is crucial to understand how to build a relationship-based trust.

An eye-opening realization that the authors of this essay found is the difference between relationship building and the American golf outings, breakfasts, or icebreaker activities. Based on these bonding activity examples, are the Americans really so task-based? The difference is that in American culture, a 3-minute icebreaker is just a task in the to-do list. Relationships are defined by practicality. Whereas in China, for instance, building a relationship is a long-term process, and a manager-team member relationship can even tie so hard that, once the manager leaves a company, the team moves along with them. (Meyer 2014, 170-174)


3.3 Peach versus coconut cultures 

The same way it is easy to interpret the reasons for an icebreaker activity, it is easy to mistake certain social norms between cultures. It might come as a shock to a German that the American who was just smiling and seemed so interested about their personal life does not follow through with the invite for a coffee. This cultural norm can be explained as a peach culture. People in the US, Latin countries or Japan may seem friendly, “soft” and sweet from the outside, but difficult to know on the inside: friendly does not equal relationship-based.

On the other hand, in coconut cultures, such as Polish, French, German, Indonesian or Russian, people might seem cold or arrogant at first. The representatives of these cultures can seem unfriendly with those who they don’t have friendships with. However, the more one gets to know them and break through the shell, the more loyal a person is to stay a friend: trust is earned.

This idea was firstly introduced by Kurt Lewin, an American-German social and organizational psychologist. Different cultures have different social cues, nevertheless, people from both task and relationship-based cultures may be polite with strangers, which does not necessarily indicate a relationship status. (Cultus 2012)


3.4 Strategies for building trust

Before getting into the strategies to build trust across cultures, one must understand what other crucial reason plays a part in relationship-based trust building. Why do people in cultures such as India or Nigeria spend so much time in relationship building? The answer might be found in the legal systems of a country. For example, if a contract is broken in Denmark, a person can turn to court where the legal system is reliable. However, in countries like Nigeria, the legal system is less reliable and at times the only contract one can have is friendship. A relationship between people doing business acts as a safety net, therefore investing time in it can actually save time and other resources later on.

Regardless if a culture is task or relationship-based, a few things one can do is to:

  1.     Share a meal or a beverage (alcohol, coffee, or tea) together;
  2.     Choosing the correct communication medium- in task-based cultures it is advised to use the most efficient communication tool, whereas in relationship-based cultures it is wise to go for the most contact involving one;
  3.     Social talk- the more relationship-based a culture is, the more social talk before doing business is needed;
  4.     Mimicking the other- when confused of the cultural differences, try to mimic the other side’s communication style. The more you mimic the other, the more likely the reaction will be positive. (Meyer 2014, 185-187)



4.1 Confrontational or avoiding confrontation to disagreement

From the Evaluating dimension, it was mentioned that in many Asian Countries like Japan, Indonesia, and Thailand, it is almost a humiliation to give or get negative feedback in front of others. Then what about disagreeing?

When Li Shen, a Chinese manager, presented her idea about how to target the Chinese market in front of 12 French colleagues, she realized how different French people perceive disagreement than Chinese People. Challenging or disagreeing with someone’s thoughts in front of others is a public shame. She explains that she felt that she “lost her face”, as she took colleagues’ disagreement as a question or doubt to her expertise. (Meyer 2014, 197-198) In countries where they are strongly influenced by Confucianism, “Saving Face” is a big part of the culture which means keeping your reputation and avoiding others losing respect for you is crucial. (Cambridge Dictionary)

In addition, the Japanese Constitution 17th-Article states “Harmony should be valued, and conflicts should be avoided.” And this is deeply rooted in Japanese culture. On the other hand, students in the French education system are taught to disagree by considering another side of an argument, as they believe disagreement leads to some fresh idea. (Meyer 2014, 199)

In Confrontational cultures like France and Israel, they see disagreement and open debates as a positive factor for a team and organization. But Countries like Japan and China who tend to avoid confrontation consider disagreement as a negative impact that can possibly break the harmony. (Meyer 2014, 201)

FIGURE 3. Disagreeing. (Meyer 2014)

4.2 Emotional expressiveness

It can be often mistaken that if one culture is emotionally expressive, it is also confrontational to disagreement. But emotionally expressive cultures can be afraid of disagreeing and oppositely emotionally unexpressive cultures do not mind having an open disagreement. (Meyer 2014, 201-203)

4.2.1 Emotionally expressive but avoids confrontation

For example, Latin American cultures such as Mexico and Brazil and some Middle Eastern cultures like Saudi Arabia, have no qualms about expressing themselves as they speak loudly while using their bodies actively which may look like they are fighting. But when it comes to disagreement, it works differently. In Arabic cultures, people are very conscious of disagreeing as they think it might ruin the relationship. (Meyer 2014, 207)


4.2.2 Emotionally unexpressive but confrontational

The Culture Map discloses an experience Meyer had working with Germans and Americans together. When she was explaining an Evaluating scale in the training session, one of the Germans in the room, Dirk Firnhaber strongly expressed disagreement while using his own experiences as a counterexample. According to Firnhaber, him saying “I totally disagree with you” is not disregarding or disapproving of Meyer but challenging her idea. Since they are children, they practice challenging other people’s ideas because they believe debate and disagreement can lead to new insights (Meyer 2014, 205-206) For Firnhaber, disagreeing is a valuable exercise that he can practice understanding ideas and information, but not a personal emotion. (Meyer 2014, 207)


4.2.3 Emotionally unexpressive but confrontational

In this culture, it is important to build close relationships with people. People tend to be much more caring with the people whom they already have relationships with, than with strangers. It is interesting to note that countries such as Korea and China which are positioned in the Quadrant of Emotionally Unexpressive and Avoids Confrontation can be sometimes confrontational. For example, a Chinese person who is very polite towards his/her boss can show no hesitation to be challenging and disagree with strangers. (Meyer 2014, 209)

FIGURE 4. Disagreeing scale interaction with Emotional Expressiveness. (Meyer 2014)



5.1 Introduction to scheduling

How late is late? How to use, approach, and measure the time? How to run a meeting? How to plan the time and how flexible those plans can be? The 8th and last dimension, scheduling answers these questions. In some cultures, punctuality is more important and tighter than in other cultures. Engle explains in Switzerland trains run like clockwork. If you are late for 30 seconds for the train, that means you miss it. Quite oppositely in Mexico, it is common to expect the guests to come around two or three hours later than the initial set time. (Engle 2005) Likewise, what is considered awfully late can be acceptable in one culture. (Meyer 2014, 219)


5.2 Liner-time versus flexible-time

Meyer puts scheduling on a scale with two ends of scales: linear-time and flexible-time. In linear-time cultures, people prefer to do things one at a time while sticking to the schedule. For example, in a business meeting that is held in linear-time culture, the meeting agenda is set ahead of time, in the form of a list. It is written what time the meeting will start and what subjects will be discussed in what order. Interruptions are not welcomed if it is not related to the agenda. Good organization and promptness are preferred over flexibility. Germany, Switzerland, Japan, and Sweden are relatively rich in Linear-time cultures. (Meyer 2014, 230-231) Then what about in Flexible-time cultures? Unlike Linear-time culture, many things are done at once and changes are generously accepted as it is seen as new opportunities, and it can be seen in a business meeting as well. It is not expected that the meeting will be held in a linear manner, and Interruptions, agenda changes, and frequent shifts are generally accepted. The most productive meetings are the one that is flexible and adaptable. Hence, the effective manager in this culture must know how to be flexible as changes emerge. (Meyer 2014, 231) Latin cultures, Middle Eastern, and African cultures tend to be positioned right on the flexible time aside. (Meyer 2014, 227)

FIGURE 5. Scheduling: Linear time and Flexible time. (Meyer 2014)

A similar example can be found in queuing culture. In India, there is a so-called ever-green tree culture. In other words, if there is an initial long queue which is a trunk of a tree, one should be alert that people might make several branches right next to the trunk, and it ends up a big tree. One Indian host whom Meyer met in New Delhi explains the background of why it is required for them to be flexible. For Indians, since their currency and governmental system were not stable, they become to value flexibility over linear planning. (Meyer 2014, 229-230) However, in Sweden, cutting in line is a cultural crime. (Meyer 2014, 228)


5.3 Historical factors when it comes to scheduling

The Culture Map says that many historical factors affect the scheduling scale. In fact, the link between history and cultural patterns and critical relationships to keep workers productive is a key to understanding the scheduling scale. For example, Germany was one of the countries that were leading industrialization. For factory workers, it was crucial to be on time as being a few minutes late meant the operation of machines got late as well which eventually led to significant financial loss. Therefore, the impact of the industrial revolution is rooted in the perception of time in Germany. Then what about Nigeria? Punctuality does not really matter, but what matters is to make the work structure as flexible as possible to deal with unexpected changes that occur from the natural environment. In developing countries like Nigeria, changes happen constantly regarding political systems, financial systems, the volume of traffic, the weather, etc. Hence, it is important to be flexible and take such factors into consideration. (Meyer 2014, 227)


5.4 Monochronic versus polychronic cultures

Learning and understanding how scheduling work in various cultures can prevent misunderstanding, unspoken assumptions, and frustration from different meanings or approaches to time in a multicultural working environment. Anthropologist Edward T. Hall interprets time in two modes: monochronic cultures as M-time and polychronic cultures as P-time. M-time cultures value setting clear timelines and following them step by step, one thing at a time while making deadlines and agendas in advance. Hence, they have strict punctuality as being late for a meeting means disrespect and insult. M-time cultures contain countries like the USA, Germany, Switzerland, Scandinavian countries, and western Europe. On the other hand, P-time cultures do not care about the order and tend to do things simultaneously without any planning. They prefer flexibility over organizing or planning. P-time cultures are represented in countries like Latin American and African countries, Eastern European Countries, etc. (Majacakarun 2014)


5.5 How cultures differ when it comes to scheduling

So, how late is late? According to Meyer, in a linear-time culture like Germany, Scandinavia, and the United States, even a few minutes late cannot be acceptable, while in other countries like France and Northern Italy, it would be considered “basically on time.” In flexible-time cultures such as the Middle East, Africa, and South America, the lateness time range can be extended up until 45 minutes as it is normal to face everyday life obstacles such as traffic jams and other chaotic events. (Meyer 2014, 220)

PICTURE 1. Evergreen tree culture: Indian queuing culture. (BBC 2016)

Understanding the variety of scheduling styles and managing efficiently is a required skill as a leader, especially in a multicultural environment. Being open-minded would not be enough. Discussing different scheduling cultures and having an agreement will prevent unnecessary time waste and frustration. Meyer suggests the team leader should keep reminding people about the set time framework and make a change from time to time if it is needed. (Meyer 2014, 238-239)



As mentioned in the first part of the Culture Mapping essays, Erin Meyer has created a Cultural Profile tool to better understand both the nationality’s and personal culture of communication. The authors of this essay, Soonie, Flora, and Katrina, also did the Personal Profile tool to find out what kind of differences or similarities they have between them.

All of the authors of this essay fall into a more consensual decision making, as well as a more confrontational disagreeing. However, when it comes to building trust, Soonie is more relationship-based, Flora is in the middle, and Katrina tends towards a task-based trust. This might be explained both from the personal, but also the nationality’s culture: in Korea people involved in business usually value personal connections first. If we look at another teammate of ours named Aman, he would also fall towards the relationship-based trust building, since Indian culture is heavily reliant on one’s network and friendships. Aman often says that “his network is everything”, and the Culture Mapping theory supports his beliefs.

Taking this tool into practice can be useful when understanding multicultural group dynamics and work approaches better, however it is crucial to keep in mind that the results can differ between one’s own culture of communication, since not only nationality, but other aspects, such as personality, can have an effect. (Meyer 2022)



Using Erin Meyer’s theory of the culture mapping as a frame for our essays we have observed how people from different cultures might work together. Although we have used a more generalized view throughout both essays, it is important to emphasize the fact one more time, that these scales represent cultures as whole, not the individuals of cultures. What one will do with this knowledge is the next big and important step.



Biswas, S. 2016. What do the cash queues tell us about India? Read on 21.11.2022. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-38088385

Cultus. 2012. Training For A Transcultural World. Read on 19.11.2022. http://www.cultusjournal.com/files/Archives/reeves_p.pdf

Jane Engle. 2005. Punctuality: Some cultures are wound tighter than others. Read on 08.11.2022. https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2005-dec-11-tr-insider11-story.html

Majacakarun. 07.04.2014. Time in negotiations: do you belong to M or P time culture? Read on 2022. 11.09. https://cronkitehhh.jmc.asu.edu/blog/2014/04/time-negotiations-belong-m-p-time-culture/

Meyer, E. 2014. The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business. New York: Public Affairs.

Meyer, E. 2022. The Cultural Profile Tool. Read on 13.11.2022. https://erinmeyer.com/pbtda/?refCode=vBcrVX

Stein, J. 2020. Decision-Making Models. MIT Human Resources. Read on 18.11.2022. https://hr.mit.edu/learning-topics/teams/articles/models

Soonie from Entre.

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