Analysis of the cultural differences that cause misunderstanding and frustration when a Finnish company collaborated with an Italian one.
In this paper, I am going to examine an Intercultural management problem which might be very common nowadays. While I was working for a company in Finland doing business with the Italians there were problems in management and they were Intercultural problems. In fact, the main problem was the concepts and how the concepts were understood differently in Finland and Italy. The company where I worked was a clothing boutique and it ordered clothes from Italy, mainly from Rome. The problem was that the communication between our boutique in Finland and the persons working in Roma had a huge problem in communications, which I will mention later in the essay.
Now that I think about the management problem I would say that the lack of Intercultural training for the management staff and the concepts of Time, Space and Context (by Edward T Hall) were complete opposites to each other. In this paper, I will use the Theory of Edward T Hall and try to find a solution for this Intercultural management problem. In a nutshell, I would say that the main intercultural problem which I will discuss is the usage of Time and Space.
I am using as a main Theory Edward T Halls studies, but also use articles from the year 2000 and after to make the study more “on time”. My decision was to use E.T.Halls theory because it was the exactly right base for this intercultural management problem.
Today's businesses and management are quite complex due to the globalization and to the fact that in a company there might be several people from several different backgrounds and variety cultures. But still, I would say that the most important thing in order to manage well is to Communicate and have the need for communicate well to each other and most importantly have an effective intercultural communication between co-workers. This is why the management today must ensure that they are understanding and being understood across cultural boundaries. As I was working for the clothing company in Finland which did business Italian company and ordered cloths from Italy there were several problems in communication and concepts.
The Intercultural management problem: When thinking about all the cultural differences mentioned above and acknowledge the situation; The Finnish Company ordered clothes from Italy in their strict deadlines, ordering dates and expectations that the goods will be delivered on time. The manager told to two of our employees to make sure that the orders are done and delivered. The employees contacted the persons in Italy madeexample wereorder and agreed on the deadlines, due dates of the payments and delivery dates. Everything the well. But when the delivery date came, no goods were delivered or even sent from Italy yet, even we in Finland already had promised the goods to be in the boutique for customers. The manager in Finland blamed the two employees for not doing their task well and contacted the people in Italy. getting The same chain of events happened often always something fast late from the deadline, phone meetings were late, and if there was a meeting organised in Italy or Finland, it didn’t go well.
Our Finnish manager wanted to go straight to Business and talk about the orders when the Italians wanted to have a dinner and take the time for get together first. Our manager explained to his employees how rude the Italians were because they came physically very close in the meetings and didn’t stick to the point, and was overwhelmed even from his employees that why the wanted to continue the meeting. All in the entire situation was chaotic and the cultural differences were too much for our Finnish manager. He had been used to do business only in Finland before and didn’t have a clue how different the business between two different countries can be. This situation kept on going because the Finnish manager didn’t want to change his habits and the Italians didn’t even know that something was wrong. When I started my job in this company the situation was very bad, and in the end, our manager quit his job. We got a new manager, and after that everything started to go well and the connections and communications between our employees in Italy and Finland were good.
The problems mentioned above are related to the problems when a person cannot adjust and adapt to the other cultures, and the same happens if a worker changes a country where to work, The cultural differences can be too much to handle which effects to the results of the work. The same happened here for the manager but in his own country working with people abroad. As mentioned in the article Ulkomaankomennukset iso haaste yrityksille (Marja Saviaron (28.11.2002) Ulkomaankomennukset iso haaste yrityksille, sanomalehti Kalevassa ) That the importance of intercultural training is crucial. In the article, it is also mentioned that working in a foreign country or with foreign cultures is a big challenge for any company.
At first, I would like to give some background information of Finland and Italian business habits in order to understand the problem. Emeritus Professor Geert Hofstede from Maastricht University has completed many studies concerning cross cross-culturalrences. His goal was to find an understanding and similarities between cultures. In order to do so, Hofstede came up with five different dimensions for collecting the relevant findings under mutual nominators. Italy and Finland are an example of cultures which are quite different in his scale. First I would like to mention as a theoretical background the two diagrams one from Finland and one from Italy and explain some important point from them.
From the above diagrams it’s revealed that Finland is a quite feminine country when Italy is a masculine country. The Individuality rate is about the same meaning that there is a strong importance for the opinion of an individual but as a matter of fact in Finland the Individuality for man and a woman is more equal and also the relationship between parent and a child or employer and employee is based on the mutual advantage, not on the hierarchy like it is more normal in Italy. From the diagram it’s easy to see the difference in Power distance. Italian culture is more High Power distant because, for example, the organization has its leaders and the members of it will follow them. The division of power is also quite centralized as well as centralized fairly. On the other hand, the core values in Finland are equality between people and responsibility. That refers to the point that Finland is Low Power Distant country. It is common to speak openly in a social context, and privileges and status are frowned upon. The difference between less and more powerful people high context. The factor in the diagram Uncertainty avoidance is higher in Italy and Lower in Finland; this might be related to the old traditions in Italy and to the fact that the Finns are more open to new opportunities than the Italians. All in all, I wanted to describe the cultural differences between these two countries and show that even in the daily life there are huge differences.
The point what I would like to rise up is the importance of intercultural training and the fact that the concept of time and space are crucial to understanding that they vary a lot between countries. Edward T. Hall is an American cross- cultural researcher and anthropologist, who examined the different cultures of the world and created the concepts of high context culture, polychromic time and meaning of space. He found that these factors varied according to culture and throughout his findings, he was also able to categories countries according to these means. In the Intercultural management problem I think the main issues were Time and Space. Especially time.
Edward T. Hall is an American cross- cultural researcher and anthropologist, who examined the different cultures of the world and created the concepts of high context culture, polychromic time and meaning of space. He found that these factors varied according to culture and throughout his findings, he was also able to categorize countries according to these means. The next theory has been gathered from Edward T. Hall’s literature “The Silent Language” and “Beyond Culture”.
By the concept of personal space, Hall explains that the normal space that a person needs is not only personal but cultural driven also. This personal area is considered as one’s own territory. If this space is violated by an unwanted or unwelcome entity, it creates an uncomfortable feeling to the person being violated. The amount of personal space varies a lot according to the place of living of the individuals. People living in densely populated areas tend to have smaller personal space requirements than people living in more rural areas for example. Also, the distance between two individuals having a conversation is not just a coincidence but a cultural tendency. Even the concept of family is an example of the concept of space; the bigger family you have the less space you need. Also body contact is a factor of space. Whether the Italians touch each others’ hands or head or other body parts while talking, is more cultural driven than people might think, because in Finland for example, people do not touch normally each other. (Hall 1990, 10-12, http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/a/a4/Reaction-bubble.jpg/350px- Reaction-bubble.jpg)
Hall examined how time is seen in different cultures. In polychronic cultures time is seen as a commodity and as it can’t be saved or restored, the person might as well do something pleasant with it polychronic people take on more tasks at the same time and are fine with doing many things at once, when at the same time as monochromic people rather complete tasks one by one. Polychronic cultures are seen as more flexible and able to change their minds more easily than monochronic ones. Hall also indicates that the polychronic people are quite often not that punctual and consider a lot of things to be on the same level of importance. ( Hall 1990, 18-24)
According to Hall high /low context has to do with how much a person has to know before he is able to communicate effectively. For example when workers from high-context and low context cultures are working in groups, often problems occur by the exchange of information. High-context means that "most of the information is either in the physical context or initialized in the person, while very little is in the coded, explicit, transmitted part of the message." (Hall 1976, p 79)
As Hall describes Italy is a Polychronic culture. There are plenty of things at the same level of importance and therefore these things are done at the same time. Several overlapping work tasks are being completed. The Italians do not set meetings in order to reach decisions but to exchange information and discuss a variety of factors influencing the case. The importance of a case is expressed by inviting parties over business lunch which is considered as the “real” negotiation environment. It is also important to know that only written agreements are valid: oral agreements are more like guidelines that can be followed or ignored. Polychronic people are also said to have a tendency to change their minds quite easily and float from one situation to another. I think this describes well the problem I have discussed earlier.(http://www.ishkbooks.com/hall.pdf) According to Hall Finland is a monochronic culture. In Finnish culture, it is common to do one thing at a time, and concentrate your actions on only that. Everything that is done is well considered. The attention to the time is structured and everything has to be done on time. Being late or finishing something, not on time is considered rude and impolite. For example, when there is a business meeting the issue is spoken professionally and there is always a conclusion for the meeting. The topic is solved first in the meeting and after that, there is time to have dinner, lunch or sauna. Also, the Time is thought differently in Finland and Italy. In Finland, there is no other way than to be on time for the deadline, preferably even early and in Italy the Time is quite flexible. And this makes the Finns get stressed and uncomfortable if something is not done on time.
The Solution for the problem: Liisa Salo Lee wrote an article to the Verkkolehti Magazine about the opportunities that the globalization in business bring saying that “ Multiculturality and worldwide contacts are a possibility for learning together and working together globally.” This is why the first solution would be for a company is doing business abroad and or with intercultural staff, the priority would be for the management to decide to give intercultural training for the employees in order to understand the differences and similarities and most of all the Business etiquettes from the other countries. I am sure that the role of the intercultural manager is not an easy one, but it does offer many a different challenge that must be met in order for the human elements of organizations to succeed. I would say after the intercultural training for the employees and managers the next step would be to learn how to show respect and courtesy and also tolerance towards the other culture. Trying to understand the different ways of working and not to think that “My way is the right way”. In my intercultural management problem, our manager should have realized that the concept of time is different in Italy and maybe tell the employees to order the good 3 weeks in advance in order not to be late then just to make the same mistake every time and blame the Italians. Identifying the problem: If the meetings do not go well when being face-to-face. Maybe meeting through email or through other persons with intercultural knowledge would have been a proper idea. The manager and the employees should always make sure they understand each other. In my case, our manager should let the employees know that please repeat the task I told you and please try to inform the Italians in advance that we really need our goods to be in our country due to the deadline. Confirming the deal written by email, for example, would be a good backup too. Communicating at all levels was bad in our company until we got a new manager who acknowledged the intercultural problems and did what was necessary to make the cooperation better. Nowadays I don’t work in the mentioned company anymore, but I know that the Intercultural management problem is disappeared thanks to the new manager and his intercultural knowledge. (http://www.kwintessential.co.uk/cultural-services/articles/intercultural-management.html) (Trompenaars, Fons (1993) Riding the Waves of Culture. Understanding Cultural Diversity in Business) (Salo-Lee , L (27.8.2009) Monikulttuurinen osaaminen ja kulttuurinen lukutaito , Verkkolehti)
The Intercultural management problem which I discussed above was really common I think nowadays but also very harmful for the company, employees and managers. The management of the company suffers and also the business partners etc. In fact after discussing and having some theoretical background to the topic I would say that the main reason for the problem when thinking about the theory part Hofstedes and Halls theories for example were the misunderstanding of concepts like time, space and even business etiquette and the differences. The point that the manager didn’t have enough knowledge of managing a company with international partners was most crucial part. As a solution mentioned above in the text I would recommend Intercultural training and flexibility in cultural differences for the whole company from employees to managers. My message concerning the intercultural problem here is that nowadays in our globalizing world it is the most important factor when doing international business to be aware of the countries and cultures around you.
Hall 1976, p 79
Hall 1990, 18-24
Hall 1990, 10-12,
Trompenaars, Fons (1993) Riding the Waves of Culture. Understanding Cultural Diversity in Business Marja Saviaron (28.11.2002) Ulkomaankomennukset iso haaste yrityksille, sanomalehti Kalevassa
Salo-Lee , L (27.8.2009) Monikulttuurinen osaaminen ja kulttuurinen lukutaito , Verkkolehti magazine