In an individualistic culture the individual feels comfortable and entitled to express his own wishes and the other people respect that along with his rights and accomplishments. On contrast, in a collectivistic culture, the individual expresses his desires and objectives only by complying to what is agreed by the community. His aspirations are also limited by the place he holds in the community, be it his family or a larger social group.
On a scale from 0 to 100, where 0 is total collectivism and 100 is total individualism, Romanian people score 30 which is a clear indicator of a collectivistic culture. Bulgarians, Portuguese and Greeks have a similar profile in the EU.
So, we are a nation more inclined towards collectivism than individualism.
Is this good, is this bad? And what does this tell us, in the end?
First, I think it’s important to also consider this approach on individualism: that it shouldn’t be understood as selfishness, but rather as autonomy and determination to pursue one own’s objectives’ and dreams. In collectivism, on the other hand, the individual aligns his/her expectations to those of the community.
A group of people, like a team within the business environment, driven by a collectivist pattern, will appreciate consensus and harmony. While another one, that is driven by individualism, is more focused on innovation, competition and responsibility.
Let’s understand this better with the help of a number of common behaviors along with some suggested management tactics to drive team performance.
Behavior #1: We do not stand from the crowd, be it a conference call with strangers or in an internal meeting with top managers. Usually, if it’s a conf call with international participants, Romanians tend to talk less than other nationalities.
Approach #1: If you wish Romanians to speak up, ask them specifically, preferably prepare them upfront, offer them psychological comfort that you back them up.
Behavior #2: We use expressions like “it is desired to” (the English version for the commonly used Romanian “se doreste sa…”) and it is almost never clear who wants what and from whom. Also, we finish many meetings with no clear conclusion on who does what and by when, but rather with statements like “we need to do this and that” or “this has to be done”. Everyone agrees and no-one tries to clarify, as it would risk being appointed responsible to deliver the task…, better leave it fuzzy, it’s safer for everybody.
Approach #2: Start by asking clarifying questions, what needs to be done, why, by when, who can help, who is impacted, who has an impact and dig deep until you clarify all your question marks. Summarize and ask for someone to volunteer taking the responsibility to deliver the task. There are big chances that the response is an awkward silence, then you would need to simply delegate the task to the appropriate responsible with a deadline and agreed outcome.
Behavior #3: We often choose not to challenge our colleagues, as we are afraid that they will take it personally and we’ll damage personal relations.
Approach #3: Encourage constructive feedback, control the feedback session to avoid personal attacks, give everyone the possibility to give and receive feedback from all others and try to create an environment where trust is fostered.
You may ask: is there a right or a wrong way to be? There are many possible answers to this question, as there are many different situations in real life.
What I can say for sure is that a collectivistic pattern is not helping very much a team to perform and even more so, to perform on the long term and in a sustainable manner. In order to achieve performance, we need to innovate, compete and take responsibility, and these are all traits that can be found in the individualistic culture.
I encourage you to ask yourself: how would you need your team to score on the 0 to 100 collectivism vs individualism scale in order to meet your objectives? And also, how can you change your ways and adopt different behaviours?
Please, feel free to share any insight in a comment to the article.
Reference: “The Psychology of the Romanian People”, by Prof Daniel David