Cultural factors that affect your designs


COVID-19 has forced the issue. All my teams are now distributed because everyone’s working from home. As a coach, this has given me a few things to think about. Mostly about how I need to rethink many of my coaching strategies, as they mostly take advantage of the rich information flow that’s tacitly a part of face to face.

As part of my attempts at designing new coaching strategies that could be used with entirely remote teams, I’ve been going back to basics. I need to think about how cultural factors play a part in how I approach coaching. I’m using Geert Hofstede’s cultural dimensions as a framework.

Power Distance

This is the extent to which the less powerful accept and expect power to be distributed unevenly.

  1. Low Power Difference – people prefer to be engaged irregardless of their “position”. They’re more willing to challenge concepts if they disagree, but if they’re persuaded, they become strong advocates. This is where I can find future coaches in order to make myself obsolete.
  2. High Power Difference – people like authority, they prefer solid structures and rules. Agreements can be more easily obtained if they perceive you as being more powerful, but those agreements could swing to the next authority figure that comes along. If enough of the team is like this, then I’ll have to leave something like a “Documented Process with an Owner” to act as an authority figure.

Individualism vs Collectivism

This is to what extent the consequences of an individual’s actions are thought about.

  1. Individualism – These folks take the initiative and act on their needs and desires. They make decisions for themselves. They can be partial to “what’s in it for them” discussions. Maybe focus on how changes can help their career progression.
  2. Collectivism – These folks consider the impact of their social groups such as their teams – e.g. “what will my friends think if I did this”. Discussions about how collectives they care about (their team, their community of practice) can be helped can be effective.

Uncertainty Avoidance

This is to what extent uncertainty and ambiguity are tolerated.

  1. High Uncertainty Avoidance – Prefer deductive approaches, they think things over, make decisions based on reducing the perception of risk (NOTE: that’s independent of actual risk reduction). Also make decisions that follow their preferred deductive strategies (e.g. rational, intuitive etc). Focus more on limiting the downsides, but pay special attention to how they reason.
  2. Low Uncertainty Avoidance – more open to new ideas, better risk taking appetite. Articulate the potential gains that could be achieved.

Tough vs Tender

This is to what extent aggressive competition or nurturing cooperation is preferred. This used to be called masculine/feminine but I prefer more gender/sex agnostic terms as they’re less controversial, especially with new coaching engagements.

  1. Tough – prefer heroic achievements, material gains and competition. Might be worth engaging from a perspective on how the person can stretch themselves, how they can get reward and recognition.
  2. Tender – prefer a more nurturing and caring approach. More interested in a balanced work/life split. Might be an overlap with Collectivism?

Short Term vs Long Term Orientation

This is to what extent time exists in a person’s mental model. From a coaching agile teams perspective, I’d say short term is 1-3 iterations, and long term is 6 months – 1 year.

  1. Short Term – More focus on past and present. Prefer quick results in line with known values and traditions. Language like “low hanging fruit” will probably resonate. These folks will need habit forming nudges to get beyond short term thinking.
  2. Long Term – Better focus on the future. More likely to make trade-offs with short term pain for longer term returns. You’ll need people like these if you’re going to attempt “seismic shifts”.

Indulgence vs Restraint

This is the extent to which a team would act in a way that fulfils their desires, or acts with restraint according to their environmental rules (e.g. office dress code etc)

I’m not really sure if there’s anything I can usefully do with this dimension. However, if something comes up, I’ll amend this post.

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