Communications patterns of different global cultures



Business Insider shared this image from Richard D. Lewis’ book, When Cultures Collide: Leading Across Cultures (Nicholas Brealey Publishing 2006), which I found quite interesting. Richard D. Lewis is the founder of the Berlitz Schools of Languages, and creator of the Lewis Cross-Cultural Communication model that classifies cultural norms.

The author developed a visual metaphor to describe how people negotiate deals through conversations and interaction, shown here across American, Canadian, English, French, Italian, German, Chinese (mainland), Hong Kong, Israeli, Indian, Swiss, Singaporean, Australian, Korean, Indonesian, Hungarian, Finnish, Norwegian, Danish, Norwegian, and more.

These are of course stereotypes and not all are flattering. But that positive or negative view of the interaction pattern also depends on the culture you are from.  What you might consider inefficient in one view, others from that culture may consider yours too unfriendly. What I consider more significant is one’s ability to understand and work with other cultures regardless of the bias and conflict one might have.

Mr Lewis also has another book that bears investigation, When Teams Collide: Managing the International Team Successfully (2012) and is closer to work concerns in which I’m interested, particularly cultural views and being able to lead across cultures.

I think few people have the cultural and work experience to verify these patterns but perhaps we could do it through crowdsourcing. Anyone care to share their view of the pattern per their country’s culture?


Communications Patterns around the World.


Recap of the #P4SPchat: Turbo-charge your Enterprise with SNA


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Thanks to Marie Wallace and the team at IBM, here is a recap of our tweetchat around Social Analytics, held on April 24, 2014. It was a lively discussion with six guests and our host Marie:

  • CEO @Ripple Technologies, David O’Leary (@dwol)
  • Chief Scientist, Lithium Technologies, Michael Wu (@mich8elwu)
  • Head of Analytics @ W2O Group, Seth Duncan (@PRResearch)
  • Distinguished Engineer @ IBM, Jean Francois Puget (@JFPuget)
  • Social Science Researcher @ IBM, Kate Ehrlich (@KateEhrlich)
  • Analytics Strategist @ IBM, Marie Wallace (@marie_wallace)
  • and myself

Other notable participants include @jyarmis, @MarkTamis, @pulvereyes, @lehawes, @alanlepo, @O_Berard, @SethGrimes, @aaronpdoherty, @tdebaillon, @caseysteve, and @BrianVellmure. Thank you all for joining us. 



From Jive – March 2014 Insights from Social Business Thought Leaders


A nice mention in Jive Software’s slideshare:

“More and more people are working when, where, and with whom they need, organized in patterns they discover as the real way they can operate in the organization that gives them meaning and builds engagement. This creates the multiple dimensions of agility at work that we need…” Rawn Shah Chief Strategy Officer, Alynd @rawn


Both Holacracy® And Hierarchy Need Agreements


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The structure of the ceiling of Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia, Barcelona (Image: Rawn Shah, 2013)

The structure of the ceiling of la Sagrada Familia, Barcelona (Image: Rawn Shah, 2013)

Do you think we have been obsessing over the issues of holacracy® or holarchy versus hierarchy  too much lately? This debate of decentralized trust over command-and-control processes is the talk among business collaboration and management thought leaders, for good reason. Many think the pendulum may have swung too far over towards hierarchic systems; a fact we are now beginning to realize as we see greater freedom in the channels of information, relationships, and power structures. So we are actively seeking new rationale and models of operation for firms. Without reiterating Ronald Coase on the purpose of the firm yet again, let’s take more recent ideas into consideration.

In a recent post by Lee Bryant of PostShift titled The limits of social technology within existing organizational structure and culture, he presents that “social technology is a necessary prerequisite for the reform of overly bureaucratic enterprises, and can enable important new ways of working”. However, as Mr. Bryant points out, “without attention to the underlying organisational structure, it is unlikely to fulfill its potential.” He describes in sufficient detail some of the new models, from Dave Gray’s concept of the Connected Company, to the model of holarchy used in young organizations like online media company, Medium, and now online retailer, Zappos, as well.

[Disclosure: Dave Gray is an advisor to my startup, Alynd.]

Jon Husband, originator of the concept of wirearchies, identified the truism of the nature of work in organizations: “Our agreements are our structures”. What this implies is that structure is an outcome, not a pre-defined order. It is also likely a dynamic one, unless you work over and again with the same set of peers and partners. Therefore structure here is a projection, not a plan.

I think this atomic level concept has a strong basis regardless of the structure, whether centralized or decentralized. First, let’s look at it from a strongly hierarchical view.

The hierarchy defines not only the sequencing of direction and control, but also specialization of skills, knowledge or function. The structure is planned, and is modified on occasion to bring in new skills, move talent around for different needs, or fill a vacuum when one leaves. The structure is therefore planned and while there is some movement, it is fairly static. The benefit is that the nodes in the structure increase in specialization, tacit awareness within their specialty, and perhaps efficiency in executing those tasks. At the basic level, they have agreements in place to do the work as planned.

We debate whether this is the best approach because we see the cracks in the system. Relegation to the same specialty and limited talent mobility; a lack of innovation through variability and new scenarios; a structure that is self-reinforcing for its own interests; a system that directs power, focus and direction up to the very top; executing too literally rather than understanding Commander’s Intent. On the human side, there is boredom, a lack of opportunity, a lack of empathy with increasing distance up the hierarchy, lack of recognition of other skills, and so on.

However, the agreements are in place, by definition, along the structure of command. From this point of view, the debate is more on how well we can, or more accurately, want to deliver on those agreements. It is a ‘want’ not a ‘must’ because many tasks are simply not binary and absolute; rather, they have different variations, possibilities, multiple outcomes and a multivariate context. So, reality reflects ‘want’ as the quality of what we deliver.

The argument therefore is if the command and control system asks the participants to deliver with quality. To enforce this, organizations add context—precise definitions of quality of output, rules for delivery, and other context that are managed through formal motivators or punishments in the system.

On the other hand, consider this from the decentralized approach. The structure may—emphasis on may—emerge out of participation; or it may be transient. In fact, there isn’t on model, but many possibilities precisely because there is no defined sequencing as in the alternative. Why units (people) connect and develop the structure varies significantly but can be because of merit, shared interest, incentives, prior history, serendipity, or pure coincidence. I spent a bit of time explaining in Social Networking for Business explaining the possibilities.

The tradeoff for efficiency through known processes is agility from the organizational view—something we are starting to realize is of serious need due to the increasing pace of business. It creates units that are more responsive to the changes in the market— the large-scale changes and market trends, as well as the dynamic micro-scenarios of individual customers.

Is this an unbearable sacrifice of speed or efficiency? Perhaps, it just takes some getting used to. When asked if decision-making based on consensus in a collaborative environment was slow and long, participants in the 2014 Digital Workplace Trends Survey responded in two ways. The majority of companies surveyed (44%) said it was a serious challenge that held them back, while 48% of early adopters of the collaborative workplace, further along, considered it manageable even if still requiring an effort.

Adding this ability to redraw structures, and to allow self-direction, also improves the participating employees’ outlook on their potential. Passionate employees given the freedom will find new opportunities for personal and career growth. Those who desire stability can also find a reliable place.

This model, overall, still results in agreements between people. These agreements are freer to form, but in trade, they need more context because the high degree of functional specialization of the centralized model is replaced with changing roles and specialties. So, you need a view into the types of skills, expertise, relationship graphs, and other information about other participants to decide upon agreements. Keep in mind that you can change partners you work with at any time, but more than what they can do, what you really need is to have some basis of trust in working with them.

The fractal models as Lee Bryant and Dave Gray describes are really somewhere in the spectrum in between, but closer towards the decentralized model(s). They allow teams to form and reform as needed over time to solve particular problems. They have levels within levels of such dynamic teams—hence the ‘fractal’ phrasing—which overall has some level of order so it becomes possible to scale, to work towards larger or greater goals.

From my view, this common concept of agreements is still at the heart of work. The centralized model trades dynamism and agility in exchange for efficiency through defined context and process in advance, while vice-versa for the alternate model. Call it what you will—manager assignments, commitments, project tasks—they are still agreements and whatever the model you have in place, you will need a system to enable it.  This is the basis for collaboration, whatever your structural model.

Leadership in New Organizational Structures

I tend to be a center-left (if you consider holocracy toward the left), but more so, I believe in leadership as someone who knows how to maintain balance across the opposites, see things both as process as well as agile order. Why is this?

We still live in a world where the traditional centralized model of organizations are by far the most common. We need the new laudable and successful examples of Medium, and others. But realize that most of the world is not there yet. Not all companies can simply swap their organizational models easily. To consider such a change there often needs to be a perfect storm of patterns: a significant crisis felt broadly at the influences of power (the executives, the board, etc.); a market opportunity or possibility for change; a willing and influential leader; an understanding or strategy of how to enact the change; recognition by the employee base of the strategy on a practical, individual level, not some amorphous high-level dictum.

To implement that strategy, you also need to recognize that not everyone will move at the same time at the same speed, no matter how much you want it or explain it to others. Ignoring or hiding that reality is the dearth of many an organizational change initiative. So, a leader needs to be able to balance between the extremes, and everything in between, but also to move it forward.

Have such views been implemented before? Certainly. The Trompenaars-Hamden Turner (THT) model of dilemma theory focuses on a balance between opposites It looks at different aspects of cultures in organizations not as a single “what should it be” view but in terms of where it actually is. There is no good or bad, but reality and contrasts between different instances. For example, does the organization as a whole want to on the achievements and identity of individuals primarily, or does it emphasize group identity and achievement first? Does the organization consider the same rules as universal to all or does it take a more pragmatic approach to specifics of a situation? To evolve, you map your organization honestly and then consider the direction and distance to go for the evolution. More so, as a leader, insight into groups or individuals at different points of the spectrum gives you have a better idea of the distances of each to get to the intended future.

Getting back to centralized versus decentralized models, I see agreements as a common axis of the spectrum to enact such change. What you are changing in essence, moving from centralized to decentralized, is a move along the axis on various factors: who can make agreements with whom, the degree of context needed, and the basis of trust. The job of the transformation leader is to try to move people towards the new point on such an axis for the organization. The job of the overall executive is to drive continued or performance while moving towards that goal.

To get to the new possibilities of Medium, Semco, W.L. Gore, Morning Star and others, we need a basis for managing agreements that works under both the old and new models. The mechanisms can remain the same. The real change then becomes around the culture of how you make agreements and what that means to the people involved. And that needs a more pragmatic look, don’t you agree?

SXSW 2014 – Workhacking away from “Business as Usual”


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ImageAyelet Baron and I received confirmation on our session for SXSW Interactive 2014 as a core conversation. We’d love to have you there in Austin, TX as part of this group discussion on the future of work and the changes we can enable to make it better.

I’ll share details soon as the SXSW team sets the exact time and location. It is tentatively on March 9th, 2014.


Challenges & Recommendations for Social Adoption (Google+ Hangout) – #e20s Expert Talk


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A video of the Hangout on Air (on Nov 8th 2013) with an international panel of experts Simon Scullion (Spain), Anna van Wassener (Netherlands), Tobias Mitter (Germany), Björn Negelmann (Germany), and yours truly (USA).

The discussion focused on Adoption of Social Business now that it has matured for some years. It is so in the US, but still emerging in Europe. The conversations focused on process integration, on team-level enablement, and departmental functions of the organization

Nudging Along the Future of Work & Social Business


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  1. Recently, some of the thought-leaders had a bit of fresh discussion about the evolving direction of social collaboration, and the future of work itself. This discussion looked beyond the motivations of individuals, and at what is leading to this change in social business (enterprise social networks, E2.0, etc.) One debate was on the driving force or source of authority that ‘allows’ social collaboration to occur in the organization. The other is that we don’t have a consistent understanding of what social business is now, presumably at this point of its evolution. Both were looking at ways to help nudge an envisioned future of work.

    [Disclosure: Most of the folks here are friends of mine as well as peer thought leaders in Social Business. Chris Heuer is also my business partner.]
    It began with a tweet by  Daizo Ito (President of Panasonic India) on a Forbes post of mine from a few months ago, Social Business Thought Leaders Beginning Anew.
  2. Great piece by @rawn on hw social media thought leaders are making a move to achieve something greater.
  3. Agreed >> RT @DaizoIto: Great piece @rawn on how social media thought leaders are making a move to something greater:
  4. With some resharing by others, several folks chimed in on the social channels that that liked that particular piece, adding some information on their own changes.
  5. Good one. Ill comment in a post sometime :-)
  6. yes that is a good one… and worth pointing out that the ultimate source of tracking people moves, Jeremiah Owyang, has moved himself on to something bigger!
  7. aannnnnddd damn near the entire Dell SMac Team :)
  8. The Total Perspective Vortex: “You are Here”

    But the bigger speculation was a look at the current degree of maturity of social business, now nearing its first decade, kicked off by Frank Eliason (SVP Social Media, Citibank), followed by a response from Emanuele Quintarelli (Digital Transformation Lead, Ernst & Young) on the source driving the change.
  9. Great piece Rawn! I wonder who will be next to make a move. I think there are a lot of aspects. We are now hitting a stage where some say the ideas are maturing, but the reality is most companies are not even close to achieving what is possible. But as you know it does not come down to the tools but instead the underlying culture. I often talk about social service but the reality is companies must fix the overall Customer experience. For internal collaboration it is not about implementing the next version of whatever software, it is truly having a collaborative work environment. I expect these changes will happen over the next few years and I look forward to help lead that, but the companies doing it must be ready for it. It will be fun for us who have recognized this for a long time.
  10. Interesting point Frank. To me the central question is where will the change come from? From inside the organization, from the market pressure, from consultancies and which kind of consulting companies. I believe none of the actors involved are actually ready to make the leap. I’m afraid lots of patience and hard work will be required..
  11. Emanuele we are at the stage where patience and hard work are key. I think many companies were provided poor advice over the past few years and are going frustrated by the poor results. The challenge is they have not always listened to those who truly know but instead focused on the ease they were sold. I do think consultants (the right ones) will be important but I also think the discussion must happen at the right levels. It is not a CMO conversation. It is the CEO but also the lowest level employees too. Then it must converge onto the remaining parts of the org. Unfortunately for some companies this will take too long and others will pass them by
  12. I am seeing the same as many commenters on this thread: I think everyone “gets it” conceptually, but actually making a meaningful change is quite different. Too much attention has been paid to technology and not enough to underlying change management. You can’t just tell people to go collaborate — shocking, I know! :) I also think that people aren’t really making a connection between “external social” and “internal social” and how it’s part of the same kind of organization they need to become. And also.. social business or whatever you want to call it is still a silo, so definitely CEO level leadership is key as Frank Eliason mentioned — but it’s not enough. I think where most things get stuck actually is middle management. Social business efforts can fizzle there, no matter how visionary the CEO is. Also.. culture takes a long time to change, so when people don’t see results right away, they throw out the baby with the bathwater. Time to end this comment…
  13. As Mr. Eliason and Ms. Maria Ogneva (Director of Community, indicate, many organizations comprehend the gestalt–a structure, configuration, or pattern so integrated as to constitute a functional unit with properties not derivable by summation of its parts. This is supported by the large list of clients from large and small software vendors alike (IBM, Microsoft, SAP, Jive, Lithium Technologies, Moxie Software, etc.)
    But as the definition implies, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. There is a whole lot to those parts, however. They comprise entire functions (marketing, customer service, product development, etc.) and aspects of business (customer relationships, employee engagement, strategy and growth, etc.) The scale of it is what makes this so compelling for thought leaders, but also so challenging to enterprise leaders. It is a just a whole lot to know and juggle in mind on par with the Total Perspective Vortex of Douglas Adams’ novels–to stare at it may let you comprehend the depth of it all, but also drive you mad from grasping the complexity.

    What or Where is ‘Here’ in the timeline of maturity?

    The discussion then switched to what I describe as ‘what is the story now’? Where is ‘here’ in the Total Perspective Vortex? Chris Heuer (CEO of Alynd) and Mr. Quintarelli exchanged views on the matter:
  14. Based on our meme challenges, our language disconnect with the c-suite and the lack of buyers I wrote about this in the Social Business is Dead post. Now we are convening the tribes of #socbiz #e20 #responsiveorg #workrev and other Work Hackers  to discuss and create the future of work together! SB is Dead located here – 
  15. Chris, I’m sorry but I’m not buying it. The issue with Social Business or whatever we want to call it is not about names and monikers. The issue is with value and change: a value most senior executives simply don’t see and a required change that simply is not justified. You can call it however you want but the future of work is about a totally different kind of organization and a dramatically different kind of role for its constituents. Are we able to demonstrate the why? If yes, names are not that important. Otherwise, any name will be pretty useless. Names is about marketing. Change is about motivation to change. Change is about value.
  16. Language is about connecting concepts and people. If you haven’t, please read the article. Too dismiss it as marketing gimmickry is to miss my point entirely. There are many challenges, most of which come from the inherent complexity of the subject and the complacency of executives with the status quo.
  17. I’ve read the article of course and I’m specifically referring to . If I’m understanding your point, you remark that “it’s just time for us to find a phrase that is more attractive to corporate leadership” and that “The problem is that the deeper meaning and richer context is being lost on executives who still think the word “social” indicates a frivolous time-wasting pursuit”. On the contrary my impression is that executives will start looking into Social Business only when they get the why, in their terms of course. Words can be confusing but it is not other words that will make it clearer to me. At least not enough to remove inertia from the C-suite. I agree that “Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is not to get caught up in the words.” The next step to me is not another movement but showing the hard value that what we have been doing in the last few years, unfortunately, has not delivered. To me the future of the organization is especially about doing and changing organizations a step at a time.
  18. Emanuele. You can’t have it both ways. You say we need to explain the why “in their terms” and then say “it is not other words that will make it clearer”. That’s a pretty simple contradiction in what you are stating. I don’t think we disagree much if at all on principle here, which is why your “words” are confusing me :)
  19. No contradiction. It seems you consider words the solution. I consider actions and results the solution.
  20. Oh I just noticed the rest of the article — missed the interview between Rawn and Emanuele. My gut reaction: I have to say, I do not agree at all that business transformation is the territory of big consultants — but of course I can see why you’d say that because you work for a big consultancy. :) I work with all kinds of consulting partners, and I definitely don’t agree. I think the points of industry specialization — as well as seeing trends across industries at a 10k view — are valid points. But I don’t think this expertise only exists in large consultancies. Also, small and medium companies need social transformation — it’s just the way they go about it may be different.
  21. Managed Evolution takes Many, Many Small Nudges

    As I see it:
    (1) The topic has matured and changed since inception a few years back. (I’m intentionally being vague on when it started precisely.)
    (2) The gestalt of social business is vague and misunderstood. Some see the near-term possibilities and achievable gains, but ignore the full potential because that requires hard decisions and larger changes.
    (3)  There is a need for what changes can occur on a practical level that is pragmatic to the situation of each organization
    (4) “Short-term” varies but on a business operations-view it is 1 year or less. On a business work evolution viewpoint, it is a few years
    (5) I’d argue “long-term” means a decade or more, encompassing the possibility of the complete forward future of how you run your business.
    (6) We need actionable practical change in the Business-operations-Short-term timespace, but driving towards the Work-evolution-Short-term as well.
    (7) Making the practical change however still needs an understanding of the Long-term view both in concept, and in terms of the broad strategic/evolutionary goals for one’s specific organization.
    As the header says, evolution is many, many steps that seem small and achievable in the short-term, but develops the organism (the organization) into a new thing. This above isn’t evolution in the classic sense but guided or managed. We don’t simply set in motion and let things happen, but nudge things along. It takes many, many small nudges.
    The big debate we seem to have is what shape of actions and the reasons why we make these nudges…
    [To be continued. I propose one approach of my own.]

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