Managing Across Cultures

Using the Lewis Model

Managing Across Cultures Using the Lewis Model. Build relationships and become a better leader. FutureX resource
Erin Calvert, Community & Growth Coordinator, FutureX - headshot

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Erin Calvert

Community & Growth Coordinator, FutureX

In global teams there are often cultural barriers that can interfere with the flow of a workstream or disrupt team dynamics. It is important for leaders to understand the subtle differences between their team’s cultural backgrounds and strive to bridge the gaps.

By understanding the attributes that define various cultures as a leader you can more effectively navigate the development of good interpersonal relationships. These relationships are the foundation of successful global business. 

In this article we will explain the Lewis Model and then offer two takeaways on where to improve and how to  thrive with a bi-cultural workforce. 

Developing Cultural Understanding with the Lewis Model

In his book When Cultures Collide: Leading Across Cultures, Richard Lewis (2018, p.35) classifies national characteristics into three main categories and plots countries in relation to their proximity to each of these categories (Figure1). The three main points of the model are Linear-Active, Multi-Active and Reactive. 

Linear-Active

Those closest to the Linear-Active side of the model are described as cool, factual decisive planners. They are organised and task orientated. They do not fall into discussions that are off topic and stick to the facts. The countries that most personify this description are Germany and Switzerland. 

Multi-Active

Multi-Active cultures are personified by their warmth, emotional understanding, and overall loquaciousness. They are impulsive, reactive, courteous, amiable, accommodating and they are natural compromisers. Some of the countries that best fit this description are Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Mexico.

Reactive

The final point of the model consists of the Reactive cultures. Reactive countries are made up of great listeners. They prefer to analyse situations from all angles before committing to an opinion or stance. They are rarely the first to initiate discussions or actions but prefer to react to someone’s established position rather than lead with their own opinion. The country that best personifies these cultural attributes is Vietnam.

The Lewis Model

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Takeaway 1 - Striving for Better More Effective Communication

You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘communication is key’ and it's true! Because we all communicate differently and understanding the nuances of how we communicate culturally can give you a huge advantage when it comes to developing lasting relationships. If we take what we’ve learnt from the Lewis Model and apply it to effective communication strategies we can see the following troupes and trends.

Using Lewis’ Model as a guide we can assess that Linear-Active persons communicate in a manner that is very direct as their focus can be defined by the notion that ‘time is money’. In some cases they are even willing to sacrifice the feelings of their colleagues in order to reach milestones. Leaders are results driven and your value derives from what you bring to the table and it is not based on any preconceived socio-economic status. 

Whereas their polar opposite culture the Multi-Active group clash directly with this notion as they believe that the development of relationships is the most valuable asset. These complicated interconnected ecosystems are often difficult for outsiders to navigate and require a great deal of time and trust to develop. Leaders are commended for their charisma and understanding leaving those incapable of complex discussion and compromise out in the cold.

Finally we look at the Reactive cultures, these cultures are often built on complex hierarchies and acknowledging and giving your superiors the respect they deserve is key to doing business within these cultural markets. Communication is reserved and poised. You must not present a point without having done the due diligence and researched it thoroughly. You must also be aware that the most senior person in the room is the focus for the conversation and pay them the appropriate respects when addressing them. To be successful in the reactive markets you must begin by immersing yourself within the local culture and truly developing a basis of cultural understanding before doing business.

Takeaway 2 - Mastering Bi-Culutral Project Management 

Maintaining effective project management across a bi-national workforce will rely heavily on careful recruitment and sufficient cultural training. In addition to relevant cultural training the ideal Project Manager would have to naturally have high Cultural Intelligence, a notion defined as “the ability to make sense of unfamiliar contexts and then blend in". It has three components- the cognitive, the physical, and the emotional/motivational. While it shares many of the properties of emotional intelligence, CQ goes one step further by equipping a person to distinguish behaviours that are peculiar to particular individuals and those found in all human beings.” They go on to say that “managers must be able to navigate through the thicket of habits, gestures, and assumptions that define their co-worker’s differences.” Individuals with high CQ are highly sought after by global corporations and as our workforces embrace globalization this quality will only increase in value. 

What you need to do next

So whether you’re currently managing a bi-cultural workforce or you’re looking to break out into a new market, having a greater understanding of how cultural differences come into play with how we do business is crucial to doing better business and developing lasting global relationships. However you should always get to know someone as an individual and never make assumptions based on their cultural background. Everyone is different but being culturally aware can only strengthen your overall understanding.

References

Lewis R.D., 2018. When Cultures Collide Leading Across Cultures. 4 th Edition. London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing

Lewis R.D., 2019. Cross Culture [online]. Hampshire: Richard Lewis Communications Ltd Available from: https://www.crossculture.com/about-us/the-model/ [Accessed 12 October 2019]

Earley, C., Mosakowski, E., 2004. Cultural Intelligence. Harvard Business Review [online], (Issue October 2004)