How important is consideration of cultural differences in Scrum Teams?

One of most important thing in Scrum is forming a self organized team. Do you consider cultural differences while social integration of team members and how do you know them in advance?

Especially in distributed Scrum Teams the local and delocated team members have differences in culture. But even local scrum teams might have team members with another cultural background. So it’s important to be aware of that while forming a team and while running scrum of course too.

For social integration we usually bring the delocated team members together. Over a longer time at the beginning and later on for short time on periodical base at one or the other location, e.g. for an on site sprint retrospective-, sprint demo- or planning meeting. As I’m working together with my team members already some years I know them very well. However, I’m sometimes asked by potential customers about cultural differences and if we’ve issues cause of those?

life-in-a-matrix-7-cross-cultural

This always was a difficult question for me, because I could give them just my personal perspective but no educated data. I’m happy to present you the solution: „The Hofstede Center’s research into national and organizational culture“. They offer a great FREE country comparison tool on there website National Culture, Countries.
The tool makes a culture comparison using the following 5 dimensions:
  • Power distance (PDI): This dimension deals with the fact that all individuals in societies are not equal – it expresses the attitude of the culture towards these inequalities amongst us. Power distance is defined as the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organisations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally.
  • Individualism (IDV): The fundamental issue addressed by this dimension is the degree of interdependence a society maintains among its members. It has to do with whether people´s self-image is defined in terms of “I” or “We”. In Individualist societies people are supposed to look after themselves and their direct family only. In Collectivist societies people belong to ‘in groups’ that take care of them in exchange for loyalty.
  • Masculinity / Femininity (MAS): A high score (masculine) on this dimension indicates that the society will be driven by competition, achievement and success, with success being defined by the winner / best in field – a value system that starts in school and continues throughout organisational behavior. A low score (feminine) on the dimension means that the dominant values in society are caring for others and quality of life. A feminine society is one where quality of life is the sign of success and standing out from the crowd is not admirable. The fundamental issue here is what motivates people, wanting to be the best (masculine) or liking what you do (feminine).
  • Uncertainty avoidance (UAI): The dimension Uncertainty Avoidance has to do with the way that a society deals with the fact that the future can never be known: should we try to control the future or just let it happen? This ambiguity brings with it anxiety and different cultures have learnt to deal with this anxiety in different ways.  The extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by ambiguous or unknown situations and have created beliefs and institutions that try to avoid these is reflected in the UAI score.
  • Long term orientation (LTO): The long term orientation dimension is closely related to the teachings of Confucius and can be interpreted as dealing with society’s search for virtue, the extent to which a society shows a pragmatic future-oriented perspective rather than a conventional historical short-term point of view.
Thanks to The Hofstede Center for publishing this data and for the open access of the tool!
Example 1: Nearshoring in Serbia
As my team consists of team members from Switzerland and Serbia I’d like to show you an example culture comparison using that tool:
chsrb

Basically the 5 dimensions are very general, but I must say it’s surprisingly accurate and was helpful for understanding some of issues we had. Find some of my thoughts below:
  • PDI is very important dimension in Scrum, you have to bring team members to similar level to become a self organized and proactive team.
  • Regarding IDV we didn’t encountered problems, but we will more focus to this dimension in regards to inter-team cooperation.
  • MAS could become problem in case of e.g. demanding Product Owner in Switzerland, that is not challenged by team members abroad.
  • UAI, the avoidance of uncertaincy is helpful from point of view of quality and delivery aspects. But could be challenging to find the balance between certaincy and innovation.
  • Tradition (LTO) is strong in both countries, that was a good base for long-therm oriented teams.
Example 2: Big „Canton“ Germany
Interesting might be also the comparison with the big „Canton“ Germany. As Swiss people often think we are so much different🙂.
chde

All in, consideration of cultural differences matters a lot in scrum teams. Especially while forming a self-organized team the educated data of  The Hofstede Center could help.
Feel free to make a cultural comparison with your current or future scrum team. I’m interested into your results?

Mirko Kleiner is a Blogger, Agilist (Agile Evangelist), Vice President Delivery at youngculture AG, Twitterer, Father of 2 beautyful Sons and Partner of a lovely Wife.

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Mirko Kleiner is a Blogger, Agilist (Agile Evangelist), Vice President Delivery at youngculture AG, Twitterer, Father of 2 beautyful Sons and Partner of a lovely Wife.

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