The Culture Map

The Culture Map is an excellent book by Erin Meyer. As my current team evolves in an international context, I had the idea to use the culture map as an icebreaker to start one of our quarterly meetings.

The team is composed of people from France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, and The Netherlands. The team has to interact daily with a lot of people from the US, and nearly all countries in the EMEA area.

We used a Miro board and one of the culture map provided in Erin’s book (reproduced below).

I gave a short explanation of the first scale: Communicating. Either you are in a Low-Context culture where the communication is precise, simple, and clear, or you are in a High-Context culture where the communication is sophisticated, nuanced, and layered (you are expected to read between the lines).

Then, I asked one question: Where the US would be?

All the team members connected to the Miro board can see the cursors of the others, and so I asked them to move their cursors to the position they thought the right answer would be.

After some discussion, people started to position the US in comparison with other countries. Of course, we covered the fact that a country cannot be a point on a scale but more a range on the scale. We also covered that all people are different and that the more you know a country, the more you can appreciate the subtle differences of the different regions.

We continued to iterate with the next scales:

  • Evaluating: How people give direct or indirect negative feedback.
  • Persuading: How people are trained to begin with the theory or to begin with facts or statements.
  • Leading: How people are used to an Egalitarian or a Hierarchical model.
  • Deciding: How people are used to decisions made in a Consensual way or Top-down.
  • Trusting: How trust could be built either though business related activities or through sharing meals and drinks.
  • Disagreeing: How people are used to see debates and confrontation as positive for the team, or as negative for the team and inappropriate.
  • Scheduling: How people see the time as linear (everything is scheduled and you stick to it) or flexible (everything can be approached in a flexible manner.

It was a very good opportunity for the team members to express their preferences, and a good reminder that wherever you are on the scale, you have to accept that others could be at another position because they value that position more. They are no “good” position or “bad” position.

A very good starting point to appreciate the diversity of the strengths of the team.