Leni Mayo

aussie startups and stuff

A Note on US and Australian Culture

I’m currently reading “Organizational Culture and Leadership” by Schein (4th ed) - a must-read for anyone interested in culture in the workplace.

Schein makes an interesting observation on similarites and differences between Australian and US culture.

But first, here’s some background:

Anthropologists observing a wide variety of macro cultures have noted that one major dimension on which nations and ethnic groups differ is the degree to which they regard the ultimate unit of society to be the individual or the group. All societies have to develop a system for encouraging individuality and group loyalty, but they differ in their assumptions about what is ultimately the basic unit (Kluckhohn and Strodtbect, 1961; Havrylushyn, 1980). Hofstede’s (2001) comparative study reinforces this point in identifying individualism-collectivism as one of the dimensions along which countries differ in his surveys. For example, countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom come out as more individualistic, whereas Pakistan, Indonesia, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Japan come out as more collectivist.

Data from the Hofstede studies is publicly available, and the similarites between Australia and USA are readily apparent.

However Schein goes on to observe:

In practice, every society and organization must honour both the group and the individual in the sense that neither makes sense without the other. Where cultures differ dramatically, however, is in the degree to which the espoused behavioural norms and values do or do not reflect the deeper assumption. On the surface, both the United States and Australia appear to be individualistic cultures, yet in Australia (and New Zealand), you hear many references to the “tall poppy syndrome” (that is, it is the tall poppy that gets cut off). For example, an American teenager whose parents had relocated to Australia reported that after a brilliant ride on his surfboard, he had to say to his buddies, “Gee, that was a lucky one.” A person does not take personal credit in an individualistic culture that has strong espoused collectivist values. In contrast, though the United States espouses teamwork, it is evident in sports that it is the superstar who is admired and that building teams is seen as pragmatically necessary, not intrinsically desirable.

This helps me understand some things I’ve personally observed, namely:

  • US superstars working in Australian teams have occasionally felt under-recognised for their personal contribution, and

  • Aussies visiting or working in the US are often told to “blow your trumpet”

I’m reading Schein because influx.com involves team members from widely differing cultures. Even when team members are from similar cultures such as the US and Australia, it’s helpful to understand some of the differences!