What Are Some Cultural Drivers? Introduction to Individualism

Individualism (Individual orientation) pertains to societies in which ties between individuals are loose.  Everyone is expected to look after him- or herself and his or her immediate family.  Collectivism (Group orientation) pertains to a society where from birth onward people are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups which throughout people’s lifetimes continue to protect them in exchange for unquestioned loyalty.  People with an Individual orientation take action and make decisions for the benefit of the individual.  People with a Group orientation take action and make decisions for the benefit of the group.

Which of the following describes you best?

Individual Orientation
Group Orientation
  • Task prevails over relationship
  • Everyone is expected to have a private opinion
  • Speaking one’s mind is a characteristic of an honest person; confrontations can be healthy
  • The same value standards are supposed to apply to everyone. Every customer should get the same treatment (universalism).
  • Relationship prevails over task
  • Opinions are predetermined by group membership
  • Harmony should always be maintained and direct confrontations avoided
  • Value standards differ for in-groups and out-groups. In-group customers get better treatment (particularism).

Here is an example of this orientation.  A few of the Japanese sales people working for a US American company in Japan are given sales bonuses based on a new incentive structure designed in the US.  When they get their bonus checks, they go out and cash the checks, come back into work and divide the money from their checks evenly among the entire sales staff.  I love this example because it so clearly shows three very important things.

  1. First, the sales people are exhibiting group orientation.
  2. Second, the US American practices were most likely designed by people who believe that individual incentives will work in a group culture (or who did not think about or know about cultural diversity).
  3. Third, it shows how local culture will supersede organizational culture if there is a tension between the two.