Working across cultures has been challenging for most managers, not only in Research and Development.

However, development teams face a special challenge when companies have outsourced some of the manufacturing to low cost regions but keep their development organisations in Europe. For them, working across culture could become the most critical hurdle in the whole innovation process when transferring new development to the manufacturer somewhere abroad.

Cultures have never been static, they change continuously in one way or another (yet at a slow pace). Could it be that all cultures will merge into one global one?

Some articles in magazines, more often in the North-American sphere, want to make us believe that all the differences will dissappear or that we already have one global business culture.

Does this global business culture really exist?

What are your thoughts?

A while ago I read and interesting and somewhat more differentiating article in HBS Working Knowledge. The author focuses on the Leadership Style differences between Asia and North-America. He also speculates about the future developments.

Asian and American Leadership Styles: How Are They Unique?

The rapid economic development of Asia in recent decades is one of the most important events in history. This development continues today and there is every reason to anticipate that it will continue indefinitely unless derailed by possible but unlikely international conflicts. At the core of Asian economic development is its business leadership—managers and entrepreneurs who sustain and create Asian companies. Do they exhibit the same leadership styles as top executives in the West?

There are important differences. Are differences attributable to different cultures or to different stages of corporate development?

…….

What is the conclusion? Styles of leadership are currently different between Asia and America. Culture colors the way things are done, but less so what is done. The differences in styles most markedly reflect the stage of development of the economies and companies of Asia. As Asian companies seek access to world capital markets, they will move toward professional managers who will employ leadership styles more akin to those now used in the United States.

If this were his only conclusions one could put this article in the row of the less differentiating ones. However, Professor Mills adds another (important) paragraph to it:

As Asian companies rely more on professional employees of all sorts, and as professional services become more important in Asian economies, the less autocratic and more participative and even empowered style of leadership will emerge. Asian leadership will come to more resemble that of the West. But significant cultural differences will remain—economic and geopolitical rivalries within Asia and between Asian countries and the West will continue and perhaps grow. Economies will retain characteristic national features. Convergence in a leadership style does not guarantee likeness of results nor even peace. We will continue to have to work for economic progress and peace; it will not come automatically.

Reprinted in part with the permission of HBSWK. Copyright © 2005 D. Quinn Mills. All rights reserved.

D. Quinn Mills is the Alfred J. Weatherhead Jr. Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School.

Find the full article here.