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Harnessing the 6 Dimensions of Culture for the Digital World

Harnessing 6 dimensions of Culture

So its been a while since my last blog and this is due to the fact that I have taken a new role, in a new company, and in a new country. And believe it or not it is not uncommon in this new digital era for people to make such a change; in fact research has found out that on average a professional would experience 2.1 similar changes (role, company and country - all at same time) in their lifetime.

I have been settling down, learning, and enjoying a new language, and getting to know a new culture.

Within my new role as well, I am now engaging way closer than ever with teams across the world, and we are, more than ever, required to work, collaborate and achieve results as global virtual team of teams.

Ever since the beginning of global engagements, it amazes me the differences cultures, habits and of course the working environments (i.e. culture@work) around the world. What is more fascinating, is how all research and management books agree that “culture” is ahead of strategy in delivering business results. I think for such a “Culture” to succeed in this digital and virtual world, it has to be:

boundless to geography, national cultures and diversity and it has to work across all channels and mediums; physical, analog and more importantly in the digital virtual world.

So how best can we achieve such a successful culture? In this blog, I will first define what culture is and what a digital culture can be and then expand on how, by understanding and harnessing national culture differences/dimensions, you can achieve a successful and truly global virtual/digital culture.


What is Culture and specifically “Digital Culture”?

Based on few definitions I have seen, I think the best and simplest definition of Culture is:

“the total sum of the beliefs, rules, techniques, practices, and artefacts that characterize a group and allow them to communicate, collaborate and shape their environment and future”

The above definition of culture can apply at all levels of groups, from a family, to a society, to a whole nation. It also applies to organisations and enterprises, from small startups to global conglomerates. However, the strongest of all these cultures are the national cultures that have been developed, paved, integrated, and ingrained for centuries.

Of course, the complexity with global world, that you have cross-cultural experiences and interactions on a regular basis that might test or challenge the cultural elements you are used to within your personal or professional lives.

In addition, with the new digital world, another dimension comes in: the merge of the physical and virtual interactions, including digital tools and processes; which brings also different experiences and expectations based on your current cultural values.

With this in mind, I believe the definition of “Digital Culture” can be:

“The total sum of interactions, principles, tools and mediums that a group agree to, to allow them to communicate effectively, collaborate efficiently and utilise the right technology to succeed in the digital world”

With this definition, I would like to move to how you can build a digital culture by harnessing the national cultures differences to your benefit. Why?

Ignoring cultural differences represents the largest stumbling block for global enterprises. There is a word even that causes this stumbling block: Ethnocentrism, which is evaluating other cultures from own’s culture view and the belief that one’s own way of doing things is superior to that of others. The challenge lies in recognizing differences, combining the advantages, adjusting and adapting to succeed with different people, in different partnerships, and in different physical and digital virtual mediums.

To do that, I will use the 6 cultural dimensions used by Geert Hofstede ( I am aware there are critics and supporters of Hofstede research and there is other research, such as Trompenaars and GLOBE, that some like more. However, from a dimensions perspective, they are all similar and give you an indication of the dimensions that make up a culture. Of course, I fully believe the results on Hofstede’s website are indicative and shouldn’t be blindly accepted; however, it is a good resource for the dimensions themselves.


Harnessing the 6 Dimension of Culture for Digital World:

Hofstede identifies that every Culture is defined by 6 dimensions. We will investigate each dimension and as per the Digital Culture definition, I will share with you considerations around the 3 elements of: communication, collaboration and technology to enhance your digital culture and to truly have global, integrated, cross-cultural and successful Digital teams.


Power Distance:

This dimension 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. This means cultures with low power distance like to be coached and employees prefer autonomy compared to high power distance cultures where a top down structure is appreciated and employees expect clear direction.

What should you take into consideration in your Digital Culture:

Communications: Communication style need to have both directive and advice oriented elements to reach cultures at both ends of the dimension. Managers and employee alike should be provided by guidance to remove any unconscious bias to one or the other style.

Collaboration: With understanding of power distance, collaboration can cause a lot of conflict if this dimension is ignored. The seniority of the role or title in high power distance cultures could clash with the low power distance cultures which like to be coached and not directed. Use frameworks such as Agile to drive to flat structure in teams that rely intensively on virtual collaborations. Or buddy up at least two team members to allow closer social contact.

Technology: With this dimension, a lot of new technologies are available which already flatten the power distance. Such tools could be enterprise social networks such as Yammer, SocialCast or Slack or social intranets such as Jive where power is eliminated through information democratization.



This dimension highlights the degree of interdependence a society maintains among its members. Individualist cultures have high preference for a loosely-knit social framework in which individuals are expected to take care of themselves and their immediate families only. In Collectivist cultures, people act in the interest of the group and not necessarily for themselves.

What should you take into consideration in your Digital Culture:

Communications: Communications is key here in case you want the recipient to perform an activity. Communications should provide both an individualistic and collectivist reasoning of the benefits of your request. Leaving one or the other reason will alienate the relevant cultural. In addition, face to face and verbal communications are key to this dimension.

Collaboration: For this dimension, collaboration should have the right mix of personal work in addition to team work. Teams and Managers should ensure that work doesn’t have to be always done in groups but also personal tasks can be taken and driven by one employee. In addition, meetings should be on an individual and whole team level.

Technology: Technology in this dimension is a challenge. Reason is that for collectivist cultures, current technology and tools does not allow them to act in the interest of the group. One idea is to allow content anonymity to be possible to allow people to freely contribute with ideas and feedback without feeling that they are impacting the interest of their group. In addition, adoption of technology will vary between individualistic and collectivist cultures and change management for such roll outs has to be different based on the culture.



This dimension draws attention to what motivates people, i.e. wanting to be the best (Masculine oriented) or liking what you do (Feminine oriented). In addition, Feminine oriented cultures try to avoid conflicts and try to reach consensus while Masculine oriented cultures expect managers to be decisive and assertive and conflicts are resolved by fighting them out.

What should you take into consideration in your Digital Culture:

Communications: Context is your silver bullet in this dimension. Your communication has to have a clear context that is providing a clear direction however leaving space for both ends of this dimension to take what fits their cultures. It is easier said than done but when done, you automatically see the difference of engagement across the board. Informal conversations and communication is also key to build trust and relationship between all team members.

Collaboration: Collaboration in this dimension is all about motivation, on a personal level as well as a team. Your digital culture should include motivation and gamification theories to allow cultures at both ends of this dimension to take the motivation that they need to work together for their satisfaction. Don’t forget to also celebrate achievements, physically and virtually.

Technology: Gamification technology and tools are a must if you want to tackle this dimension. Using online tools that cover both emotional or behavioral concepts of gamification are key.



This dimension shows 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. Low score of this dimension means that the nation are happy to wake up not knowing what the day brings. High score nations maintain a rigid code of beliefs and emotional need for rules.

What should you take into consideration in your Digital Culture:

Communications: In this dimension, you need to simply over communicate. Your communication needs to ensure you touch on both the heart and the mind of people. In addition, the visual/physical communication is key for high score cultures to allow them to process the information and minimize uncertainty. Key here as well is to develop cohorts, beyond your core team to help with consistent communication and feedback.

Collaboration: Collaboration in this dimension is all about consistent interaction using multiple media-rich channels as well as face-to-face. This dimension requires virtual collaboration to be moderated as processing information is key in this dimension. The higher the score on this dimension, the less information is correctly processed in virtual/digital channels and the moderator has to be savvy enough to present the information in multiple ways to ensure adoption/processing.

Technology: Technology has a big role here as it needs to offer media rich, multi-channel options for people to be able to collaborate and communicate in an immersive way, catching the minds and emotions of the team members. Video conferencing rooms and desktop options are a must and integrated interactive rooms and boards will definitely help.


Long term Orientation:

This dimension describes how every society has to maintain some links with its own past while dealing with the challenges of the present and future, and societies prioritise these two existential goals differently. Normative cultures have strong concern with establishing the absolute truth while pragmatic cultures believe that truth depends very much on situation, context and time.

What should you take into consideration in your Digital Culture:

Communications: Direct and full bodied communication is key here. It has to have the right blend of data and facts and linked to context and situation to be able to reach and touch both ends of this dimension.

Collaboration: In this dimension, Collaboration will have some conflict as cultures at the opposite ends of this dimension see situations a bit differently. Therefore, ensure to have a “check in” activity at beginning of the collaboration sessions so you align on common grounds before the activities. In addition, each team member, including the manager, has to be always available/accessible to rest of team. You want to avoid team members to feel absenteeism in others or in their manager.

Technology: Analytical tools that allow easy access to data visualization could help you here in keeping the factual data at fingertips while setting the scene of the activity at hand. In addition, virtual and physical boards and post it notes for brainstorming and check in’s are vital.



This dimension highlights the extent to which people try to control their desires and impulses. An indulgent culture is willing to realize its impulses and desires with regard to enjoying life and having fun and usually have more tendency towards optimism and positive attitude. A restraint culture has tendency to cynicism and pessimism and social norms make them feel that indulging themselves is somewhat wrong.

What should you take into consideration in your Digital Culture:

Communications: For communications to work in this dimension, acknowledgement of both opportunities and constraints for a certain situation should be included in your messages to avoid one side of this dimension to dismiss your communication.

Collaboration: In this dimension, collaboration has to allow users to adapt to what they prefer from a flow rather than forcing it. In addition, debate should be a given to allow cultures at both ends of the spectrum to challenge, discuss, and work together to the overall benefit of the team.

Technology: Group instant messaging and social tools are a must to allow and provide the platform for discussions, collaboration and alignment.


As nicely put by Hofstede, the survival of mankind will depend to a large extent on the ability of people to be thinking differently and acting together.

I hope the above has provided you with some thoughts and considerations you can implement to enhance the communication, collaboration and technology your teams are using to support you in achieving a digital culture that is truly global, inclusive, effective and lasting.

In the next 100 days, why not check your global teams and identify one or the other dimensions that you might see the highest impact on your digital culture and start with it. Then move to the next dimension and so on. You will slow down before you speed up i.e. it will take time to have the elements in place for all dimensions, but when this happens, new and existing global teams will form and work quicker than ever before.


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