Cultural Differences in Decision Making in Project Teams.

July 22, 2015

The article’s main argument is that group members use ‘national culture’ and ‘cultural diversity’ as tools to get organized, reproducing the truth effects of ‘cultural differences’. (Human Relations article) Much earlier work emphasized that…


Decision making is a basic activity that can be found in all cultures. A review of the psychological literature concerning decision making reveals a variety of theoretical models, which attempt to prescribe rational decision making or to describe and explain failures to make rational decisions (for a review, see Abelson & Levi, 1985). However, with the possible exception of studies of organisational decision making (Misumi, 1984; Ouchi, 198 I), decision making in non-Western cultures has received little attention.

Janis and Mann (1977) proposed that having to make decisions is stressful. Drawing on the psychology of stress and its relationship to decisional conflict, they suggested that a major motive driving the behaviour of decision makers is a concern to reduce the stress and conflict aroused by having to make decisions (Gerard, 1967; MaM, Janis, & Chaplin, 1969).

The conflict model of decision making proposed by Janis and Mann (1977, p.3) describes: “when, how and why psychological stress generated by decisional conflict imposes limitations on the rationality of a person’s decisions in his personal life and woik life”.

For non-Western cultures, especially
the Japanese culture, where the ethos has often been described as “promoting harmony” (Hasegawa, 1966; Idemitsu, 1975; Nakane, 1973), a major aim of decision making may be to promote group harmony by preventing or alleviating intragroup conflict, rather than attempting to avoid or escape individual conflict (Stewart, 1985).

Second, the dominant cultural pattern of a culture may influence the way decisions are made. Much has already been written about the group orientation of the Japanese compared to the mostly self-centred, individualistic behaviour of Western people (Caudill, 1973; Christopher, 1983; Draguns, 1980; Hofstede, 1980; Marsella, Devos, & Hsu, 1985; Nakane, 1973; Radford, 1989). In individualistic cultures the emphasis in decision making is on the individual as the instigator and agent of the decision; on the person’s attributes, abilities, and personality (e.g. “decisive”, “bold”, “adventurous”) as a decision rhaker; and on the importance of considering the consequences of the decision for the self (e.g. are personal goals achieved by the decisions?, Janis & Mann, 1977). Decision making in collectivistic cultures is characteri d by a greater concern with, and participation by, the individual’s social group (e.g. family, friends, club, company). This in turn allows for a sharing of responsibility in decision making and encourages a degree of dependency. Because of shared group resources, individual ability is not such an important determinant of the success of a decision poi, 1973; Kimura, 1965; 1967; Lebra, 1974; 1976).

Decision making is a
fictional cognitive system which combines perception, memory, thinking, judgement, and values in a way that allows and governs action (Stewart, 1985)
In summary, Australian students, with their emphasis on
the “Vigilance” factor, identified many of the processes generally associated with an “individualistic cultural orientation” in decision making, with its emphasis on individual action and behaviour. Likewise, Japanese students, with their emphasis on the “Social Context” factor, identified many of the processes generally associated with a “collectivistic cultural orientation” in decision making, with an emphasis on the social context and the role of others in decision making.

Although the factor structure in both cultural samples was similar, one item was not. For Australian students, concern with “personal losses and gains” loaded higher on Factor II (“Vigilance”), whereas for Japanese students it loaded higher on Factor I (“Social Context**). This finding suggests that for Japanese students consideration for personal losses and gains is closely connected with a concern for group losses and gains. Although “collectivism” is sometimes interpreted as meaning that the concerns of the group are put before those of the individual, it may also be seen to mean that the concerns of the individual are satisfied within the context of the group.

Human Relations
Disagreement exists, however, regarding whether a diverse racial and cultural composition of groups leads to positive or negative group outcomes. On the one side there are those researchers that argue that cultural diversity, as a source of cultural differences, brings to the group a variety of values, perspectives and behaviours that enhances the group’s creativity and its problem solving capacity (Cox et al., 1991). The explicit heterogeneous composition of groups, it has been suggested, is one of the remedies for the phenomenon of ‘group-think’ (Janis, 1982). On the other side of the debate, there are those researchers that argue that racial diversity, as a source of visible differences, incites intergroup bias leading to negative group outcomes (Pelled, 1996). Moreover, others argue that the cultural differences inherent in a multinational workgroup may be so distracting as to inhibit its potential benefits (Thomas, 1999).



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