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Q of the week: How can cultural differences influence Distributed Agile Teams?

Updated: May 15, 2023

While doing my doctoral research, I have come across many distributed teams that identified cultural differences as a big challenge to communication in distributed Agile teams. As technology brings us closer than ever and we work together across time zones, distributed teams need to be mindful of these differences and work together to identify them for more effective collaboration.

Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions theory is a framework for cross-cultural communication, and how it plays a significant role in the work environment. According to Geert Hofstede, power distance, uncertainty avoidance, individualism versus collectivism, and masculinity versus femininity are the main dimensions that affect workplace communication. In environments where the national culture is uniform, there will be fewer challenges in a distributed environment. When individuals are remotely collaborating with teammates of different nationalities, the national culture plays a significant role in the way they interact.

· Power distance is a significant one, particularly with Agile, because you are expected to be self-organizing. You are going to be solving challenges and reaching consensuses rather than being told what to do.

· Uncertainty avoidance involves the risk and adversity of the different cultures. Does one team have a culture that must know the answer to things before they engage in them? Or is it one that is generally more exploratory and experimental? Evaluating this is another critical aspect of making Agile work and may vary depending on whether teams are local or distributed.

· Individualism versus collectivism is a similar one that involves determining how members think of themselves within the team. Are members more inclined to identify as a person, or do they identify more in the collective of how others think? The national culture plays a role in how members identify as an individual.

· Masculinity versus femininity is often taken for granted in the US, where there is a strong push for men and women to have equal opportunities. In some cultures, masculine roles are consistently given more authority, resulting in unfortunate expectations of a relationship that implies that a male figure has more authority than a female figure. Hopefully, this viewpoint becomes less common worldwide as we progress, but there are some parts of the world where these ideologies are still held. That will play a significant role in how teams collaborate.

An effective Scrum Master must identify these themes and facilitate communication so that conflict is minimized, and collaboration is maximized.



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