I have just finished reading a great book on cultural differences as it applies to working with multicultural teams. The book: The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business is filled with fascinating real-life stories of how cultural differences impact relationships between people working together. The author, Erin Meyer, is an American living in Paris and a professor at INSEAD, the “Business School for the World”. She trains leaders from many different cultures of the world. No, the book is not written specifically for missionaries, but is nevertheless a very valuable resource for anyone working in a cross-cultural environment, and particularly those who serve on multicultural teams.
Based on extensive research and experience, Meyer has come to realize that you cannot simply categorize cultures into two camps on a particular issue. For example, cultures are not simply time-oriented or event-oriented. The English see the French as not punctual and disorganized, but Indians see the French as too rigid in terms of time! Both are right – from their vantage point. And from yet another place on the spectrum, the Germans see the English as being “disorganized, chaotic and always late” (p. 22). See the diagram below that compares Israeli (red) and Russia (yellow) cultural maps. So we see that cultures are scattered across a spectrum, and what matters is not a culture’s absolute position on the spectrum, but rather its relative position in comparison to the culture it is interfacing with.