Business English and culture: individualism collectivism

    National cultures direct and affect the behaviors of their members, especially in terms of their level of individualism. According to Hofstede’s cultural model, a national culture may encourage individualism or emphasize collectivism. This, clarifies society’s values and priorities with regards to personal vs group needs and wishes. Individualism refers to the strength of the bonds and ties between society members. An individualistic culture encourages personal growth and attention to personal needs and wants. Conversely, being a part of a group and having strong bonds is considered more important in other societies. More moderate national cultures are scored between the two ends. The scores provided by Hofstede’s research determine the relative position of a national culture among others.

    As explained above, individualism is related to the level of interdependence vs. independence of the members of a society or organization. A high score on individualism in Hofstede’s research indicates leaning more towards independence whereas a low score suggests a more interdependent culture. Members of a more individualistic culture tend to consider personal growth and needs above group needs, which encourages competitiveness above teamwork. On the other hand, more collective cultures consider the well-being of the group above themselves. They care for other members of the group and depending on the degree of interdependence, turn a blind eye towards their personal needs and wishes.


    In a culture where social norms involve high level of independence as well as the development of personal values and beliefs, a high level of individualism can be observed. Similarly, an organization that values individual work and performance, encourages people to work towards goals that lead to personal benefits. American management styles are affected by their culture, encouraging independence and valuing personal growth. The degree of competitiveness in an organization can be determined based on this cultural dimension. While this may be considered damaging towards the organization as a unit, an individual’s personal growth means they have more to offer. Canada, the US, Australia, France, and Germany are among countries with the highest level of individualism.

    Carl Jung, a well-known psychologist, suggests that a temporary separation of individuals from the society is a natural process that enables individuation. He maintains that outside the society and group, a person develops abilities and skills unique to them, and eventually brings those idiosyncratic properties to the society from which they can benefit. Organizations such as Google are allowing their employees daily time to work on their personal projects and it is said that many new ideas and products are the results of these projects. On the other hand, IDEO makes use of a worldwide platform to encourage members of different societies to come together and discuss their ideas, improve them, and find better solutions to problems around the world.


    Among countries with high level of collectivism are China, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Peru. Countries with high level of collectivism show strong relationships and consider group needs and wishes over personal ones. In this culture, people care for each other, especially for elders and children. Actions and behaviors are in a way that benefit other members of the society. While a high score on Individualism shows strong individualistic properties, low scores indicate collectivist characteristics. In such cultures healthy relationships and strong bonds are essential. Adaptation to social norms is common in these cases.

     Members of an organization consider it important to work as teams and help people in need. In other words, help is openly offered and accepted in these cultures. Members work well together and teamwork outcomes are more satisfactory. Organization or team norms are considered more important than personal styles, therefore, people do their best to adapt and be accepted by others. Every member considers themselves responsible for their own performance instead of the leader being accountable for every action and behavior of team members. Since people work towards a common goal instead of personal goals, goals and objectives are achieved with less internal issues and disputes.

Cultures Affect Management

    Japan’s score is slightly higher than the counties with low degree of individualism. Its management style is affected by its culture, emphasizing teamwork over individualistic activities. Japan’s approach has significantly affected both its national and international business success. Japanese management style is another well-known one and it is typically compared against the American management style. Japanese style encourages informal communication and is more people-oriented while in western style promotion is given according to performance and decision-making is based on the majority. American management system employs based on demand, but the Japanese consider lifetime employment. It is clear that each have their own advantage and disadvantages.

    While individualism can offer benefits from both the individual and the society, lack of ties or common ground for too long may lead to problems more that solutions. A society in which people care less about others or follow their needs and wants at the expense of other members may face a more hostile environment. In an organization where people are only responsible for their actions, employees may not see the benefit in helping others or teaching them what they know. This might enable a person to move up the ladder faster, but many will lag behind. In the worst case, those driven by their personal agenda may take advantage of those who are working with the benefit of the organization in mind. Too competitive environments can be more discouraging as they require and waste energy that can be otherwise spent on productivity.


    Individualism and collectivism explain the strength of the relationship and the interdependency of the members of a society. Understanding this aspects allows people to communicate and negotiate with the values that result from this dimension. In addition, adapting to the unique environment that the degree of individualism can significantly lower conflicts and improve relationships. Organizations can evaluate and modify their approach towards management with this aspect in mind and businesses can prepare for international communication, alleviating barriers which may be caused by certain differences.

Task 1

1. Discuss your work environment in terms of the degree of individualism.

Task 2

2. Research and compare Japanese with American management style. Discuss their effect on HR policies.

Other posts you may like

Hofstede's cultural dimensions: uncertainty avoidance index

uncertainty avoidance and culture

Uncertainty avoiding cultures are unwilling to let go of their adherence to their codes and happen to be more rigid. While principles are central to high uncertainty avoiding index societies,...
Learn More
Hofstede's cultural dimensions

Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions

Hofstede identified six categories through which cultures can be more easily analyzed and understood. These categories are known as cultural dimensions. Hofstede’s six cultural dimensions are: power distance index, individualism,...
Learn More