Corporate culture is the number one barrier to agile adoption and the leading cause of failed agile projects. At least this is what VersionOne‘s surveys suggest for the last few years (e.g. 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010). This exercise aims to examine the cultural diversity (the variety in participants’ cultural preferences) and to identify possible clashes with the agile culture (based on the prevailing cultural preferences of the participants). As such it could be (regularly) used to check whether the cultural preferences within a team or department, project, organization, etc. are consistent with the cultural preferences embedded in the agile ideology. The exercise could be also used to effectively communicate (and align expectations) of the both Management and Operations while transitioning to agile.
The cultural preferences, used as part of this exercise, are taken from Carté and Fox’s book “Bridging the Culture Gap“. However any other cultural preferences could be used (as the ones proposed by Hofstede, Cameron and Quinn, Hampden-Turner and Trompenaars, etc.). Where necessary points could be introduced to quantify the cultural diversity and determine the magnitude of the cultural clashes (as well as to make the exercise more fun and entertaining). For that purpose you might use Carté and Fox’s scales and calculate points (for each cultural preference) through difference scores.

The timing largely depends on the number of cultural preference used as part of the exercise.

Whiteboard and markers in two different colors (e.g. bluе and red).

I. The Relationships Radar

Carté and Fox’s cultural preferences for Relationships include:

  • Group-oriented (“My first duty should be to the group which I belong”) vs. Individualist (“My first duty should be to myself”);
  • Flat hierarchy (“Leaders should share power”) vs. Vertical hierarchy (“Leaders should hold power”);
  • Acquired status (“People should be judged on what they do, not who they are”) vs. Given status (“Other factors – such as family, class, nationality, race, education, age, sex, religion – should be taken into account”);
  • Personal (“We need to build a personal relationship first in order to do successful business”) vs. Functional (“We need to focus on business first and personal relationships later in order to do successful business”); and
  • Physically close (“I think physical closeness and touch are reassuring”) vs. Physically distant (“I prefer people not to come too close to me physically”).

Once these cultural preferences are explained to the participants and there is a common understanding of what constitutes them, the radar chart given below should be drawn on the whiteboard (with a spoke for each of the above cultural preferences). The dashed line means indifference.

The Cultural Radars - The Relationships Radar

The Cultural Diversity
The participants should individually and simultaneously add a blue dot on each of the spokes, representing their own cultural preferences (it should be emphasized that there are no good or bad cultural preferences). The more scattered these dots are on the spokes, the greater the cultural diversity is between the participants. Then a discussion should be held on the benefits and side effects of having such a cultural diversity (or cultural homogeneity). Finally a bigger blue dot should be added on each spoke, representing the prevailing (averaged) cultural preferences of the participants.

The Cultural Clash
A red dot should be added on each of the spokes, representing participants’ common understanding of the cultural preferences embedded in the agile ideology. If the participants are new to agile (or there are major disagreements), the red dots might be added by the facilitator. Then two lines should be drawn – one blue which connects the blue dots (or the prevailing cultural preferences of the participants) and one red which connects the red dots (or the cultural preferences embedded in the agile ideology). These lines should be further analyzed and cultural clashes identified and discussed. The radar chart should look something like this:

The Cultural Radars - The Relationships Cultural Clashes

The same procedure is repeated for the rest of the Cultural Radars. The only difference is the concrete Carté and Fox’s cultural preferences used.

II. The Communication Radar
Carté and Fox’s cultural preferences for Communication include:

  • Low context (“Business relationships are complicated, so communication needs to be frank, explicit and direct”) vs. High context (“Business relationships are complicated, so communication needs to be diplomatic, implicit and indirect”);
  • Effusive (“Lots of talk indicates warmth and interest. Silences should be avoided”) vs. Reserved (“I think you should talk only when you have something relevant to say”); and
  • Spoken (“For serious issues I prefer oral communication”) vs. Written (“For serious issues I prefer the written word”).

III. The Time Radar
Carté and Fox’s cultural preferences for Time include:

  • Monochronic (“I prefer to deal with one task at a time in a structured fashion”) vs. Polychronic (“I prefer to have several tasks running at the same time”);
  • Speed (“Too much analysis leads to paralysis”) vs. Patience (Taking my time helps me make the right decision”);
  • Short-term (“I prefer to focus on the here and now”) vs. Long-term (“I need to see beyond the horizon and plan accordingly”); and
  • Future (“Tradition gets in the way of progress”) vs. Past (“Change needs to respect tradition”).

IV. The Truth Radar
Carté and Fox’s cultural preferences for Truth include:

  • Relative truth (“What is right and wrong depends on the circumstances”) vs. Fixed truth (“There are clear rights and wrongs”);
  • Intuitive (“What I value most are creative and intriguing ideas that appeal to the emotions”) vs. Analytical (“What I value most is logical, comprehensive and consistent argument”);
  • Empirical (“For me, concrete experience is more important than theory”) vs. Theoretical (“I like using abstract concepts to solve problems”); and
  • Choice (“I am in charge of how I live my life”) vs. Destiny (“Forces beyond my control determine what happens in my life”).

Original article:

2 thoughts on “The Cultural Radars

  1. I rad about the cultural radars at yesterdays agile games lab meeting in Berlin. I’m very excited about this and want to do it asap. I’m also thinking about trying to apply this retrospectively to different companies where I worked, because I was happy in most places and not so happy in one specific place. I think I have a good understanding of it already, but reading this article I’m starting to think that the cultural radars idea can help be understand this better. And it could also help me to choose a company and to to work with (which I’m doing eight now). Very much looking forward to apply this.

  2. This activity is rather interesting for mixed nationality teams, but also for more homogenous teams. Corporate culture can be as supportive or adverse to agile as it it national culture, and often the development team members themselves are more open to agile values than their company is.

    Thanks, Stavros! -I will try this our, definitely!

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