Cultural values impact on self managing work team outcomes through resistance

The following post is a review/critique of :

The impact of cultural values on job satisfaction and organizational commitment in self-managing work teams : the mediating role of employee resistance

Bradley L Kirkman; Debra L Shapiro

Academy of Management Journal; Jun 2001;

Cultural values impact on self managing work team outcomes through resistance

This paper examines the effects of self managed teams practices on job satisfaction and job commitment across cultures and suggesting a mediating role of cultural resistance.

I find some of the previous cross-cultural studies with stereotypical generalizations of cultures with statements on the how culture effects outcome variables like satisfaction and commitment somewhat unconvincing and perhaps culturally insensitive. I also find the explaining mediating variable to be of little theoretical explanatory power, almost unnecessary, in an already questionable paradigm or approach to the research topic. Personally, I regard statements like “determinism level of Filipino employees-often expressed by the saying bah alana, or "God willing" (Gochenouer 1990)-will likely lead to employees feeling that they cannot effect much change in their organizations” as a reduction of cultures into mere shallow stereotypes and completely out of place in a much needed in-depth theoretical discussion of cultures. Does the frequent “God bless America” say something about America’s determinism that’s generalizable to the American population?

Some of the theoretical reasoning requires further elaboration. For example, the assumption that an individualistic person would be less willing to work in a group or won’t be as successful in a group as a collectivist person is not intuitive to me. I do not believe in the notion that culturally individualistic people have more resistance towards work groups, but in that they see them as instruments towards different goals with an emphasis on different things. For example, an individualistic person might see the group as something to would help the individual person improve in individual variables and reach a better personal outcome overall, while a more collectivistic person might focus on the potential benefits of the group to the entire group.

Assuming that this does make sense, the question of whether the resistance to the practices comes from the employees or the managers executing the practices is worth investigating. I believe there is also the issue of the need to differentiate between general resistance to change in that in some countries those practices are just not as common and the cultural resistance to the values that those practices allegedly promote.

If we already measure individual cultural values, then the mediating role of a country on the resistance does not make much sense unless resistance is not personal factor. The article already strongly assumes that a personal’s individual cultural values are derived, if not identical, to national values , so why would national values have further moderating effect over resistance? Which leads to a much bigger unknown – what is this resistance and where exactly does it come from?

A possible contribution of this paper is in refining, validating and publishing the individual level cultural values questionnaire, though I have major concerns about how Hofstede’s cultural values were derived from the IBM sample, extended to include a “hidden” Chinese value and then bounced back again to the individual level. The whole process lacked a theoretically sound paradigm looking at both individual and national levels, which can be seen in other more comprehensive theories on this topic, like that of Schwartz’s universal values (1992) and national cultures (1999). Personally, the fact that the questionnaire items loaded into the same factors in different cultures simply shows measurement factor equivalence but not that this equivalence means the same thing across cultures or that it is complete in any way. Though I have read a few cross-cultural studies, I am afraid I am still not very familiar with Determinism and Doing Orientation but I question those as cultural dimensions ties to Hofstede’s and would have liked to see the discussion where those cultural values are contrasted and compared with the other Hofstede values. Collectivism and Power Distance aside, there are other cultural values involved, and since they represent a culture together within a multidimensional construct, it would have perhaps been relevant to see how those fit in, even if the assumption is that they do not have a significant contribution.

I strongly agree with some of the points made in the discussion, which are almost contradictory to the general message of the article in that – "applying self-managing work teams […] is a matter of implementation" (1999: 23) and that such practices “ought to be implemented […] cautiously, adaptively, and systematically in the context of the […] culture” which – in my view- is not to say that “participative management may not be suitable in countries high in power distance” but rather that culture, whether national, organizational or personal (through values), should be taken into consideration when implementing new practices for any person in any organization at any part of the world. Especially so if we concluded that there is inherent resistance, be it that of culture or of mere resistance to change from current practices or what is common in other organizations.