Different countries have their own preferred or default way in managing time. The two main protagonists in managing activities (time) are: the sequential way and the synchronic way.

In the sequential way -- which is the preferred method in the northern European countries you manage time in a first-in-first-out way. Like the queue in a show; you have to draw a number and wait for your turn. People who have learned to organize their life in this way tend to do "one thing at the time." And ... they strongly prefer planning and keeping to plans once they have been made. Time commitments are taken seriously. Staying on schedule is a must. ([http://www.7d-culture.nl/Content/dim_6.htm])

\"time Management\"

In synchronically organized cultures, people usually do several things at a time. To them, time is a wide ribbon, allowing many things to take place simultaneously... Time commitments are desirable rather than absolute. Plans are easily changed. Synchronic people especially value the satisfactory completion of interactions with others. Promptness depends on the type of relationship (Trompenaars, Hampden- Turner)

In the same -- Riding the waves of culture -- Trompenaars quotes an anecdote of an Italian butcher who -- while serving a customer some salami -- asks ("shouts") if there is someone else in the queue interested in a portion salami. In this way the butcher can continue the same activity which is more efficient than the sequential method. In fact the example is a mix of both; the sequential method is the main approach, but each time a synchronic intervention is added to streamline the process. The best of both worlds.

Another textbook example is when you visit -- while dwelling in a foreign synchronic culture -- a museum and the person behind the counter is talking on the phone and attending your entrance at the same time. This is often a source of friction. "People are so rude in this country."

Also discipline is often a sort of topic that raises complaints in Spain by northern citizens. But when you are dealing with such a situation when your business partner shows up later then expected you should realize that both your views on time management do not match; Punctuality is not a top priority in Spain as it is in the Netherlands or even more in Germany.

Understanding the differences is understanding the ways in which time can be managed. Not good or bad, just different. Awareness of these differences is the first step in managing your life and business in another culture.

© 2006 Hans Bool

Time Management and Culture

Hans Bool is the founder of Astor White a traditional management consulting company that offers online management tools. Have a look at some of our free management tools

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