The Culture Map by Erin Meyer – a Book Review

The Culture Map by Erin Meyer was a book I decided to read during my very brief stint working for Nokia in the summer of 2020. It was there that I witnessed the widest array of cultures and nationalities coming together. From east to west, coworkers from China, India, Poland, Germany, France, and the United States were on the same call which made for quite diverse teleconferences.

Setting the effectiveness of such large meetings aside, during these calls I saw the many different styles of management and problem solving first hand, and it got me wondering if there’s ever been a manual of the sort that would be helpful to read before making a potentially harmful mistake. 

Enter The Culture Map by Erin Meyer. (AMAZON link here)

Growing up in a Los Angeles suburb was a great cultural experience within itself. We were a sole Polish family for miles, surrounded for the most part by Asian, Hispanic, and Armenian cultures. Philipino, Chinese, South Korean, and Thai, Mexican, Guatemalan and Salvadorian, American, Armenian, with a hint of Arabic is how I remember my San Fernando Valley surroundings. 

But as diverse as all of these cultures were, they all (for the most part) adopted the American culture of doing business. I didn’t think about it much before, but having worked now with people not just from, but within other countries, I can most definitely tell the difference. And it wasn’t until I read about these differences, did it occur to me that my own style of management is most definitely American.

American vs. German

Every day at work I seem to be mixing at least three different cultures, and with that, three different styles of management. I am Polish living in Poland, managing projects for a German company, with an American background. 

Meyer writes:

CONSENSUAL OR TOP-DOWN: WHICH DO YOU PREFER? As we’ve noted, both the United States and Germany are outliers on the Deciding scale. Although the United States falls toward the egalitarian end of the Leading scale, it appears toward the top-down side of the Deciding scale. Meanwhile, though Germany is characterized as a hierarchical culture on the Leading scale, it is marked by a consensus-oriented decision-making style.

Again, I never really thought about it until I read it. And I’m sure with remote work and mixed cultures all around these clear boundaries of cultural behavior might be a little blurred at times, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of “ohh, that’s why!” when applying this newly acquired knowledge to my recent meetings. 

The book has its ups and downs, and it took me a little longer than I anticipated to read through it. I do maintain a burnup chart for every book that I read and monitor my engagement. And that’s really all that the chart shows me, just much did the book pull me in. 

If I see a line above my usual twenty-something pages per day average that means I felt like reading more per day. When I see that trend dip, it means I wasn’t really feeling the urge to get back to reading. So while I do recommend this book to others, I also think it’s not the most exciting reading I’ve ever done. It’s full of personal experiences of Meyer with her clients, but I had a tough time sticking with it.

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