Dragons, Camels and Kangaroos: A Series on Cultural Intelligence for Programme and Project Management


China – Cultural Dimensions in international business 

Article 3 in the series ‘Dragons, Camels and Kangaroos’ 

By Bill Young 

Melbourne, Australia and Beijing, China

The previous articles in this series have outlined the need to build cultural competence as a foundation stone for enabling effective international business and project success in different cultural environments. They emphasized a common aspect in cultural competence: the ability to empathize, understand and respect all national cultures. The second article provided insights into China’s cultural disposition – to help create valuable context for anyone doing business or developing projects in China. It also outlined the need for business leaders and project managers (in China and beyond) to build culturally competent teams as a primary enabler for sustaining effective international business delivery.

This issue’s article focuses on how Cultural Dimensions (conceptual constructs that help put into perspective the features of national cultures) can be used to develop an understanding of behaviors and motivations. Knowing what can potentially motivate or de-motivate people in their work activities and environments is useful in building effective integrated business and project teams. The article explores the use of Cultural Dimensions for business applicability, and also considers their limitations.

Cultural Dimensions have been extensively researched over the past four decades. Notable researchers have included Geert Hofstede, Fons Trompenaars, and Robert House. Hofstede [1] and Trompenaars [2] separately conducted large studies across international organizations such as IBM and Shell respectively. At times they have differed at times in their positions or methodologies – but there is much evidence of convergence in their findings and conclusions. House, the initiator of Project GLOBE, galvanised 170 social scientists around the world to undertake separate studies on Cultural Dimensions relating to leadership behavior [3]. This research took nearly a decade to complete. There have been many others who made similarly significant contributions to the development of Cultural Dimensions.

China’s culture primarily orders how its broader society and commercial sector works. One of the first strategic business steps in such an environment, and it may seem obvious, should be to acknowledge the reality of cultural and related situational differences. As much as globalization has created the modern illusion of everyone being more or less the same, a kind of global homogeneity, this is not the case. This first step is like a vehicle stopping at a stop sign, as opposed to slowing down and rolling through; the latter mode presenting significant risk. The key is to stop and recognise the situation; then to work out what it means, and how it will impact the business / project being conducted. This means developing realistic, as opposed to optimistic, expectations going forward. For example, a project developing budgets or schedules essentially needs to factor in the likely costs, in money and time, that situational (cultural) differences will impose.

This is where Cultural Dimensions can be a helpful starting point. Every individual business or project will find different aspects more or less relevant to their context and will need to bridge the gap from general precept to business use. The following are some examples of Cultural Dimensions in a Chinese context. 


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About the Author

bill-young-bioflag-ukflag-chinaBill Young

PhD, MBA, M.Eng, B.Eng, CPPD, FIEAust, FAIPM.

President and initiator of the Asia Pacific Federation of Project Management (www.apfpm.org) (2010 – current).

Former President (2007-11) Australian Institute of Project Management.

CEO (1985 – current) PMS Project Management Services P/L

Director (2005 – current) of Professional Solutions Australia Limited

Based in: Melbourne and Beijing: <[email protected] >. 

Bill has worked for 31 years in engineering, business, and project management responsible for a diverse range of chemical processing and mining developments. He has worked in Australia, Europe, Asia, North America, and Africa.

After completing a number of Projects in China since 2005, he moved to China with his family in 2009.  He is a consultant and entrepreneur, and a Professor (part time) for the School of Mechanical & Electronic Control Engineering, BeijingJiaotongUniversity.