“Individualism/Collectivism” is one of the five cultural dimensions identified by Geert Hofstede in his book Cultures and Organisations: Software of the Mind, where he presents the results of research on cultural variability or national cultural differences using survey data collected from IBM in 50 countries. In a similar categorization, Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner classified cultures based on a combination of patterns of behavior and values; one of these categories is communitarianism/individualism value orientation, which is very similar to Hofstede’s individualism/collectivism. This dimension relates to the degree of integration of individuals within groups by focusing on the role of the individual versus the role of the group. The main assumption underlying this dimension is that there is cultural variability on the degree of emphasis given to individuality/uniqueness or conformity/interdependence in societies. As such, societies where the interests of the individual prevail over group interests are individualist, and those where the interests of the group prevail over individual interests are collectivist.
Hofstede argues that individualism “pertains to societies in which the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after himself or herself and his or her immediate family” while collectivism “pertains to societies in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive ingroups, which throughout people’s lifetime continue to protect them for unquestioning loyalty.” Therefore, at the core of this dimension is the assumption that culture impacts the mindsets of individuals in society. Hofstede defines culture as “the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one human group from another.” As such, culture impacts both individuals and groups by defining (un)acceptable and (un)desirable behaviors and attitudes; it establishes categories of importance and levels of acceptability toward individualism and collectivism. Consequently, dynamics that prioritize the individual or group are identified based on how culture defines these categories and levels.
In line with the previous, the dimension opposes “I” (individualism) to “we” (collectivism), where highly individualist cultures would have characteristics such as emphasis on individual achievement, self-orientation, and focus and decisions based on individual needs. Highly collectivist cultures, on the other hand, have a group orientation and prioritize aspects such as group dependency, loyalty, belonging, and generally the well-being of the social system. In Hofstede’s work, this dimension was measured using an Individualism index (IDV).
Using an Individualism Index (IDV) based on measurement of work goal items such as personal time, freedom, challenge, training, physical conditions, and use of skills, participants in 50 countries were asked to think about factors that would be important to them in their ideal job (regardless whether these factors were present at their actual job). The rationale for using these items was the perceived dichotomous spectrum they show by illustrating employees’ independence from the organization versus employees’ dependence on the organization.
The score results represent the importance attached to these factors. Along the lines of the distinction previously made regarding individualist and collectivist characteristics, responses that prioritized personal time, freedom, and challenge were considered to reflect individualism, whereas responses that prioritized training, physical conditions, and use of skills were considered to reflect collectivism. The index used a range between zero and 100, where zero represented the highest form score of collectivism and indicated high importance of training and low importance of freedom. Conversely, lower importance of training and high importance of freedom increased the score, hence higher individualism. Factor scores for each country were calculated using a statistical procedure where each score was multiplied by 25 and a constant number of 50 points was added.
Findings suggested that the country with the highest IDV was the United States with a score of 91; this was closely followed by Australia with a score of 90 and Great Britain with a score of 89. The country with the lowest MAS was Guatemala, with a score of 6. A list of developing countries dominates the main lowest scores; for example, Ecuador (8), Panama (11), Venezuela (12), Colombia (13), and Indonesia (14). Hofstede’s score results suggest that developing countries move within notable collectivism, while industrialized countries move within notable individualism, which sustains his argument that there is a strong relationship between national wealth and the degree of individualism.
In countries with high IDV (or high individualism) scores, such as the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and the Netherlands, individuality is of core importance and there is an ideology of individual freedom, with principles of society that prioritize individual rights; for example, everyone has the right to privacy and everyone is expected to have a private opinion. On the other hand, in countries with low IDV (or high collectivism) scores, such as Guatemala, Venezuela, Pakistan, South Korea, and Thailand, while ideologies of equality sustain societal dynamics, actions and decisions are influenced by interest groups and group membership. For instance, political power is sustained by interest groups and opinions are predetermined by group membership. In that sense, group interests are prioritized over individuals. In view of the general patterns of individualism/collectivism orientation, Hofstede deduces how dynamics operate in the workplace, within occupations, in the family, and at school.
Trompenaars And Hampden-Turner’s Work
As mentioned above, Trompenaars and HampdenTurner categorized cultures based on a combination of patterns of behavior and values. The dimension of individualism/communitarianism is the equivalent of Hofstede’s individualism/collectivism, and it poses the question of whether it is more important to focus on the enhancement of each individual or rather the advancement of the corporation. However, the focus in Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner’s work is set on the individual and the organization as a community, particularly looking at how culture impacts business. As such, it is fair to say that it builds on Hofstede’s work, yet aims to highlight that an organization’s adequate functioning depends on the degree of compromise between individualism of different actors, such as stakeholders, employees, and clients, and communitarianism of the larger organizational system.
To measure the degree of individualism versus communitarianism, Trompenaars and HampdenTurner asked participants (a total of 30,000 managers completed the question) to choose one from two possible options to a scenario that addressed improvement of quality of life, which was included as part of a wider cross-cultural questionnaire. One answer (a) proposed individual freedom and opportunity to develop, while the other answer (b) proposed taking care of the group and reaching group well-being even if sacrificing individual freedom and opportunity. Findings indicated that the highest individualist were Israelis with a score of 89 percent. Others following this score were Romania (81 percent), Nigeria (74 percent), Canada (71 percent), and the United States (69 percent). The lowest-scoring countries (highest communitarianism) were Egypt (30 percent), Nepal (31 percent), Mexico (32 percent), India (37 percent), and Japan (37 percent).
Aside from differences both in scoring and aims measurement, there are some noticeable differences in response distribution between Hofstede’s results and Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner’s. Whereas Hofstede’s asserted that national wealth was associated with individualism; these assertion cannot be conclusively made in the case of Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner’s findings. For instance, while it is the case that there is an observable distribution that somehow resembles Hofstede’s findings, Nigeria, a developing country, is the second-highest individualistic value orientation country in Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner’s scale while France, an industrialized country, is located in the scale alongside developing and transitional economies such as such China, Brazil, Singapore, and Bahrain, which are culturally, socially, and politically different.
- Hampden-Turner and F. Trompenaars, The Seven Cultures of Capitalism (Judy Piatkus Publishers, 1994);
- Hofstede, Culture’s Consequences: International Differences in Work-Related Values (Sage, 1984);
- Hofstede, Cultures and Organisations: Software of the Mind (HarperCollins, 1994);
- J. Hofstede, P. B. Pedersen, and G. Hofstede, Exploring Culture: Exercises, Stories and Synthetic Cultures (Nicholas Brealy Publishing, 2002);
- Trompenaars and C. Hampden-Turner, Riding the Waves of Culture: Understanding Cultural Diversity in Business (Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 1998).
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