Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Research project closed

Dear readers,

This research project has been closed. Therefore there will not be any new posts on this blog. If you are interested in the results drop us a message. We would be glad to provide you the final research paper.

Best regards,
Jan Lachenmayer

Monday, May 11, 2009

Follow-up: Reflection on the Study

This podcast contains a reflection on the study. Four issues are addressed:
  • Reflecting on the study's proceedings
  • Feedback of the interview partners
  • A new topic that evloved
  • Next steps to venture

Monday, February 23, 2009

13th Inteview: Dubai a Tribal Society

1st order: The 13th interview was held with the general manager of a Dubai commercial bank. My interview partner is a local Emirate by birth and citizenship higher educated abroad.

Guiding distinctions by tribes and religion
I was told that in order to understand nowadays UAE society two distinctions are helpful. The organisation and logic of society is still based on tribal systems. The sub organisation of tribes follows along the families. Tribes can be distinguished between traders and Bedouin, e.g. the Abu Dhabi ruling family follows a Bedouin background. The tribes are highly interrelated through marriages, however a tendency is observable that tribes marry more frequently within their realms to stabilise its structures.
A second distinction which is especially of future importance is the difference between Shiites and Sunnis, the latter can be predominantly found in government.
Frictions between generations
Especially the generations 40+ tends to be more and more alienated from the rest of society, I have been told. The generations up to 40 years old can be distinguished weather they studied abroad or in the UAE. The ones who studied abroad tend to have a stronger western lifestyle. In general globalisation leads to a danger of identity loss.
Property ownership within the Free-Zones
If property is bought within the Free-Zones the owner get the right to obtain a 99 year visa.
Citizenship as a delicate issue
Giving out citizenships is not just a delicate issue because of the rentier-system and possible loss of stakes in it, but also because of the fear of fundamentalism, I have been told. Still there is a huge number of “Bedun” (stateless) people, which live in the 2nd or 3rd generation in the UAE. These often Indian, but also Arabic people don’t have an official citizenship and passport.
Short-term tendencies
More and more people have difficulties to sustain their living in Dubai. Additionally Dubai is lacking the ability to form a shared identity. Almost all people who recently came to Dubai don’t want to stay long term. Even the people who live in Dubai for 10 to 15 years have difficulties to stay under the current circumstances.

Monday, January 12, 2009

12th Interview: Dubai's society

1st order: I had my 12th interview with the regional head of a financial institution, responsible for GCC and Yemen. I asked him not just about Cross-Cultural Project Management, but also about his perspective on Dubai’s society.
Two challenges for Dubai’s society
Firstly, the expatriates bring their own core culture/Leitkultur (see: preliminary findings>>>) with them in terms of ethics, standards, values, and morals. This in fact is a normal process, however due to the population composition (10% locals, 90% “newcomers”) these Leitkulturen are not challenged. An adaptation or exposure with the local culture is not really happening.
Secondly, the local Emirati culture faces a lack of transparency, which has consequences in many fields such as politics, gender issues, business, etc. The local Emirati culture is for most “outsiders” – which constitute the larger part of the population – a black box shrouded for outside views. Consequently, the Emirati codes of society are not accessible.
Work ethic and attitude
My interview partner told me, that he observes a split in two groups within the younger elite of the local Emirati community. The first group has the tendency to lack a healthy work ethic and shows little attitude to contribute to society. The enormous prosperity and wealth transformed them to some kind of a “fun” society. Shopping, cars, and parties are some of the constituting elements. The young professionals of this group demand disproportional positions in management, when it comes to corporate life, without necessarily having the experience and qualification (“Emiratisation”). On the other side, there is also a smaller group, which is very good educated, skilled, and socialized. Some of the young leaders hold already important positions in business and government.
Bigger, better, stronger or are there some concerns?
My interview partner told me, that he recently talked to two local Emirati young professionals working in governmental institutions. He was interested in how they think about the Dubai’s current development. In the beginning the answers seemed to be solely positive, a lot of pride about the current status of Dubai in the world, about its constructions, etc. but after digging a bit deeper they revealed another perspective. In fact they feel like foreigners in their own country, he told me (this corresponds also to information I gathered). A problem of identity and the fear of foreign infiltration are accompanied with that.
The tribal system: still in place and a determining factor
I have been told that when living in the metropolitan city Dubai one tends to forget that the tribal system is still in place. Clanship is a determining factor and tribes differ in power and importance. Maintaining the equilibria between those tribes are an important task using instruments such as, trade relationships, festivities, war (back in the days), and marriages, which is probably the most important in these days. The tribes are highly interfolded and beside rivalry there is also a lot of support. Face keeping, pride and dignity play an important role in this system and consequently are the reason for the lack of transparency.
The challenge of cross-culturality
The greatest challenge when working and living in a cross-cultural context is not to loose oneself, not to loose ones own identity. But on the other side you also have to let go part of your identity in order to expose to the other culture. This sounds like a paradox in the first place, but is in fact rather a balance act. The process itself is very complex and contains a lot of fear. In order to expose to the other culture you have to let go parts of your own culture, which use to provide you with safety and security. You have to let go of one of your pillars and you are afraid whether the loss of this pillar will break-down your cultural system. But I have been told that in the end the divergences are an additional value and make you even stronger not weaker.
About the future strategy
Asked about the future my interview partner told me that he thinks the most important strategy would be to foster the usage of the Arabic language. This is the only way how to really get in contact with a culture. If Dubai wants to keep is local traditions somehow, it has to foster the speaking and especially learning of the Arabic language.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Preliminary findings

2nd order: In the following I am going to present some of the preliminary results after the first ten interviews.
The first part contains an analytical framework which I extracted out of the interviews by summarising some guiding distinctions.
The second part specifies general propositions located within this framework providing a set of rules, which may help to manage projects in a cross-cultural complex context.
The third part further elaborates these propositions in form of hypothesis for the special context of Dubai.

1. A framwork for mapping culture
By purpose I left the definition of culture, respectively cross-culture in the context of project management open to my interview partners. Abstracting what they came up with I constructed the framework shown in Figure 1:
  • The project team is embedded in a certain cultural environment, which comprises the culture and people outside of the project team. One could refer to it as the Leitkultur (core culture). For example, in the case of Dubai this culture is Arabic and Muslim.
  • The project team itself consists of team members, each having a specific background and being socialized in their own Leitkultur (core culture), which influences their everyday behavioural patterns.
  • When it comes to the personality of the team members, I found another distinction between cosmopolitan and ethnocentric types. The first prefers to mix with different cultures and backgrounds and perceives cultural differences as a challenge, while the latter rather sticks with people of his background and perceives cultural differences as an obstacle.
  • Furthermore, the project team is influenced by and imbedded in an organizational culture. I could identify two predominant cultures there: Mono Culture Organizations and Multi National Culture Organizations. The two differ in terms of management style, decision-making capacity, staff empowerment, responsibilities take-over, etc. The first one is characterized by decision-making of a few people, mostly the founder group or family. The decision-making capacity of the individual manager is therefore rather limited. In contrast, in Multi National Culture Organization modes of interaction are rather participatory. Also, larger organizations can be mono cultural. An indicator might be that the executive board comprises just one nationality. Career opportunities in Multi National Culture Organizations seem to be better developed, too.
2. Propositions for managing Triple-C projects
The following propositions are rules that according to my interview partners seem to work in practice for managing projects in a cross-cultural complex context. The propositions are marked with alphabetical letters and located within the framework (see Figure 2).To be clear in one point, following all propositions does not mean that a project is going to be successful. Social behaviour is always context related and one context never resembles the other to 100 percent.

Set-up Phase

  • a. Guarantee connectivity:
    The set-up of the project team has to guarantee the connectivity with the cultural environment. That is, the project team should at least partly reflect the surrounding culture in terms of cultural background or experience of the team members.
  • b. Limit the size:
    The size of the project team should not exceed 20 members or in this case be split-up in decentralized subunits. Up to a size of 20 people, mouth-to-mouth conversation and coordination is still possible.
  • c. Avoid clusters:
    Avoid cultural clusters within the team. Instead, go for a good mix of nationalities and cultural backgrounds. A team of mixed cultures will increase complexity; however a team with clusters will blockade a smooth functioning altogether.
  • d. Create an atmosphere of awareness:
    Awareness is probably the most important competence to be developed in cross-cultural project teams. Awareness has to be internalised by each team member. Don’t insist on doing the things in a certain way with reference to your own cultural background or the notion "it has always been like this".
Operations phase
  • e. Primacy of organizational culture:
    When it comes to operations the primary working culture should be determined by the organizational culture not the local or Leitkultur.
  • f. Milestones and budget:
    Bottom line the most important pillars to guarantee a proper project management are milestone and budget plans. Successful project management needs to follow up both.
  • g. Success factor number one: communication
    Almost all of the interviews indicated that successful project management starts and ends with communication. According to them communication seem to be the most important instrument and success factor. Communication training may therefore be one crucial success factor that is often in its consequences underestimated.
  • h. Be prepared for excuses:
    Culture is going to be used as an excuse not to do things. In most of the cases this is just a subterfuge. This point is again closely related to awareness, but I want to expatiate it because it seems to be of much importance.
Interfolding of phases
Although I distinguished between set-up and operation phase both phases cannot be separated from each other. In fact they are rather interfolded and have to be taken into account continuously and repeatedly. This is indicated by the circular arrows surrounding the propositions’ letters (see Figure 3). Each proposition is an ongoing process in the entire project – and fostering every “step” during the whole operation might guarantee its success.

3. Application Dubai
  • Interpersonal relationships are the basis for successfully managing projects in Dubai. Building trust is the most important task.
  • Verbal communication is more important than written communication. Needs and information should be brought up via the face-to-face conversations.
  • English is the working language, however most people working in Dubai are not native English speakers. This creates room for misunderstandings and misinterpretations.
  • Foster awareness building. The greatest mistake is to justify procedures with reference to your own Leitkultur (“We do the things always like this!”).
  • Dubai is an emerging market. Therefore, the environment is more variable which leads to greater uncertainty. Calculate with eventualities and prepare yourself for them. It can be of value to have a plan B, C, D, etc.
  • The administration is strongly influenced by its British-Indian history, which led to a according to the book approach. Be prepared that the administration will follow rigid procedures.
  • Local staff still seems to show a lack of professionalism in term of qualifications and competences of the people.

Friday, December 19, 2008

11th Interview: German construction business in Dubai

1st order: I had my 11th interview with the CEO of a German construction company, who is responsible for the company’s business in the Middle East and South Asia.
Project management in construction business: German vs. British/American approach
He told me that there are two fundamentally different approaches to construction business in general and for projects in particular. The British/American approach is very standardized. Checklists are the main tool to plan and organize all phases starting with offer and assignment. The German approach in comparison is based on individualization. Each project is perceived as a unique endeavour. The idea of being a service provider is dominant. While the British/American approach is much faster, because it decreases complexity from the beginning, it also tends to create blind spots. Therefore the German approach although taking longer is more sustainable especially when it comes to difficult and more complex projects.
For some form of standardization his company invented an approach dealing with 65 topics in terms of directing the attention on these fields. It is not about ticking boxes, but clarifying objectives and content within each of these topics. However it turns out that cross-culturality seems to be a bigger issue when using an individual instead of a standardized approach, he said.
Complexity in construction
According to my interview partner there are different types of complexity in construction business. One is what he called content complexity. That is for example in terms of technology, Greenbuildings, which materials are used and how to construct the building or in terms of multiple utilisations the renovation of existing buildings. A second complexity comes in by the internationality in Dubai. Every national background has its own standards and practices. A lot of communication is needed to intermediate between them. He made one side remark here, for example the documentation of meetings is of great importance otherwise it might happen that the other party forgets about already made agreements or takes things for granted that are not. Another complexity especially in Dubai stems from the principal-owner-builder structure which tends to be very branching, especially if governmental organizations are involved. Also each free-zone has its own laws, which one should know when dealing with the administration.
The project manager
I have been told that the competences of a project manager depend 70-80 percent on fact based expertise and 30-20 percent on social competences. 20 percent accounts for Germany, while in Dubai the importance of social competences goes up to 30 percent. However the success of a project depends mostly on the 30-20 percent of social competences. This is where the project managers make a difference. Therefore his company set-up an academy in which the project managers are trained six days on fact-based skills and three days on social skills.
Organizational structure
In terms of his company’s organizational structure he told me that they go for a lean structure with low hierarchies. An executive manager within his organizations has not more than 15-20 people to lead. This is interesting as it reflect the 20 people rule [see preliminary results].

My interview partner fostered the importance of milestones and budget, like others did before (see 7th Interview, section: where to go from here? Merging the best of two worlds >>>)

Monday, December 1, 2008

10th Interview: a lens on Dubai’s society

1st order: My 10th interview was with an employee of a governmental organization dealing with cultural and social issues in Dubai.
Culture a project?
According to my interview partner, cultural development cannot be seen as a project, because a project is by its constituent nature restricted in time, with a clear beginning and an end. His mandate to develop culture in Dubai is a timeless effort with no final end. Culture is part of society and consequently ongoing. However developing and establishing cultural institutions, such as theatres, museums, etc. can be seen each as a project. But the operations of these institutions can again not be compared to a project, because operation is an ongoing effort.
Dubai’s society part one: old vs. young
Dubai is rooted in a Bedouin culture (see also post: understanding Arabs >>>), which still has a major influence on the older generation (40+). One should not underestimate the rapid development of Dubai. For example a greater part of Dubai has been dessert just ten years back from now. This leads to a confrontation of generations between old Bedouin culture and young generation’s high technology culture. “From Bedouin to global player” resulted in a disavowal of local traditions as well as even the language. The younger generation seem to be more used to English than to Arabic. Traditional culture as fall back and safe haven is missing, which again results in increased uncertainty and problems of identity.
Dubai’s society part two: local vs. newcomer
Additionally, another effect diminishes the local culture. Just about 10% of the people living in Dubai are Emirati (see also post: how Arabic is Dubai >>>). To put it the other way around 90 percent of the people are from different cultural backgrounds, however Dubai is still an Arabic and Islamic determined country. This means land and property ownership, as well as business licensing is a privilege just for the locals, the same accounts for decision-making in government. This has momentous consequences: Dubai is not a melting pot comparable to the US some centuries ago, but a short-term based society. People come here to work on timely restricted projects for three years or so. The city’s society is not built on the basis of a social contract, but rather on pure pragmatism. Dubai provides a market square, where people can come together to make business and ‘go home’ afterwards. Until now social bonds are solely based either on business licensing, work contracts, or leasing of property.
Why culture is needed
Two symptoms characterize this development. Firstly, the locals complain their loss of traditional culture and values, especially the generation 40+. Secondly, culture as a provider of security and stability especially in hard times, such as the financial crisis, is missing. [This can lead to a vulnerable and instable societal and political system, note by JSL]
The problem is identified by the current rulers and efforts to develop culture and keep local traditions are on the way. However how effective these efforts are will show only the future, especially as the current crisis may also have an impact on financing cultural institutions.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

9th Interview: managing a business park in Dubai

1st order: the 9th interview was held with the general manager of a business park in Dubai.
Building and operating
When asked about the main duties of managing a business park I was introduced into two basic tasks: building and operating. The first task building comprehends the physical establishment of the park. Supervision of the construction site is thereby outsourced to another company, although decisions have to be aligned. Additionally, reporting to the board of investors has to be complied. The second task operating includes primarily marketing and sales, winning commercial, residential, and retail clients is thereby the preliminary goal. The heart of the business park is going to be a business centre, which will host offices and is there to enable businesses to function and operate smoothly.
Communication was identified as major competence for managing these tasks.
Interaction in Middle East business is rather based on verbal than on written communication. This accounts especially for presentations. It is not about showing all facts & figures, but giving rather a short overview in order to enable decision-making. I have been told that it is recommendable to bring three options out of which one should be chosen. [Which in fact is quite similar to management of large Western corporations, note JSL] Again patterns can be traced back on the focus on interpersonal relationships. According to the interviewee decisions tend to take their time. Patience is thereby an indispensable competence. Although Arabic is the official languages English is the business language, which in fact seems to lead more often than desired to misunderstandings (see also 6th interview, section: challenges for Triple-C PM in Dubai >>>).
Dealing with the Administration
When dealing with the administration one should be aware of according to the book procedures. This is a consequence out of the historic British-Indian administrational background (see also 1st interview, section: on Dubai-Indians bonds >>>). Personal experience and empathy is generally an asset when dealing with the administration. Questioning the same person a couple of times can also be helpful, and may lead to multiple sometimes controversial answers. A German background can be helpful as it is associated with reliability and quality of work, which sometimes opens even close doors, I have been told (see also 8th interview, section: findings >>>).
Some practical implications based on the culture
• Business relationships are personal. This leads to a 24/7 availability request. Irritations may occur if you are not reachable by mobile phone over a longer time span.
• Decision models tend to be rather grey than black-and-white. Nothing is impossible; a “no” is not necessarily a no (see also 7th interview, section: cultural differences in management >>>).
• Long term planning is not inherent in Islam. This accounts especially for the older generation. Insurances, forecasting’s, pensions schemes were long times not practiced. With the younger generation a culture change is underway.
• Hierarchy and titles are very important. Interestingly, these schemes are conferred to the Western expats, which according to my interview partner, even foster this perception.

Monday, November 24, 2008

8th Interview: “emotional branding” in a cross-cultural context

1st order: The 8th interview was with a student from Germany, who conducted a study on emotional branding for a German research institute. The study comprised ten interviews with organizations in the region. Therefore I took the opportunity to gain insights on another scientific observer’s perspective.
Research focus and design
The study was solely focused on B2B relationships, relationships between the German research institute and its stakeholders in the UAE. The concept of emotional branding consists of the idea that emotions influence decision-making, in terms of whether cooperation is more likely or not. A second pillar within the study has been values. Following the question, whether values are functional or emotional thereby influencing the likelihood of cooperation. The interviews were semi-structured containing a set of guiding questions.
• Business relationships of organizations rely very much on interpersonal relationships between single individuals. Trust building is thereby the predominant factor.
• Intercultural competences and knowledge come especially within theses personal interactions into account. However Arabs seem to be gracious when it comes to pitfalls and mistakes.
• Business agreements take time. Only after a personal relationship and the corresponding trust has been a built a deal is going to be offered.
• While the German stakeholders rather seemed to base their decisions first on facts and only secondary on interpersonal relations, the Middle Eastern stakeholders, be them Syrians, Emirati, etc. based their decisions primarily on the relationship to one contact person.
• Certain attributes, like reliable, rational, fact-based, high quality work were referred to the institute, because these were associated with a German institution.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

7th Interview: Finger on the spot the major difference between the West and the Middle East

1st order: My 7th interview was with the executive director of a local owned program management office in Dubai. He is from origin Iraqi lived 20 years in London and has probably the same amount of years experience in project management.
Cultural differences in management
I have been told that bottom line the most striking difference is in delivery. While the Middle Eastern attitude is to get the things done, the West has a process orientation. That means in the Middle East you have a launch date, which has to be fulfilled no matter what comes around. Radically speaking it doesn’t matter how just that. The Western approach is to a 180 degree different. The focus is on multiple phases: initiate, plan, execute, evaluate. Each phase is processed one after another. Assuring efficiency and quality is the major goal. Additionally, scope and change management is of importance to set the framework.
Cultural differences in relationship
The second point to be recognized is that business in the Middle East is based on interpersonal relationships, not on professional relationships like in the West. Personal relationship builds trust and trust is considered to be the most important property (see also 6th Interview, section: challenges for triple-C PM in Dubai >>>)
Where to go from here? Merging the best of two worlds
According to my interview partner the importance of a proper project management has recently been appreciated in Dubai. This is the result of a deep learning effect in terms of money squandering and a deficit in operations. Therefore he had the mission to set-up a program management office (PMO), alleviating these weaknesses but still being adaptable to the cultural circumstances. Knowing the differences in culture he had the vision and focus to merge the best of two worlds: “the can-do-attitude” of the East and the process-orientation of the West. He took the in detail elaborated Western project management approach and distilled it to the maximum, extracting the essence in reference to the Middle Eastern culture, which is milestones and budget. The PMO was set-up with the objective to “deliver in time and budget”. This development follows two phases: plan and operate. Heart of the PMO is a communication framework upwards to the Executive Committee and downwards the project managers. Additionally a project management toolkit including coaching, mentoring, trainings, etc. was brought to life. The setup is not affiliated to a specific sector. In fact the projects come from very diverging sectors such as real-estate, IT, finance and banking, insurance, telecommunication, etc. Currently the second phase of operation has been started with the launch of Project Management Lite: a set of processes and a supportive infrastructure.
The difficulty of the whole endeavor lies in a successful cultural change from the “old” schemes of Middle Eastern dealing with projects to the new ‘best-of-two-worlds model”, I have been told.
In terms of complexity the projects are enormous by scope, number of suppliers, quantity, etc. According to my interview partener, clear communication is the nuts and bolts to manage this complexity. However interestingly when referring to last interviewee’s remark on decreasing in complexity, I have been told that the project initiation phase is less complex than compared to the West (argumentation see 6th Interview, section: decreasing complexity >>>), while the project execution phase is by far more complex.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

6th Interview: about constructive paranoia and decreasing complexity

1st order: the 6th interview was held with the managing director of an executive leadership consultancy.
Challenges for Triple-C PM in Dubai
According to him the challenge of project management in Dubai lies primarily in communication. Challenge in two ways, first in terms of scope for confusion and second in terms of wrong assumptions. Confusion stems from a different understanding of commitment, e.g. you will someone with a Middle Eastern background never hear saying 'no' to his superior. This would be considered as a weakness and a loss of face. A second barrier is the language. Although English is the business working language you have to consider that many people are not native speakers. This can lead to absurd misunderstandings in alignment. For example for some reason Asians mean with behind the building beside the building. It is important to assure making yourself clear, simple language as lowest common denominator. Second, confusion out of wrong assumptions increases uncertainty. For someone coming from a Western background it might be confusing that what is correct today might not necessarily be correct tomorrow. And perhaps the most important thing to understand is that business in the Middle East is relationship-orientated and based. It goes that far that what Westerners consider as nepotism Arabs consider as duty.
Management by “constructive paranoia”
One thing that is very important when doing business no matter in which emerging market you act is to consider eventualities, I have been told. That is, the environment is more variable, which leads to a greater uncertainty. Don’t rely on just one plan. Play with eventualities and make a plan B, C, D. Things change often in theses countries and than you should be prepared, that needs sort of creativity.
Cultural change in local business
From his work as a recruiter and head-hunter the interviewee observed a change in local business culture. More and more local corporations recognize that they have to professionalize their business in terms of getting the best people for an executive job, not someone who is part of the family. Along with that goes also the cultural shift implemented by the next generation of leaders, who were send for their studies abroad. This generation is now often a sponsor for change.
When asked about obstacles I have been told that the obvious are the infrastructure. Traffic is difficult (see article: Getting a taxi or survival of the fittest >>>). However more serious are the lack of transparency and critical thinking. This leads in the long term to a lack of confidence, which might backslash especially in the times of a financial crisis. However there are improvements on the way as the current investigations of local personalities might indicate.
Decreasing complexity
In terms of complexity I was introduced to an interesting perspective. Due to the fact that developer, land owner, regulative authority, ruling family are one and the same entity the complexity rather decreases than increases. That’s why it is possible to accomplish such amazing endeavors as the palm, Burj Dubai, the metro in such a short time span.

Monday, November 17, 2008

5th Interview: some guiding distinctions

1st order: I hold the fifth interview with a professional recruiter. He was living for more than 20 years in Asia, having a British background now being in Dubai since one and a half years. I would like to start this documentation a bit different than the other interviews. My interview partner brought up a lot of sense-making by himself. Following the why-question he provided me a couple of guiding distinctions, which I am going to introduce in the following.
Professional Expatriates ׀ Cosmopolitans
The professional expat is an individual experienced and senior in working abroad, most probably even in different countries or regions. Although living and working for some years abroad (s)he lives in a “bubble” together with others of his/her kind., searching for places and activities which they affiliate with home. My interviewee referred to this as “ghettoization”, that is mini-Britain in Dubai for example. (For this argument see also interview two including comments)
Organizational culture: mono culture ׀ multi national culture
In terms of organizational culture I have been provided with an interesting distinction between mono culture [wording by JSL] and “multi national culture organizations”. They differ in terms of management style, decision-making capacity, staff empowerment, responsibilities take-over, etc. The local culture refers to a mostly, but not necessarily owner or family driven corporation. They will make the important decisions and decision-making capacity for the individual manager is rather limited. Another indicator is the executive board which in a local culture organization is homogeneous consisting of rather one dominant nationality (depending where it was founded). Management style is characterized by command and control, as well as top-down leadership approaches rather than participatory modes of interaction. Carrier opportunities do exist but are not as good developed as in comparable multi national culture organizations. The difference might correspond to the size of the respective organization, but not necessarily.When asked about how to detect the culture from outside, my interview partner proposed three categories that should be explored when talking to people from the respective organizations:
(1) What is great in the organization?
(2) What are the current and general challenges?
(3) How does the senior staff deal with its staff?
Local culture ׀ organizational culture
When starting business abroad organizations will always face the challenge to balance the local culture and the organizational culture. “For the operations you have to rely on the organizational culture” I’ve been told. Local culture will always influence the behavior of the people working in the organization, but are rather idiosyncrasies. To put it in another rather radical way: “culture has nothing to do with the business”. According to my interviewee 99.9 percent of human beings are the same in terms of wants, which account for desires, children, house, living, etc. “Culture is used as an excuse not to do things!” This is his key learning being abroad for more than a decade, he said. To make one point clear the one culture is not better than the other. It is rather the question, who is going to work well in your organizational culture.
Educational system: learn-by-rote ׀ learn-by-apply
When it comes to the why-question my interviewee identified as the main discriminator the educational system. He distinguished two types of educational systems following two different approaches: the “learn-by-rote” and the learn-by-apply [wording by JSL] (or learn-to-learn approach). The approach you have been raised up with affects your behavioral patterns in all interactions. To give an example according to his experinece when problems occur, people trained by a learn-by-rote approach will wait until someone tells them what to do, most reasonably this is their superior. This accounts for people from Indian, the Philippines, Thailand, but also the Arabic peninsula. On the other hand the learn-to-apply approach mostly taught in the West encourages you to take initiative when problems occur. Analytical models and frameworks are applied to different situations in order to explain them and find solutions. This difference in how the people are trained and raised results in different behaviors of every day business. In fact the educational system in combination with the hierarchical society leads at the end of the causality to a lot of micromanagement when it comes to business operations. At least this is what I have been told.
Working on projects in Dubai
When working on projects in Dubai there are a couple of idiosyncrasies one has to consider. First the informal hierarchy in terms of national background (1) Emirati, (2) GCC, (3) Whites, (4) Indians, Pilipinos, etc. Second Islam is influencing daily life, which especially come into account at times of Ramadan, but also in terms of daily prayer, women clothing and dealing with, etc. But with a certain amount of awareness there shouldn’t be much barriers.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

4th Interview: setting up a cross-cultural complex project consortium

1st order: The forth interview was held with the region’s general manager of a large research organization for applied sciences. It might be that he is soon involved in the establishment of a research consortium between organizations based in Europe and the Middle East. I asked him how such a project would be planned and organized. He explained that in this case the consortium would be an umbrella based on two pillars, one Arabic and one European. Each pillar would contain several organizations and is steered by one regional head organization respectively. In terms of managing this consortium a management team would be set-up again containing two heads, one representative for the Arabic part and one for the European part. Main tasks would be to organize conferences and meetings in order to bring people from the organizations together and establish contacts which hopefully lead to concerted projects. So to say the consortium project provides the infrastructure for a dialogue and sets the ground for future collaboration. Different cultures don’t seem to be a predominant issue, as long as you have each side organizing each sides’ events and the involved partners come just for a visit to meet the others.
Negotiation proceedings
I was told that collaborations, be them for doing business, projects, etc. start with a personal contact and are build on a personal contact. “You get to know the other person”. It’s rather collaboration between persons than organizations. Deciding to collaborate seldom happens after the first meeting. Usually, you have to introduce yourself and your organization in the first meeting. In the second meeting your opponent shares his visions and then in the consecutive meetings you agree on a cooperation model. (It doesn’t have to be exactly like this, but schematically this is how it works)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Understanding Arabs

1st order: Just recently I had a conversation with an Arab who explained to me the logic of Arabic societies. What are the mechanisms of social systems in Arabic countries?
- One can distinguish between two kinds of Arabs, either you belong to a tribe or not.
- The tribes are cross-border, membership is based on the father
- You will not be trusted, if you are not in a tribe. “Even if you are a citizen for 100 years”. Tribe membership guarantees trust. Trust is considered as the most important property in the region.
- The Bedouin mentality explains the “get as much as you can” attitude, because the Bedouin tribes used to live in rather humbled surroundings. The "show all what you have" attitude is a reference to the symbolism of manhood, I've been told.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

3rd Interview: love what you do, do what you love

1st order: I had my third Interview with the head of a well established communication agency in Dubai. The agency comprises 25 people all from very diverse national and cultural backgrounds, including many women. Consequently, all projects are by organizational nature very cross-cultural.
Managing Cross-Culturality and Complexity
When asking how they manage their projects I was introduced to some simple, but straight forward strategies:
1) Keep the number of people working in the organization at around or below twenty. Communication at this size is still possible via mouth-to-mouth conversations. I was told that when the organization grows larger than twenty the complexity increases dramatically. Personal interactions are no longer easy to be managed and the people get out of touch. An organization with twenty people is still the appropriate size in which each member can know what the others are doing.
2) Love what you do, do what you love. Enjoying work is an essential part in successful organization. Clients projects are chosen when someone on the team likes to work on them or not. If this is not the case, projects are refused. Just work with clients who you personally associate with.
3) National background is not of importance, what counts are the personal qualifications and capabilities. People working in the agency are of the same kind: cosmopolitan, open-minded, not restricted by cultural boarders. Multi-culture is a desired asset and advantage.
4) Women in the organization are considred as a competitive advantage for multi-tasking and integrating others.
5) No politics no prides! People in the organization are rather seen as part of a family than just working colleagues. The whole human being is of importance, going out on events, organizing get-togethers, having dinners, fostering and supporting individual development from organizational side.
On Arabic Culture and Identity
I have been told that the Arabic identity follows a cascade of family, tribe, region and then nationality. This has to be considered and is the baseline of all social actions. When it comes to Emirati in Dubai, the systems of political and business circles are much closed. Established ties are strong and relationships are regularly fostered. They tend to be long time established.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

2nd Interview: construction business

1st order: I had the pleasure to hold my second interview with a project manager working in the construction business. He himself is half German, half Iraqi raised and worked in both countries.
German Standard vs. British Standard
According to him two standards in the construction business can be distinguished: the German and the British standard. While the German standard combines design and building in the hands of one organization, the British standard splits the contracts for design and building to two organizations. According to him both standards occur in Dubai.
Construction projects in Dubai are by far larger in all dimensions than he used to have it in Germany and Ireland, he said. A project of around 200’ million United Arab Dirhams (approx. 40 million Euro) needs a management team of around 20-25 people and 1000-2000 workers on the construction site (building phase). The team is hierarchically organized in terms of operations with the project manager on top; below him two project engineers, which again have site engineers (around 4), who are supervising the foremen. Three levels of management are caused by the size fo the construction site. Then there are specialized roles such as quantity and quality surveyors (two each in respect to the mentioned project size), two accountants, one safety manager, and one safety engineer, plus the technical apartment (two according to the size). The management team is also responsible for the sub-contractors.
The company he is working for has approximately 120 people, responsible for the management. Twenty Germans, because it’s a Germany based company and the rest from very diverse backgrounds an equal mix of Westerners, Indians, Arabs, Pakistani, and Pilipino. He said that of course there are cultural differences, but in terms of work it depends on the personal qualifications and capabilities. There is no difference between background and culture on the one side and duties and job profiles on the other side.
The common ground and basis for communication is English. The company’s correspondence is in English, except for the official correspondence with authorities, which are most of the time bi-lingual. Arabic is seen as the officeal languages still. I’ve been introduced to three strategies, which seem to work quite well in terms of managing cross-culturality:
1) The project/management team needs a good mix of different cultures. Too many people from one nationality or background (e.g. Germans) would lead to difficulties when dealing with the outer world, suppliers, workers, sub-contractors, authorities, etc. The other extreme to have just locals would diminish the competitive advantage vis-à-vis other local competitors.
2) Too many people from one nationality tend to behave as a pride, which leads to a decreasing of awareness and sensitivity concerning other habits and behavioral patterns. Avoid the creation of prides if possible.
3) Clashing cultures: It is always a balancing act to keep your identity in terms of doing the things in the way you are used to (which is your competitive advantage) and the relativism how much you let go of your own culture in the sake of “harmonic and peaceful” collaborative teamwork. I’ve been told that this “battle” is to be fought on every day basis. He told me as of most importance: ‘never say that the things have to be done this way, because the company (with the respective cultural background) has always done it that way.’ Awareness and sensitivity is of most importance, don’t steamroll people.
Germans and Germans
About Germans, he said there are two types: the first one is open minded, interested in other cultures, curious about other people. This type sees working with people from different backgrounds as a challenging endeavor. The second type is there just for work, prefers to eat his local food, and be surrounded by people of his nationality. For this second type working with people from different backgrounds is rather an obstacle.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

1st Interview: sweeping through Middle East history

1st order: The first interview took part with the regional general manager of a German transnational corporation, who used to be in Dubai for 20 years now. It was heavily loaded with information: a sweeping look at the Middle East’s economic history of the last forty years.
Gate to the Middle East
According to him Beirut in Lebanon used to be the gate to the Middle East in the 70’s and 80’s. This changed for several reasons and at the beginning of the 90’s Dubai started to take over as gate to the region and hub for economic exchange between the continents Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia. It was systematically built up by several international and national stakeholders. The secret of its success lies in its infrastructure and logistic capabilities. The pace further increased around the year 2000.
On Dubai-Indian bonds
As I mentioned earlier around 50 percent of Dubai’s population are Indians. I had the impression that Indians are basically providing the economy with human capital for low income jobs. But in the interview I’ve been told that the bonds are much closer and go through all walks of life. In fact to understand the bonds between India and Dubai one has to go back to history of British-India. To shorten it up, on top level Indians are not considered to be foreigners like Westerners or Easterners. There are close ties over generations between upper class Indians and the Royal family of Dubai as well as within the local economical elite in Dubai.
Western Experts and Consultants
While at the beginning of Dubai’s (and UAE) upraising Western experts were consulted for bringing in ideas and concepts this changed over the last years, I’ve been told. In our days the concepts are made by the decision-makers themselves. Western experts are consulted for evaluating the large scaling possibilities and risks of these concepts.
Tradesman intelligence
How do Emiraties deal with cross-culturality? They are very much informed about the idiosyncrasies of the cultures they are dealing and doing business with. Most of them are educated abroad not just in the West but also in the East. Some of their staff members for sure lived in the respective cultures for a time. They possess this tradesman’s intelligence knowing how to deal with the diverging cultural backgrounds, while their opponents most of the time don’t have the same knowledge, which provides them a comparative advantage.
To understand the coherences of Dubai’s development one has to take a geopolitical and geostrategical perspective, he told me. Geographically Dubai is centered between Europe and Asia, functioning as a hub between the established economical powers’ EU and Japan, as well as Europe’s connection to aspiring China and India. It is China’s gate for resource exploitations in Africa as well as organizing platform for Japan’s efforts guaranteeing the deliverable of natural resources. And one shouldn’t miss that Moscow is almost placed on the same longitude.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Information the scarce property in Dubai

1st order: Recently I spoke to a project manager in the construction business. I asked him whether the financial crisis has an impact on the construction business and the Dubai economy or not, because I heard, although not officially, that work at some construction sites is on hold.
He explained to me that it is very difficult to get reliable information on that. He is trying to figure that out everyday by using all kinds of resources. The problem is that the press in Dubai is still not reliable. You will find the newspapers writing that the financial crisis has no impact on the Dubai economy, because this is what they’ve been told. However one could see that some construction sites are on hold, this is also the information that is verified off-the-record, he said. He further elaborated that information tends to be like a cloud, you have to figure out by yourself what is rather true and what not.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

How Arabic is Dubai?

2nd order: From a cultural perspective I expected Dubai to be much more Arabic. I thought there would have been a much stronger influence in terms of daily cultural practice. In fact Dubai seems to be more an Indian and Pakistani place if you take the people and their habits into account. However as they form the majority of the population this is not as astonishing as one might think. Recent figures showed almost 50% of Dubai's population are Indians.
The same accounts for Muslim traditions. My observation is that you rather rarely see veil or ‘Abbaja’ – a long black robe, which traditional Muslim women wear when they go on the streets. This might be again a consequence out of the fact that just around 17 percent (see Wikipedia) of the citizens are Emirati. However one should not be mislead by this façade, the law is still based on the Shari’a. Just recently a couple of two British executives went for three months to prison for having sexual intercourse at the beach.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Schizophrenic Arabs?

1st order: Recently I talked to a religious Arab, who used to be a university professor. He told me something very interesting. He said: “many Arabs have a split personality”, because on the one side they are very religious, trying to be ‘good’ Muslims paying every day and following the traditions, but on the other side they drink alcohol, feel guilty about that, send their kids to Western universities instead of letting them being educated in traditional Arabic universities. He said that this is some kind of schizophrenic, including himself.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

About life, citizenship, and education opportunities

1st order: What did the two engineers I met tell me: First of all that there are many Palestinians all over the Arabic Peninsula, but not just that even all over the world. Mostly they are very good educated, because this is the only way that they can make something out of their life. The unpromising situation in Palestine might be paradoxically the reason for many Palestinians to make good. But I’ve been told they are all somehow feeling homeless being refugees not able to live in their mother country.
Secondly, the education in Arabic countries is just free with full citizenship, which you only get if your father has the respective passport. The two were raised in Saudi Arabia, but couldn’t go to State University there. Just if the were paying for a private university. Therefore they went to Jordan for their studies. In fact the education and the universities in Jordan are quite known in the region and much respected. I've been told, that many people in Jordan have a university degree (even women), because education is considered to be very important. Even people from other countries just go to Jordan for their studies. But most of them, including young Jordan’s leave the country after they finished their studies. Jobs are not well paid and living costs are nonetheless ‘very’ high, I’ve been told. Why the costs are high, they couldn’t answer.
Then they worked in Saudi Arabia for two, respectively five years. They told me that the jobs are well paid, but you have no “life” there. It’s just working, sleeping and working again. No freedom, life quality, etc. That’s why they are now in Dubai. “It’s for the freedom”, they said. Going out after work and having fun.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Broadening the scope of the blog

Two days ago I meet these two from Jordan educated engineers, who are working for a construction consultancy here in Dubai. They are both Palestinians, raised in Saudi Arabia, educated in Jordan, worked first in Saudi Arabia and now in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. They explained me a lot about the difference between these countries concerning life, citizenship, education, and opportunities. Although we didn’t speak about project management this conversation made me aware of the fact, that this is especially the background information which important to understand the means of cross-culturality. Therefore I decided to change the form of this blog by not solely posting the documentation of the interviews, but also information I gather and observations I make such as the previously described.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

When in Rome...

1st order: Weekend in Arabic countries is on Fridays and Saturdays. Normally nobody is working then. Friday can be compared to Western Sundays, where people go to church respectively mosque for prayer. For Westerners that means they behave as if it is Saturday/Sunday weekend just switching the weekdays. However it might happen that working weeks increase to six days. I recently spoke to a tax consultant working for one of the great Dubai Holdings. He told me that that he’s doing 'English weeks', which means that he’s working also on Saturdays, because his clients in England work as well on Saturdays. Interestingly enough is that the Friday is still off?

Getting a taxi or survival of the fittest

1st order: Waiting for a taxi for two hours seems to be everyday life in Dubai. You are standing at any crossing fighting with 20 competitors for the rarely driving past taxis. Therefore it is not astonishing what I have been told, that meetings are hardly ever on schedule. Public transportation includes solely taxis and buses so far. Buses are rather reserved for the Indian and Pakistani blue-collar workers, also arriving and departing systematically not as scheduled. But anyhow, having a car doesn’t protect you from everyday chronically traffic jams...

Some words on the pre-phase

The study will start after conducting the first interview. However as this study is organized in form of an ethnomethodological observation, I will start with some general impressions from now on. This will help me to warm-up, get a bit a routine in writing and provides you with some first hand Dubai experiences. Feel free to comment also on that…

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Cross-culture and housing

1st order: Finding an apartment in Dubai is not an easy venture. Demand surpasses supply, so prices are high. But this was not as astonishing as the notifications I had to read: ‘room for female western executive lady’, ‘for Filipina only in Satwa’, ‘Russian working lady’, ‘north Indian bachelor’, ‘non-smoking, non-cooking, vegetarian Tamil’, just to quote some. Grown-up in the West this slightly left the impression of discrimination.