Improving the cooperation of a mixed United Arab Emirates-China project team

By analyzing the cultures on the basis of cultural theories and by explaining practical examples

Seminar Paper, 2014

13 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of contents

List of abbreviations

1 – Introduction
1.1 – Cultural background of the UAE and China
1.2 – Objectives and scope of work

2 – Cultural analysis of the UAE and China
2.1 – Power Distance
2.2 – Uncertainty avoidance
2.3 – Individualism versus collectivism
2.4 – Masculinity versus femininity
2.5 – Long-term versus short-term orientation

3 – Conclusion
3.1 – Cooperation between the UAE and China
3.2 – Prospects


List of abbreviations

illustration not visible in this excerpt

1 – Introduction

1.1 – Cultural background of the UAE and China

The United Arab Emirates and China are countries in the Middle East and East Asia with a different cultural background.

The United Arab Emirates is one of the few countries in the world where religion has a high impact on politics and the society (cf. Rothlauf, 2009, p. 603). It is a federation of seven constituent monarchies, each with its own ruler. Political parties are not allowed in the UAE which leads to a constant leadership of the royal families (cf. CIA, 2013, p. 4). Although the UAE adjusts itself more and more to Western countries because of the increasing importance of tourism and international companies for their economy, its society is still highly linked to traditional Islamic values (cf. Rothlauf, 2009, pp. 610-611). A modern economy is guided by an individual thinking and the success is the result of the individual’s work whereas an Islamic economy is guided by economic values of the Islam where the welfare of the community occupies central stage (cf. Rothlauf, 2009, pp. 626-627). This collective thinking is reflected in the role of the family in the Arabic world. Family is the most important element in the society and the individual’s welfare is always subordinated to the family’s welfare (cf. Rothlauf, 2009, p. 617).

China is the world’s most populated country with an estimated population of about 1.3 billion people (cf. Emrich, 2011, p. 365). It is a single-party state which is ruled by the monopolistic Communist Party (cf. Sieren, 2007, p. 25). The society is based on two pillars: Danwei and Guanxi. Danwei is the unity of the community a Chinese is living and working in, e.g. his family, factory or village. The public spirit of a Chinese is highly developed within his Danwei but it is also limited to it. In spite of the will to work hard for the community, the public spirit outside of his Danwei is unincisive (cf. Rothlauf, 2009, pp. 428-429). Guanxi is the social network beyond the family which is especially important for entrepreneurial interaction. This social network is established in a process of mutual favors in order to strengthen the relationship (cf. Rothlauf, 2009, pp. 429-430; Emrich, 2011, p. 373). China’s ethical principles are characterized by the philosophy of Confucianism whose main fundamentals are: humaneness, justice, morality, honesty and mutuality (cf. Sieren, 2007, p. 53).

1.2 – Objectives and scope of work

To establish a successful UAE-China project team, it is essential to analyze these cultural differences.

The analysis of the United Arab Emirates’ and China’s cultural differences will be based on Geert Hofstede’s five cultural dimensions:

1. Power Distance
2. Uncertainty Avoidance
3. Individualism versus Collectivism
4. Masculinity versus Femininity
5. Long-term versus Short-term Orientation (Hofstede, 2001, p. 29)

This theory is based on an international survey among IBM employees in different countries about their personality and attitude (cf. Hofstede, 2001, p. 41). The results were used by Hofstede to create indices where a score is assigned to each country which indicates the position on the cultural dimension’s scale in relation to other cultures (cf. Hofstede et al., 2010, p. 31). The following figure shows the values for the UAE and China:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 1: Cultural dimensions by Geert Hofstede: United Arab Emirates in comparison with China Own figure according to: Hofstede, 2014a; Hofstede, 2014b

2 – Cultural analysis of the UAE and China

2.1 – Power Distance

Hofstede’s first dimension of culture is called Power Distance. This dimension measures the interpersonal influence between two persons in the same culture (cf. Hofstede, 2001, p. 83). The PDI shows to what extent the society is dependent on superiors like bosses, patriarchs or members of a higher social class. Companies that operate in a country with a low PDI score will experience employees that rather act like consultants than subordinates. Bosses and their employees communicate on a similar level with a cooperative managerial style whereas high PDI countries tend to a society with a strict hierarchy in all aspects and a preference for an autocratic managerial style in companies. Both bosses and employees accept that power is strongly linked to a social class and is distributed unequally (cf. Hofstede et al., 2010, pp. 60-61).

The PDI scores for the UAE and China are both on a similar level of 90 and 80 (cf. figure 1) which is a comparatively high. This high value for Power Distance has its roots in politics, religion and the society. Both countries are ruled by autocratic governments with strict hierarchies and families are also built on strict hierarchies with the oldest male person on top. This structure leads to a high power distance between superiors and subordinates but it is accepted as God-given in the UAE (cf. Rothlauf, 2011, p. 620) and as a consequence of the Confucianism in China (cf. Emrich, 2011, p. 373).

In the UAE, the top-down structure in companies is also influenced by the managers’ view that their exclusive assignment is to find and make decisions and the employees have to follow their instructions. The potential loss of employee motivation as a consequence of this view is not to be expected because of the conservative Arab attitude towards superiors and the belief that the social status is God-given (cf. Rothlauf, 2009, p. 651).

Even though the impact of Confucianism on China’s society creates a top-down hierarchy with an authority that decides on his subordinates, it also creates satisfaction among the employees because the satisfaction of needs is guaranteed within the social status and the employees are used to the high power distance to their managers. The Chinese people accept that power, social status and the right to exert this power over somebody is distributed unequally (cf. Rothlauf, 2009, pp. 452-453).

2.2 – Uncertainty avoidance

Uncertainty avoidance deals with the way a culture handles the fact that the future cannot be forecasted. It has to do with technology, law and religion. These domains give recommendations how to cope with uncertain situations and can be used to prevent them (cf. Hofstede et al., 2010, p. 189). The UAI score shows “the extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by ambiguous or unknown situations (Hofstede et al., 2010, p. 191).

A high UAI score means that the people are concerned about the future and try to establish rules or laws how to handle uncertain situations and these rules and laws will be carefully attended to. On the other hand, a low UAI score means that rules may exist but on the other hand, compliance is of secondary importance (cf. Hofstede, 2001, p. 169).

The Arab UAI scores at 80 (cf. figure 1) which is a high value. The Islam has a major influence on the UAE’s society. That means that the Islamic rules and the teachings of the Koran characterize the daily routine in the UAE. Uncertain situations can disturb this daily routine very quickly and the Arabs are not able to react flexibly because of Islamic obligations. Nevertheless, the UAE society adjusts itself steadily according to the needs of globalized economy (cf. Rothlauf, 2009, pp. 626-627).

The UAI for China scores on a level of 30 (cf. figure 1) which is a value below average. This value has its reason in China’s legal system which is on paper only because of the high impact of Danwei and Guanxi. The society uses personal networks to solve unexpected problems rather than comply with universal rules and laws. Each social group has its own informal rules that are used flexibly to suit the current situation (cf. Sieren, 2009, p. 90). Another reason is that the Chinese language is filled with ambiguity and has taught the Chinese people to be adaptable. A Chinese word can have different meanings which can be recognized by the intonation (cf. Diekmann/Fang, 2008, p. 105).

2.3 – Individualism versus collectivism

This cultural dimension describes the relationship between the individual and the collectivity. It can be analyzed by studying how people of a certain culture live together and behave within this group (cf. Hofstede, 2001, p. 209). “Individualism pertains to societies in which the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after him – or herself and his or her immediate family. Collectivism as its opposite pertains to societies in which people from birth onward are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, which throughout people’s lifetime continue to protect them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty.” (Hofstede et al., 2010, p. 92)

The IDV value of the UAE is 25 (cf. figure 1). It means that collectivistic thinking is a large part of the Emirati Society. The tribal-nomadic history of the UAE, when survival was dependent on the social cohesion within the desert tribes, plays an important role in the UAE’s culture (cf. Rothlauf, 2009, p. 617). The strong Islamic impact on the Emirati society is another reason for the prevalent collectivism in the UAE. A main thought in the Koran is to achieve welfare for the whole population and self-centeredness is morally questionable. The individual has to adapt himself to the needs of the community and to the religious fundamentals of the Islam (cf. Rothlauf, 2009, p. 627).

The low value of China’s IDV of 20 indicates that the society in China is also characterized by a high collectivistic thinking (cf. figure 1). Similar to Arab countries, family looms large in Asian countries like China. Danwei and Guanxi are closely intertwined in the Chinese Society and the important role of the family is indoctrinated from birth and is always on the Chinese minds. This is the reason why the Chinese people are accustomed to live together in large groups and to help each other within their social group (cf. Rothlauf, 2009, pp. 429-430). When Chinese people appear without a group, the impression may occur that they are selfish people. But this impression is also based on the collectivistic thinking because they are not familiar with communicating without the support of their group. The opinion that the group is higher rated than the individual is firmly established in the Chinese society (cf. Janssen, 2008, p. 96).

2.4 – Masculinity versus femininity

Masculinity versus femininity is a cultural dimension that deals with typical gender roles that were statistically evaluated. Hofstede uses this data for his MAS to show whether a society’s thinking is more masculine or more feminine. He defines this dimension as follows, “A society is called masculine when emotional gender roles are clearly distinct: men are supposed to be assertive, tough, and focused on material success, whereas women are supposed to be more modest, tender, and concerned with the quality of life.

A society is called feminine when emotional gender roles overlap: both men and women are supposed to be modest, tender, and concerned with the quality of life.” (Hofstede et al., 2010, p. 140).

At a MAS score of 50 (cf. figure 1), the UAE’s society is an average of a masculine and a feminine character. Especially male Emirati have a strong will to be successful and to compete with others. This can be seen in huge tourism projects like the world’s best ranked hotel with seven stars, several shopping malls that are in no way inferior to the world’s largest malls and artificially created island groups (cf. Rothlauf, 2009, p. 610). But the religious values of the Islam like team spirit, rejection of a selfish behavior and the quality of life as an indicator for success which are more feminine cultural characters equalize the masculine to a total score of 50.

The Chinese MAS score of 66 (cf. figure 1) indicates that the Chinese society is driven by success and work. It can be seen in the educational sector where Chinese students are success oriented and are able to live without recreational activities in order to achieve a better result. Especially children of Chinese farmers are willing to leave their families and hometowns to earn more money and to realize their goals.

2.5 – Long-term versus short-term orientation

“Long-term orientation stands for the fostering of virtues oriented towards future rewards, in particular, perseverance and thrift. Its opposite pole, short-term orientation, stands for the fostering of virtues related to the past and present, in particular, respect for tradition, preservation of ‘face’ and fulfilling social obligations.” (Hofstede, 2001, p. 359).

The higher the LTO score is, the higher is the insight of the future in a society. Related to the economy, it means that companies in a culture with a high LTO score are more interested in the market position and companies in a culture with a low LTO score are more interested in a fast profit acceleration.

China’s LTO score is 87 which is on the top end of the long-term orientation index (cf. figure 1). The Chinese society is based on Danwei and Guanxi, the two most important values in the Chinese culture. This is a reason why China belongs to the long-term orientated countries. The strong relationship within the family and the long lasting process of trusting anybody from outside is an attitude that is learned by every Individual in his early life. In the Chinese economy, a company is usually family-owned and operated. The members of management are chosen from the family’s descendants and that is a reason for the long-term orientated mentality of Chinese entrepreneurs. The management board in China takes more responsibility for the company’s future than a management board in a low-term orientated culture because in China the next managing director is usually from his own family. Employees in China are also willing to learn and obtain new knowledge and further training lifelong, no matter what stage of management they are assigned to (cf. Hummel, 2011, p. 169).

Companies that operate in China will experience the long-term orientation especially when they try to find new business partners. The managers of a Chinese company act with reserve when they first meet new business partners and the success of a business deal is not only dependent on facts but also on the personal relationship between the managers. This relationship is not made on a single day or after one business meeting but it is built up in a process of a long-lasting cooperation (cf. Diekmann/Fang, 2008, p. 131).

A Data for a LTO score for the UAE does not exist yet but based on the analysis of the other four cultural dimensions it can be assumed that the score will be on an average to high level. Although the UAE’s cultural importance of family and good business relationships is similar to China, the large impact of the Arabic and Islamic tradition decreases the long-term orientation to a medium level because traditions of the past cannot be neglected in the Arab culture.


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Improving the cooperation of a mixed United Arab Emirates-China project team
By analyzing the cultures on the basis of cultural theories and by explaining practical examples
University of Applied Sciences Essen
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ISBN (Book)
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improving, united, arab, emirates-china
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Tobias Hoffmann (Author), 2014, Improving the cooperation of a mixed United Arab Emirates-China project team, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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