Improving the cooperation of a mixed Saudi Arabian-German project team

Term Paper, 2014

22 Pages, Grade: 1,0


List of Contents

List of Abbreviations

List of Figures

1 Introduction
1.1 Fact file
1.2 Culture

2 Hofstede’s Dimensions
2.1 Power Distance (PDI)
2.2 Individualism versus collectivism (IDV)
2.3 Masculinity versus femininity (MAS)
2.4 Uncertainty avoidance (UAI)
2.5 Pragmatism (PRA)
2.6 Indulgence (IND)

3 Conclusion


List of Abbreviations

illustration not visible in this excerpt

List of Figures

Figure 1: Saudi Arabia and Germany

Figure 2: Three Levels of Uniqueness in Mental Programming

Figure 3: Power Distance - Saudi Arabia vs. Germany

Figure 4: Individualism versus collectivism - Saudi Arabia vs. Germany

Figure 5: Masculinity versus femininity - Saudi Arabia vs. Germany

Figure 6: Uncertainty avoidance - Saudi Arabia vs. Germany

Figure 7: Pragmatism- Saudi Arabia vs. Germany

Figure 8: Indulgence - Saudi Arabia vs. Germany

Figure 9: General Comparison of Saudi Arabia and Germany by the 6-D Model

1 Introduction

In times of an ongoing globalization national markets are merging. In order of that companies are faced with the challenge to benefit from the great potential of consolidating markets. Therefore companies are often anxious to start businesses in these emerging markets.

This comes along with cross-border projects which can help to enter these market regions. While these projects constitute high potential chances for companies, they are confronted with new problems and challenges in the course of the handling of these orders.

For example an international project can cause problems through intercultural differences, which could be avoided by a former analysis of the cultural characteristics of the societies which are taking part in the project.

Because of that this paper deals with the question how the cooperation of a mixed project team can be improved by such an analysis on the basis of cultural theories.

Due to Saudi Arabian’s monopolistic position regarding fossil power resources the country has a certain importance for the world economy.[1] Further because of massive, future investments in the public infrastructure, the energy- and water supply systems as well in the education and health systems Saudi Arabia plays an important role as a business partner for German companies like the Siemens AG.[2], [3], [4]

Therefore the subject of this study will be the cultural disparities of the Saudi Arabian and Germany culture. In order of that the Saudi Arabian Kingdom is compared briefly with the German Democratic Republic in a fact file. Afterwards the term “culture” in general is elucidated. Then the cultural theory of Geert Hofstede is explained and applied on the focussed societies.

As an inference of this analysis the major, possible improvements in the project team cooperation are named and introduced.

1.1 Fact file

Figure 1: Saudi Arabia and Germany[5]

1.2 Culture

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In the following cultural theories are used in order to analyze the culture of Saudi Arabia in comparison to the German culture. For this analysis a general appreciation of the term “culture” is mandatory. To get a better understanding of this term the key factors by which it is distinguished have to be evaluated. Therefore the study of the structure of human behavior can lead to a better understanding of what culture is about.

Figure 2: Three Levels of Uniqueness in Mental Programming[6]

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The given graphic shows the three basic levels which distinguish human behavior. Besides the human nature, called universal level, there is the specific culture and the personality of everyone which have a certain influence on human behavior. This universal level is “inherited within our genes“[7] and controls the physical and basic psychological functioning. The second level that influences human behavior is identified as culture. The major difference compared to the first factor is that “culture is learned, not innate. It derives from one´s social environment rather than from one´s genes.”[8] That means that culture is taught across generations by the social environment of a human being. Further the human ability to have emotions and sentiments only works in interaction with others and for that reason is linked to the need of an association. If those cultural environments come into conflict, different beliefs, attitudes or skills can lead to misunderstanding and failure of cohabitation.

The last level is about everyone’s personality, which consists of unique personal experiences as well as of individual genes. These parts of a mindset can be learned and inherited.

After this classification of the general term of culture the question of the categorization of the differences of various cultures arouses.

In order of that several authors have tried to differentiate between cultures by showing their similarities as well as their differences. Mostly they developed models, which serve as academic parameters categorizing those similarities and differences in order to make countries cultures comparable. In the following the culture model of Geert H. Hofstede is presented.

2 Hofstede’s Dimensions

The Dutch Professor Geert Hofstede “conducted one of the most comprehensive studies of how values in the workplace are influenced by culture”.[9]

The expert for cultural studies was born in 1928 and published in 1980 as the first expert world-wide a book entitled as “Culture’s Consequences” about cross-cultural differences.

For this book Hofstede developed from 1967 to 1973 four categories which could statistically categorize “values that distinguished country cultures from each other”.[10] These categories became Hofstede’s first draft of his dimensions of national culture. Later on two further dimensions were added by Michael Minkov and Hofstede’s data base was extended.

Hereafter the six dimensions are explained and directly used to reveal the critical differences between Germany and Saudi Arabia.

2.1 Power Distance (PDI)

The first dimension Hofstede uses in order to determine culture is power distance. This value deals with the fact that there is inequality in any society and describes how a society handles the existence of inequality.[11] Especially it expresses how members of certain parts of a society accept the unequal distribution of power. If a country has a high PDI, a strict hierarchy is established and accepted easier than in a country with a lower PDI.

In countries with a lower PDI an unequal distribution of power needs more justification. Because of that such societies tend to divide the power more equally.

Figure 3: Power Distance - Saudi Arabia vs. Germany[12]

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As the graphic shows the difference between Saudi Arabia and Germany in terms of the Power Distance is huge. Saudi Arabia has a very high PDI-Score and scores above the average with a score of 95 points. Furthermore Saudi Arabia appertains to the three countries with the highest score worldwide. Based on this result the Saudi Arabian society can be described as a strongly hierarchical and dependent orientated. This becomes obvious regarding Saudi Arabian people who tend to be very deferential towards others with a higher age, more power or a higher position. This comes along with a very indirect style of communication preserving the dignity of the communication partner.[13]

Besides that the usage of titles shows the hierarchical mindset of the Arabian society as they are stating titles much more explicitly and frequently than what is the norm in most Western societies.[14]

In comparison to that has Germany a very low PDI-Score. With a score of 35 points Germany is on the 89th place in the worldwide ranking. This is caused by a strong belief of the Germany society that all citizens are equal and have the chances to rise in society.[15] These attitudes are depicted by the allocation of power within the social classes. Germany has a strong middle-class which questions unequal power distribution. Furthermore the gap between wealthy and poor in general is rather small.

This leads to the fact that titles or age do not determine ones position. Being proactive and using direct communication styles is welcome, in contrary to Saudi Arabia.

2.2 Individualism versus collectivism (IDV)

The ratio of Individualism/ collectivism describes “the degree to which individuals are expected to look after themselves versus remaining integrated into groups.”[16] A society with an individualistic culture, shown by a high IDV-Score, values the needs of a single individual more than those of a group. That leads to the fact that people express private opinions and are interested in individual fulfilment. In order of that individualistic cultures are mostly using direct verbal, low-context communication styles.

The opposite, a collectivistic culture, indicated by a low IDV-Score, is more focuses on the needs of the group than on the individual’s ones. That means that the identity of every single member of a society is based on the social system to which it belongs. This comes along with a strong motivation to avoid any shame, because this affects not oneself, but the group to which one belongs. Further there is a preference of indirect and high-context communication styles.

These differences in general result in the fact that “in individualistic cultures people give priority to the task [while] in collectivistic cultures priority is given to the relationships with people.”[17]

Figure 4: Individualism versus collectivism - Saudi Arabia vs. Germany[18]

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The given graphic shows that Saudi Arabia has a low IDV-Score in comparison to Germany. Besides that Saudi Arabia scores below the average with 25 points what indicates that Saudi Arabia has a collectivistic culture. This is reflected by the strong endeavor in Saudi Arabia to preserve family honor and avoid shame. Furthermore it is expected in Saudi Arabian culture that people overlook their own needs for the benefit of the community or in-group.[19] Based on this fact close long-term relationships in business or daily life emphasize the importance of loyalty in the Saudi Arabian culture.[20]

Further on Saudi Arabians tend to communicate in high context communication styles in order “to establish trust and confidence”.[21] That is shown by the fact that Saudi Arabian culture relies on non-direct communication cues such as body language and eye-contact, tone of voice, facial expressions and the use of silence.[22]

In addition the collectivistic characteristic of the Saudi Arabian society can be derived from the data given above. The average household in Saudi Arabia comprises 5.84 members what shows that the families and residential communities are bigger than only the inner circle of a family.

Germanys IDV amounts to 67, which identifies a rather individualistic society. With this value over the world-average Germany seems to place value on personal achievements and individual rights. Every member of the society shall be able to achieve individual fulfillment.

Further there is a lower significance of loyalty in German society, because Germans tend to have more non-committal relationships. This comes along with smaller households which are with an average of 2.02 in contrary to the Saudi Arabian households limited to the inner circle of a family. Besides that Germany is known for its direct communication style which is often criticized as impolite.

2.3 Masculinity versus femininity (MAS)

The 3rd Dimension Hofstede uses in order to compare cultures is the Masculinity vs. Femininity Index. It gives an overview where a culture is more likely to set their goals.

If a country is masculine, shown by a high MAS value, members of the society are focused on being assertive and competitive. If a country is feminine, shown by a rather low MAS value, the members of the society are generally more interested in modesty and they tend to care for each other.[23]

Figure 5: Masculinity versus femininity - Saudi Arabia vs. Germany[24]

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As the graphic shows Saudi Arabia and Germany score nearly above average with 60 und 66 points. Both countries can be called masculine for various reasons. Starting with Saudi Arabia, there is a great importance attached to “the opportunity to earn more, career advancements, recognition and having a challenge”.[25] These attitudes are definitely a proof for a masculine society.

In Germany the situation is very similar. “People rather “live in order to work” and draw a lot of self-esteem from their tasks.”[26] Furthermore status plays an important role in the German society, as they like to show what they have reached in life, e.g. by driving expensive cars or by owning the newest technical gadget.

2.4 Uncertainty avoidance (UAI)

According to Hofstede the uncertainty avoidance index reflects “the extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by uncertain or unknown situations”.[27] The index gives information how strong the urge is, to avoid unknown situations by establishing more structure. Cultures with a low UAI are much better in coping with uncertainties, whereas countries with a low UAI are often apprehensive cultures. These societies “are less open to change and especially innovation”[28] than others with a lower UAI.

Figure 6: Uncertainty avoidance - Saudi Arabia vs. Germany[29]

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Saudi Arabia scores with 80 points above the average. This value shows that the culture is characterized by the fear of uncertain and unknown situations. In order of that Saudi Arabian people have “a preference for avoiding uncertainty”.[30] This is shown by strong religious rules, which are an indispensable element of the Saudi Arabian society.

Germanys UAI amounts to 65 points and is comparable with the worldwide average value of 64. Further the German society is characterized by a preference of well organized structures.

This is reflected by a high significance of rules, regulations, plans and contracts in German Business Life.[31]

In order to give another clear example for the high UAI, in German society, the fact, that Germans really obey their law could be mentioned. For example when they dispose of garbage, they ensure that it is really in the bin. Further they strictly follow the traffic laws or tend to queue without cutting the line in any case.

2.5 Pragmatism (PRA)

Another Dimension of Hofstede’s Theory is called pragmatic versus normative. This value expresses how members of a society handle the fact that not everything that happens can be explained in life. If a country has a high PRA value it’s called pragmatic, what means that the members of a society “believe that truth depends very much on situation, context and time.”[32] Further they assume that the complexity of life is impossible to explain. In general such societies are characterized by a strong adaptability in terms of traditions, persistence in accomplishing objectives and a tendency for saving and investing.

The opposite, indicated by a low PRA value, is called a normative society. Such societies are distinguished by a powerful desire to establish the absolute truth. Besides that they show great respect for existing traditions. Further they only have a weak urge for providing for the future while being interested in reaching goals fast.[33]

Figure 7: Pragmatism- Saudi Arabia vs. Germany[34]

illustration not visible in this excerpt

As the graphic shows Saudi Arabia belongs with a score of 36 to the normative cultures.

Scoring below the average normative elements can be found in the Saudi Arabian culture.

So the Saudi Arabian culture is built on the religious beliefs of the Islam what leads to the fact that every question of life is explained by these religious ideas.

On the opposite the pragmatic values can be attributed to Germany according to the high score of 83 points. This is the fifth highest value measured in this Dimension. That is reflected by a rational way of thinking regarding the German society members which assume that the truth depends on various factors. Furthermore Germans are known for their thrift accompanied by a long-term orientated asset management.[35]

2.6 Indulgence (IND)

The sixth Dimension of Hofstede’s Culture Model shows the degree to which the personalities of children are formed by the specific socialization process of a country. Further the way how members of the society try “to control their desires and impulses, based on the way they were raised”[36] is expressed by this dimension. If a society has a high IND value it is characterized by members who are controlling their desires in a relatively weak way. This weak control can be called “indulgence”. In this case the society “allows relatively free gratification of basic and natural human drives related to enjoying life and having fun”.[37] The opposite would be a “restraint” society, which is indicated by a low IND value. These cultures are rather strong in their control of their desires and impulses. In this case the “society [..] suppresses gratification of needs and regulates it by means of strict social norms”.[38]

Figure 8: Indulgence - Saudi Arabia vs. Germany[39]

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Like the graphic shows both countries score nearly below and above the average.

While Saudi Arabia has no obvious tendency because of its intermediate score of 52, Germany has a rather low score of 40 points. This low score shows that the German society in general can be described as restraint. A good example in German society for such a suppression of needs would be an attitude that was mentioned above. Germans tend to be very thrifty, what is reflected by the high value of the PRA. For that frugality, some desires and impulses are suppressed by predefined social norms which are part of a “restraint” society.

3 Conclusion

After analyzing the differences between the Saudi Arabian and Germany culture an implementation of the results into the work of a mixed project team could be useful in order to reach the goals set by the management board of the team. In the following the possible improvements in leading a mixed team shall be derived from the recognized differences between the described cultures.

The analyzed dimensions of Hofstede reveal some significant points which should be observed while leading a mixed project team. As the following graphic shows there is a huge gap between the attitudes regarding the Power Distance of both countries.

Figure 9: General Comparison of Saudi Arabia and Germany by the 6-D Mode[40] l

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While Saudi Arabian project team members are used to strong hierarchic structures, German project team members could be used to a more cooperative way of working. A manager should always keep in mind that the members from different societies have to be treated differently in order to keep them motivated and successful. Therefore a special management strategy in order to prevent or solve problems which could arise from this difference between these cultures should be implemented. That means in detail that Saudi Arabian employees need a strict hierarchic project organization with one superior, while the German employees can cope with a matrix organization consisting of more than one counterpart.[41]

Further the behavior towards superiors in Saudi Arabia differs from the behavior in Germany. Because of that titles always should be mentioned to address business partners formally in a correct way.[42]

Besides that the graphic reveals another difference between the Saudi Arabian and German culture regarding the IDV Score. While Germans tend to show a rather individualistic behavior, the Saudi Arabian people have a disposition to collectivistic behavior.

This difference always has to be kept in mind concerning the important influence on the cooperation within the team.


[1] Cf. Statista (Ed.) (2014)

[2] Cf. Auswärtiges Amt (Ed.) (2013)

[3] Cf. Manager Magazin online (Ed.) (2013)

[4] Cf. Handelsblatt (Ed.) (2013)

[5] (© OpenStreetMap contributors, CC BY-SA,

[6] Hofstede, G. H.; Hofstede, G. J.; Minkov, M. (2010), p.6

[7] Hofstede, G. H.; Hofstede, G. J.; Minkov, M. (2010), p.6

[8] Ibidem, p.6

[9] Hofstede, G. H. (2014): National cultural dimensions

[10] Hofstede, G. H. (2014): National cultural dimensions

[11] Cf. Hofstede, G. H.; Hofstede, G. J.; Minkov, M. (2010), p. 54.

[12] Own depiction

[13] Cf. Expat Focus (Ed.) (2014)

[14] Cf. Shoult, A. (2006), p. 333

[15] Cf. Petersen, H. (2012)

[16] Landy, F. J.; Conte, J. M. (2010), p. 38

[17] Mooij, M. K. de (2010), p. 77

[18] Own depiction

[19] Cf. Burking, B. (2012)

[20] Cf. Hofstede, G. H. (2014): Saudi Arabia

[21] Burking, B. (2012)

[22] Cf. Al-Ghamdi, S. M. (2008)

[23] Cf. Petersen, H. (2012): Masculinity

[24] Own depiction

[25] Chapman, T.; Best, B.; van Casteren, P. (2003), p. 227

[26] Hofstede, G. H. (2014): Germany

[27] Hofstede, G. H.; Hofstede, G. J.; Minkov, M. (2010), p. 113

[28] Mooij, M. K. de (2010), p.83.

[29] Own depiction

[30] Hofstede, G. H. (2014): Saudi Arabia

[31] Cf. Leifeld, C.; Plato, P.; Zeeck, M. (2007)

[32] Hofstede, G. H. (2014): Germany

[33] Cf. Hofstede, G. H. (2014): Saudi Arabia

[34] Own depiction

[35] Cf. Statista (Ed.) (2013)

[36] Hofstede, G. H. (2014): Saudi Arabia

[37] Hofstede, G. H. (2014): Dimensions

[38] Hofstede, G. H. (2014): Dimensions

[39] Own depiction

[40] Own depiction

[41] Cf. Kwintessential (Ed.)

[42] Cf. Kratochwil, G. (2004)

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Improving the cooperation of a mixed Saudi Arabian-German project team
University of Applied Sciences Essen
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Tim Borneck (Author), 2014, Improving the cooperation of a mixed Saudi Arabian-German project team, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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