Almost all of us have one of those people in our lives—they arrive four hours early for an international flight, check their watch frequently, and are ready to begin the meeting five minutes before the scheduled time. This person has a Controlled sense of Time, a stark contrast to the friend or colleague who is never rushed and never plans for traffic delays. Your awareness of a colleague’s characteristic approach to Time – whether across or within cultures – can tell when to expect them!
The Time Dimension of the CultureWizard Intercultural Model® helps us understand these two extremes (and the spectrum of behaviors in between). Essentially, the Time Dimension illustrates how people manage time based on a culturally reinforced idea of how much control they believe they have over it.
In Controlled Time societies, individuals view time as a precious, finite commodity. In this context, meeting deadlines and maximizing efficiency are a reflection of one’s ability to spend this commodity wisely. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Fluid Time cultures view time as a variable that flexes according to the changing needs of the person, relationship or circumstances.
Once you are able to recognize Fluid versus Controlled Time cultures, it becomes much simpler to flex your style and work successfully on a diverse team. You can manage milestones instead of deadlines, or carefully communicate about differing needs and expectations.
Below you will find a few key markers to help you identify Controlled and Fluid Time cultures.
Signs of a Controlled Time Culture:
· People adhere strictly to schedules and deadlines.
· Work is organized and tasks delineated in structured systems.
· People move more quickly from one task to another.
· More weight is given to long-term outlines and plans.
· “Time-keepers” are used in meetings to ensure the agenda is upheld.
· Language reinforces the cultural significance of Time (ergo“managing time,” “saving time,” “time is money,” etc.)
· There is a designated beginning and end to work and social functions.
· Spontaneous conversations, emails or phone calls are atypical.
Signs of a Fluid Time Culture:
· People take longer breaks or move more slowly between tasks.
· People do not view schedules and deadlines as fixed.
· Long-term plans and outlines may not hold much significance.
· Meetings do not have a specific agenda, and if they do, the agenda may not be exactly followed.
· There is no designated ending to work or social functions, and they may not even start “on time.”
· Relationships play a greater role than structured systems in defining how work is organized.
· Spontaneous conversations, email or phone calls are viewed as a good way of fostering productivity.
To further improve your awareness of cross-cultural dynamics in the Time Dimension, read our other detailed blog post, The Time Dimension: Managing Profoundly Diverse Perceptions Of Time Within Multicultural Teams.