Working as a consultant in many countries (58 so far) gives me an opportunity to see, first hand, how culture impacts managerial behavior.
I have been writing in my blog about the culture in Russia and those countries that were under the Soviet sphere of influence, and how it impacted their organizational behavior.
In this Insight, I want to focus on a country many are not very familiar with; Azerbaijan. It is on the Caspian Sea, next to Turkey and Armenia. Once part of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan gained its independence after a bloody revolution in 1991. Like most former Soviet states, it is a democracy, but with a very strong presidency and not much opposition. Apparently it is not easy to free oneself of a dictatorial history. Azerbaijan is predominantly a Muslim country, without any hostile, aggressive, radical elements. By and large it is a tolerant culture—except towards Armenia, with which it has an ongoing territory dispute.
What stands out in terms of Azerbaijan’s organizational culture, is the lack of conflict, or at least open conflict. In all the countries I have worked in, I have never come across a culture that is so agreeable. In meetings, people rarely disagree. You will not hear people raising their voices, or even hear the word “no.” When you ask people, “How are you?” they are always fine and ready to go to work. Not once have I heard a person saying anything negative or complaining. On the surface, the country looks like a heavenly place to work, with an ever-supportive atmosphere.
Compare this to Israel, where you hardly ever hear people say, “Sure!” or “Yes!” What you hear there is always “No, I do not agree.” In Israel people look for a hole in your argument, for a weakness in your reasoning, so they can criticize not just what you say, but you as a person. It is very, very stressful.
It would seem that Azerbaijan, with its peace and quiet, and supportive atmosphere, would be heaven for consulting, right?
In this type of atmosphere you never know for sure what is going on. You do not know if there are problems. You do not know if a decision will be implemented or get stuck somewhere during implementation, because all potential barriers to implementation were not disclosed during the decision making.
Compare this situation to Israel, where the debate is stressful all right, but you can identify problems (even imaginary ones) easily.
What is good, is not necessarily good. And what is bad, is not necessarily bad. Or, to put it differently, what is exaggerated is not as good as what is in moderation.
Israeli Talmudic confrontations produce exceptional corporate results, but at a tremendous cost to the quality of life of the people within the organization. The Azerbaijani culture of peace and avoiding confrontation makes people’s quality of life exceptional but organizational results questionable.
Moderation. Not too good and not too bad. Some good and some bad is apparently the answer—in food, in management, in marriage, in a country. In everything.
Ichak Kalderon Adizes
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