We know that cultural diverse people have been grown up and educated in different nations. Values which are historically derived are lying in the heart of every national culture and embedded in nearly every aspect of life (Hofstede, 1997, p. 8) as economical, social, political or educational systems. Each member of a nation grows up with these particular underlying values which become internalised and both an integral part of our sub consciousness and consciousness driving our ways of feeling, thinking and behaving.
Therefore, when cultures show different degrees of adherence to certain values it can be estimated that the ways of feeling, thinking and behaving will vary across cultural borders and ultimately lead to different points of views, knowledge and perspectives. Hampden -Turner and Trompenaars (2002, p. 1) support this idea by stating that “[….] cultures have always been reflections of the world mirrored in the eyes of members [….]” and result in “[….] reversals of the order and sequence of looking and learning.”
However, this does not necessarily imply that a cultural diverse workplace results also in higher innovative and creative outcomes. In fact, regarding the performance of culturally diverse workgroups there are existing opposing views in the literature. Jackson (1992, cited by Dakhli et al., 2002, p. 2) for instance, found that in heterogeneous groups conflicts and therefore less cohesiveness are more likely to appear than in homogeneous groups which in turn affect negatively the group performance. Conflict might arise when the work group is not aware about their different mental programs which in turn might result in a lack of tolerance and understanding for the other’s behaviour and attitude.
It is believed that being confronted with another culture confirms us in our own identity (Hofstede, 1997, p. 211) as each culture regards its “way of doing things” as normal and as the best way. Consequently the other’s way of doing things might be perceived as alienated and strange which causes mistrust as pointed out by Adler (2002, p. 142). Human beings tend to prefer similarities as they give them a sense of protection and understanding rather than differences which might frighten them. Therefore, group members might prefer having contact with those who show similar characteristics to oneself avoiding contact with those who do not which was also found out by Byrne (1971, cited by Dakhli et al., 2002, p.8).
This in turn might result in the emergence of subgroups, that is to say the entire culturally diverse group reorganises itself in cultural homogeneous groups. In such a case cohesion would be diminished which consequently constrains the desired benefits of a culturally diverse group since it is said that gaining a competitive advantage by establishing a multicultural workforce is fundamentally dependant on the employees’ ability to learn from each other through mutual exchange (Ely and Thomas, 2001, p. 3) which is not possible without cohesion.
Nevertheless, the former discussion also implies that it is possible to gain advantages of a culturally diverse workforce when a company and its workforce are aware about existing cultural differences which in turn indicates that it is first necessary to know in which way and degree cultures differ from each other. For this purpose Hofstede (1980) provided a commonly accepted framework in which he identifies the nature of cultural differences in values, particularly towards work – related issues. He was able to determine four key dimensions to which a fifth one was added by Bond in later research. (Cole, 2004, p. 129)
These dimensions include individualism versus collectivism which describes the degree to which the culture relies on the self or the group, uncertainty avoidance which refers to the extent of tolerance for ambiguity or uncertain situations, power distance, that is the way cultures are accustomed to deal with inequalities among people, masculinity versus femininity which determines cultures to fit in the first category when preferring assertiveness and materialism and in the latter one when emphasising relationships and welfare for others. The added dimension refers to long-term versus short-term orientation, that is to say the degree on which one culture relies on the present or the future. (Hofstede, 2001; Cole, 2004, p. 129)
This framework allows categorising cultures, evaluating in which way and to which extent they differ from each other and identifying which potential strengths and weaknesses (Joynt and Morton, 1999, p. 213) single cultural diverse employees have as a result of their mental programs which they carry and contribute to the organisation. That is to say, the recognition of cultural differences in values might allow identifying distinctive characteristics which, if managed adequately, could contribute to the effectiveness of the group and improve the overall business performance. Distinctive advantageous characteristics could be recognised when interpreting cultural dimensions adequately as in the following example provided by Hofstede (1997, p. 240) in which he illustrates potential competitive advantages of different cultures.