“Culture is the collective programming of the mind distinguishing the members of one group or category of people from others”

Professor Geert Hofstede conducted one of the most comprehensive studies of how values in the workplace are influenced by culture. He analysed a large database of employee value scores collected within IBM between 1967 and 1973. The data covered more than 70 countries, from which Hofstede first used the 40 countries with the largest groups of respondents and afterwards extended the analysis to 50 countries and 3 regions. Subsequent studies validating the earlier results include such respondent groups as commercial airline pilots and students in 23 countries, civil service managers in 14 counties, ‘up-market’ consumers in 15 countries and ‘elites’ in 19 countries. The values that distinguished country cultures from each other could be statistically categorised into four groups. These four groups became the Hofstede dimensions of national culture:

  • Individualism versus Collectivism
  • Power Distance
  • Masculinity versus Femininity
  • Uncertainty Avoidance


These dimensions can be used to get a first impression on how Brazilian Culture differs from other cultures. We will cover all four dimensions in different blog entries. This week we are going to have a closer look on Individualism versus Collectivism, comparing Brazils scores with those of Germay and the USA on this dimension.

Individualism versus Collectivism

Individualism vs Collectivism Brazil Germany USA

The fundamental issue addressed by this dimension is the degree of interdependence a society maintains among its members. It has to do with whether people´s self-image is defined in terms of “I” or “We”. In Individualist societies people are supposed to look after themselves and their direct family only. In Collectivist societies people belong to ‘in groups’ that take care of them in exchange for loyalty.

Brazil has a score of 38 which  means that in this country people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive groups (especially represented by the extended family; including uncles, aunts, grandparents and cousins) which continues protecting its members in exchange for loyalty. This is an important aspect in the working environment too, where for instance an older and powerful member of a family is expected to “help” a younger nephew to be hired for a job in his own company. In business it is important to build up trustworthy and long lasting relationships: a meeting usually starts with general conversations in order to get to know each other before doing business. The preferred communication style is context-rich, so people will often speak profusely and write in an elaborate fashion.

The German society is a truly individualistic one (67). Small families with a focus on the parent-children relationship rather than aunts and uncles are most common. There is a strong belief in the ideal of self-actualization. Loyalty is based on personal preferences for people as well as a sense of duty and responsibility. This is defined by the contract between the employer and the employee. Communication is among the most direct in the world following the ideal to be “honest, even if it hurts” – and by this giving the counterpart a fair chance to learn from mistakes. (source: Geert Hofstede, Gert Jan Hofstede, Michael Minkov, Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind. Revised and Expanded 3rd Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill USA, 2010)

This difference between Germany and Brazil explains why our volunteers from Germany have some problems as well as pleasant surprises here in Brazil. Germans like small groups. If they are organizing the birthday party they only want to see close friends. Brazilians on the other hand like to mix people, it is normal for them to bring some of their friends to your birthday party even if you never heard of them before. However this fact helps faster integration of the foreigners into Brazilian society. So be ready that somebody whom you just got to know on the bus stop will invite you to come to the party or family dinner with him/her. And everybody on the event will be glad to welcome you.

Check also other Hofstede Dimensions for Brazil:
Power Distance

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