We’re Not So Different, You And I

Every time when I travel to another country (and I really mean every time) people ask me, “Is Agile management different in other countries?”

“Are the Agile people in China different from us?”

“Do they have other problems in Eastern Europe?”

“Is Agile easier in Scandinavia than in the US?”

“Does each project in Belgium have its own government?”

My conclusion is “Yes, people are different.” But the ways in which people are different are actually very, very similar in each of the countries I’ve visited.

Different People, Same Problems

No matter where I go, people have the same problems with management & leadership, the same problems with self-organizing teams, and the same problems with organizations & departments.

Of course, some generalized cultural differences between countries are real.

But, in my experience as a manager, I noticed the differences between developers in The Netherlands and developers in the Ukraine were insignificant, when compared to the differences between developers in The Netherlands and account managers in The Netherlands.

Likewise, the differences between our two web development offices in The Netherlands and the Ukraine were nothing compared to the differences between us and… oh, let’s say an investment bank, a beer manufacturer, or, God help me, a government institute.

Business Culture Trumps Regional Culture

In my experience, cultural differences between countries pale in comparison to the cultural differences between industries. The mismatch between different job types and the mismatch between different businesses is far bigger than the mismatch between countries.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean we can safely ignore any differences.

But I do mean that, while focusing on differences between countries, people tend to overlook the much richer diversity in their own backyard.

People also overlook the many ways in which different places are actually quite similar.

Maybe we should stop focusing on how other countries are different, and how we are different from them. We can solve more problems when we focus on how we are actually the same.

p.s. Oh, and when you compare yourself with China, keep in mind that China is one fifth of the world. Everything in China is huge, including their own internal differences.

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