Different cultures view time and how it is used in a work environment differently. Some cultures view time as being very concrete and formal, while others view it as just a part of their overall lives. These two perspectives can and do clash when it comes to a business environment.
Culture and Time
Each culture has a different sense of time. I am not saying that different cultures have a different method of telling time. Rather, each culture has a different interpretation of time. What one culture considers early, another might consider late. What one culture considers on time, another might consider being tardy. Each culture, to some extent, views time differently, and these different views do have an impact on organizational behavior, especially when our workforce is becoming more and more diverse.
Taking this thought a step further, different cultures view how they use time differently. Some cultures multitask, while others do one thing at a time. Some cultures stay strictly to a plan, and some are fine winging it. It's these nuances that define monochronic cultures and polychronic cultures and how they view time.
Types of Time
Monochronic time is very structured and deals with time precisely. That is to say, monochronic time (and cultures that follow this thought process) works very systematically and with a great deal of organization. These cultures do not wing things and see what will happen, but rather they stay focused on the tasks at hand, plan those tasks around time, and then proceed to deliver a final product on the day it is supposed to be delivered. Cultures that follow this thought pattern have a belief that there is a sense of order and a time or place for everything. They do not take time commitments lightly and stay focused on what is to be delivered and when. The United States and Germany are great examples of cultures that follow the belief of monochronic time.
In contrast, cultures that follow polychronic time have a tendency to blend personal time and work time together. They see work and life as complete circles that are intertwined together. This is not to say they do not take time or work seriously; they just do not see a work schedule as a compelling way of living their lives. Countries such as those in Latin America subscribe to polychronic time.
Impact on Organizational Behavior
Now that we understand these aspects, take a moment to think how they impact organizational behavior. Here we have cultures with two completely opposing viewpoints of time (and of work), and imagine the issues that can cause when they are working together in one organization. What one person might view as a strict schedule, another would look at as part of their work/life balance and not take as seriously. Obviously for a manager to manage a diverse workforce, he or she would need to understand these concepts and manage the cultures that are present. If not, there would be nothing but frustration and arguments, and little, if any, work would get done.
These two viewpoints on time are present one way or another in any culture. A culture, as a whole, either has a monochronic view of time, being very structured and dealing with time precisely, or a polychronic view of time, blending personal time and work time together. It is the role of the manager to understand these cultural differences and ensure cross-cultural teams can work together to finish a task. Without that understanding, teams will simply not understand the conflicting viewpoints as they relate to time, and that in and of itself might end up being the focus of the group, as opposed to the work they are trying to get accomplished.
After watching this lesson, you should be able to distinguish between monochronic and polychronic views of time, and how they clash in a business environment.