What is a collectivist work culture? Pros, cons and examples

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 14 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Practising collectivism in the workplace presents a lot of potential benefits to businesses and communities. It can encourage selflessness, enforce peace, unity, stability, collaboration and productivity in an organisation. A business's understanding, evaluation and response to internal and external factors affecting it often inform their business culture, so understanding the sort of cultures that are available can be useful for nurturing one in a company. In this article, we describe what a collectivist work culture is, the pros and cons of collectivist culture and provide some examples of it.

Related: The Ultimate Guide To Management Styles

What is a collectivist work culture?

A collectivist work culture is a collaborative lifestyle where employees within a business environment work as a team and not as individuals. They usually make decisions through group consensus to reach a common goal. Here, employees work together to strengthen the organisation and also look out for the best interests of one another. They function by adopting group values, motivations and beliefs rather than expressing their own individually.

Aside from the business environment, you can also see collectivism in families, countries and communities. Families may work together to function, with parents providing for children and the children reciprocating with day-to-day tasks or support later in life. Countries like Indonesia, Costa Rica, Japan, China, Ghana and Korea practise different collectivist cultures. This culture can help the people within that country to reach a common, government goal. Collectivist culture may also be present in places like ethnic groups, neighbourhoods, communities and political groups.

Read more: What is workplace culture, and what are its characteristics?

Advantages of collectivism in the workplace

The pros of collectivism at work include:

Collaboration

Collectivism in companies can enhance collaboration, leading to greater levels of productivity across departments. This productivity can translate into reaching company goals more effectively and improving results on a task by task basis. For example, six people working on a project can complete it sooner than two people working on the same project.

Democracy

A collectivist culture can positively affect how a community makes decisions. Democracy entails making a collective decision through votes. This can include the appointment of a leader, business practices going forwards or deciding what new project is to take priority. For example, some businesses may encourage vote-taking when electing team leaders, instating the candidate with the highest count.

Democracy has the potential to promote fairness and can make decision-making processes easy, especially when it involves a large number of people. It allows the members of a community or organisation to express their opinion on matters, helping them to feel heard and providing valuable feedback to the company.

Loyalty

Adhering to a collectivist culture can build a deep sense of loyalty amongst employees. Loyalty here entails caring about the success of each other as employees and trusting one another to improve the productivity of a company by working together. Loyalty also encourages employees to work their hardest and genuinely hope for the best possible outcomes for the business. In the process of caring for each other and working together closely, employees may have more opportunities to socialise and build workplace connections.

Peace and stability

Another major advantage of collectivist culture is the potential for peace and stability it affords. A more stable workforce means less turnover and a greater sense of commitment to the organisation's objectives. Effective collaboration and a greater sense of loyalty between teams also mean a smaller likelihood of conflict arising. Collectivism promotes common interest rather than personal interest, so there's a greater incentive to foster strong relationships between peers.

Encourages selflessness

A collectivist work culture encourages selflessness and teaches individuals how to be people-minded. These sorts of environments tend to attract people with similar interests and beliefs. This means that they're more likely to perform in a similar fashion to their peers and attempt to work to the same standards and expectations. Individualistic people may stand out in environments like these.

Efficiency

Communities or businesses that practise this work culture may also enjoy a greater level of efficiency. A country that channels resources in the same direction can have better productivity. Collectivism makes it easier to begin and finish projects as a smaller range of opinions are taken into account when proposing or working on the projects. Each team member is more likely to know what their role is and what they're working towards.

Related: The importance of leadership and culture in organisations

Disadvantages of a collectivist work culture

The different disadvantages of a collectivist culture include:

Inequality

Though the expectations placed on each employee are equal, their performance may not match this. For example, a team may comprise both serious and uncommitted employees, with the serious employees working harder than their uncommitted counterparts. Likewise, some members might be more knowledgeable than others and may attract better salaries. Discrepancies like these can cause tensions within teams.

As a team leader, you can help to train your team members and prepare them with the basic knowledge they require to work better. You can also let them know how important they are to the team and also help them build their self-confidence. Providing training and development opportunities gives employees a way to progress towards higher salaries and greater responsibilities.

Loss of personal goals

Group decisions can encourage employees to forgo their personal goals. Sometimes, team members might have better ideas for a task but may lack the motivation to share the ideas, especially when the team does not accept it. A collectivist community makes it more difficult to practise your ideologies and beliefs. When a majority shares a collective point of view, choosing to focus on yourself and your needs may suggest you aren't a team player. Team leaders can prevent this by considering as many opinions as possible and by encouraging forms of expression outside of business operations.

Pressure

The emphasis on working as a team can cause pressure on its individual members, especially if they're underperforming. When one person slows work, the whole team may miss a deadline. Team leaders can assuage this by encouraging team members to support one another and learn to depend on each other. Team leads can also create realistic plans that outline where an employee is and where they can be with the correct training. Ensuring that every team member is capable can spread the pressure out evenly, preventing individuals from bearing the majority of it.

Not being heard

Working as a team can mean having less of a say in how a business operates. This can breed hostility. For example, an employee might refuse to accept a project plan drafted by a team simply because they feel the rest of the team did not listen to their opinions. A simple solution to this is to permit all your team members to share their ideas and opinions about a project before drawing your conclusions as the team leader.

Related: Organisational culture importance: benefits and examples

Reduced motivation

It's possible for employees to feel unmotivated when a company places more emphasis on group efforts rather than individual efforts. Personal achievements can be highly motivating for some personality types. To overcome this, you can improve your employees' motivation by encouraging them through rewards or benefits. Encouraging them to shift their perspective can also be effective. Rather than looking to their own achievements for satisfaction, you can recommend that they look to the success of the business and take ownership of it as theirs too.

Examples of countries with collectivist cultures

To gain a better understanding of collectivist cultures, you can look at the many countries across the world that practise collectivism. A couple of examples include:

Philippines

A collectivist culture encourages interdependence, harmony, cooperation, accommodation, loyalty and respect for hierarchies. The Philippines has a culture that strongly promotes looking after one's family. It's common for families to live together for their whole lives and to support one another. Generally, people in the Philippines try to maintain social harmony by not expressing negative opinions and by considering the feelings of others around them.

Related: Creating a healthy corporate culture

South Korea

South Korea is another country that practises collectivist culture. South Korean society emphasises responsibility and loyalty towards close family members and the needs of other citizens. Decisions are generally made with consideration of the interests of a group, whether that's a family unit, an organisation or a society. Members within these groups are encouraged to provide support for their other members, leading to collective satisfaction.

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