Collectivist or individualist? Cultural differences in group behavior!

Do you have a lot of casual acquaintances? Or a close, steady circle of friends? Maybe even since childhood? We introduce you to the world’s most important differences in group behavior among people. … What’s in it for you? The article tells you how you can make your international work easier and, above all, more effective!


Individual oriented people care more about themselves than about other people. Accordingly, decisions that individualists make usually only affect their own lives. Little consideration is usually given to other people.

Individualists only stay briefly in a group and change their dealings as they please. For example, you do something with friends from the football club. Later, you go out for a beer with work colleagues. The next day, you meet up with friends you might know from the gym and then take a short vacation with an internet acquaintance. What is special here is that the different people / groups usually do not know each other or only know one another briefly.

A collectivist would do all of these things with one and the same person. If this is not possible, he would rather – in order to demonstrate his affiliation to the group – let go of desired activities than to undertake them with others / strangers.

Switching between different groups is very easy in individual oriented cultures, since other people also live their lives this way.

This cultural dimension usually goes hand in hand with a low level of work loyalty and many moves. For example, a better job offer is accepted and thus exchanged for the familiarity of the old job because it’s easy to find new friends again.

Even the family doesn’t play such a big role for individual oriented people. You usually only have contact with very close family members and even that is not a must: if you don’t get on with your parents or siblings, you may not have any contact at all. The care of the elderly is usually carried out by retirement facilities. If you ask a person from an individual oriented culture for an assessment of another person, this assessment is only made on the basis of the individual person, not on the basis of their group membership.

You tend to find individualism most in the following cultures: USA, Great Britain, Netherlands, Scandinavia, Germany, Canada and others.


Group orientated people focus primarily on the well-being of their own group. Each individual belongs to a few groups [for example, a family, a job, a close circle of friends]. Every decision that this individual makes is previously coordinated with the goals of his or he group. So, a collectivist would never make a decision without weighing the impact on the group involved. Sometimes even the group [for example, the oldest in a large family] decides what a member can or cannot do.

It is often the case that these groups overlap: For example, the circle of friends is made up of colleagues who may also be family members.

If you ask a person from a collectivist culture for an assessment of another person, this assessment is made on the basis of the respective group membership. If it is a respected group [for example a very good employer or a well-known extended family], the associated person is also assessed positively.

Collectivists stand out for their very high loyalty to their groups. Once you have become part of a group [which can take years for new members], you usually offer lifelong loyalty and in exchange you get the economic and social protection of all members.

The bond with one’s own group in collectivism leads to a strong demarcation from other groups. Collectivists show completely different behaviors towards people who do not belong to their own group than towards familiar people.

One often has intensive relationships with the family; also to very extensive relatives. Even if you don’t get along very well, family is worth a lot. For example, you take care of old relatives yourself and don’t give them to a retirement facility.

Another example is the circle of friends: collectivists tend to keep the same friends for their whole live. Even if there are several hundred kilometers in between.

As a result, work loyalty in collectivist cultures is usually very high. It is not uncommon here that a better job offer is rejected out of loyalty to your own group.

Cultures for which collectivism is typical: Japan, Malaysia, the Arabian Peninsula, India and Turkey and others.

Tips, tricks and strategies

Attention: please stay open-minded! ­čÖé The countries mentioned in the article tend to one style or the other. However, this does not mean that this applies to all people in the respective country.

What can you do? We have created an overview for you with tips, tricks and strategies for dealing with both styles. Find out more here!

This topic is – in addition to many other cultural differences – part of our transnational cross-cultural trainings.

About Markus Eidam

Nach meinem insgesamt vierj├Ąhrigen Aufenthalt in verschiedenen L├Ąndern dieser Welt bin ich seit dem Jahr 2004 Gesch├Ąftsf├╝hrer bei den Auslands-Experten von Eidam & Partner. In j├╝ngeren Jahren habe ich Interkulturelle Kommunikation, Erwachsenenbildung und Psychologie studiert und mich zum Trainer, Coach und Personalfachwirt der IHK ausbilden lassen. Unser Unternehmen bietet Ihnen Interkulturelles Training, Interkulturelles Coaching, Consulting und eLearning zu 80 Ziell├Ąndern.
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