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Eight simple hacks to navigating client culture

Strategy eats culture for breakfast

by Howard Feldman, Head of Marketing & People

Every family has a culture. That culture is reflected in the way that communication takes place, how they dress, what they eat and the type of humour that resonates for them. Any stranger entering that home for more than a few hours, will need to make it their business to read the environment so that they don’t offend anyone at worse case, or look strange at best.

Businesses are no different. As someone who has consulted with businesses across South Africa (and around the world), I can confidently assert that no two companies are the same in terms of culture. I would further suggest that even if there is a dominant culture within an organisation, that different offices and different departments might have nuanced aspects that make that environment unique.

The understanding of a specific work culture is critical for companies like Synthesis, who as a matter of course have teams of software engineers based at clients. The engagement might be a few weeks or months, which means that staff need to be fully prepared before deployment.

Where lack of sensitivity can harm the project and the outcome, the counter is also true. If the team is equipped with an understanding of the workplace culture of the client, they are significantly better positioned to succeed and to produce work for that client.

For any company working in the office of another, it is worth taking the time to think about the client’s work culture. The simple act of the discussion ahead of a project will create an awareness and a sensitivity to it.

Here are some items that a team might want to consider:

  1. How does the client dress to work?
  2. What hours do they keep?
  3. Is it good to work later than the client does, or will it be viewed negatively?
  4. How often does the client expect updates?
  5. What form should the updates take– stand-up meetings, calls or written updates?
  6. Are we expected to become “one of them” i.e. attend social events or is it better stand apart to them?
  7. How does the client’s work environment differ from our culture?
  8. Is the environment silent or is it noisy? How should we behave so as not to annoy people?

The famous saying that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is absolutely true. But I would expand on this. For a company not to be eaten for breakfast, it is imperative to take the time to understand a client’s culture. It is not safe or smart to assume that the accepted norms within one environment will be the norm in another.