Globalization opens the borders and Intercultural Management becomes a must in order to understand local realities. Together with a genuine success factor.
The relationships between France and Algeria specifically illustrate the necessity for the French managers to be locally accompanied.
Both countries are geographically close, they share the Mediterranean culture and also part of their history. It is important for the managers and their teams to identify properly which parameters to take into account in order to maximize their collaboration. Intercultural Management does make sense here by highlighting specificities of each culture and by avoiding “blunders” which can be full of consequences.
Algerian reality, the “universe of meaning” according to d’Iribarne (1989) or as “common cultural background” according to Mutabazi (2007) still seems to be neglected by the French co-workers working on the spot. It seems that the intercultural accompaniment of the teams is insufficiently practiced.
Our research tells us that more progress should be done in the considerations of those human aspects which are key to success. We are happy to share with you some of our latest reflections.
A Common History: A Ploy to Understand Behaviors
Since its colonization, Algeria nurtures strong economic relationships with France, even if France recently went back to the second position behind Spain.
The painful historic context is not limited to the 132 years of colonization.
“There are no universal principles guiding the management of the men and women (…) the most successful management models are not those referring to the “one best way”” (Crozier, Friedberg, 1981). The point is to find adapted answers together and, integrate them into Intercultural Management trainings.
Even more in Algeria, “one should identify historic landmarks and their impact on the work conditions”, as observed by Mohamed Benguerna (2014). The idea of Algeria that the world made up, comes from France, from research done by French or Algerian intellectuals living in France.
When Algeria became independent, they associated the “modernization” of the country to current Western mindsets. History and its complexity are most probably ignored by the French managers working in Algeria, who have not benefited from any preparation whatsoever before leaving on expatriation.
We are facing a large number of discrepancies between colons and indigenous people, French and Arab-speaking people, city-dwellers and rural people, Northern, Southern and regional people, Berbers – other minorities and Arabs, modernists and Ulemas (traditionalists).
No other French colony suffered such an amputation of its habits and traditions: discord and spread blood in 1962, nationalization under pressure, later the Soviet influence which destroys environments without creating money (Dutch disease), and finally a rushed liberalization in 1990, quickly replaced by the bloody Islamic guerilla.
A “torn” Management
In terms of management, the competence issue is key: the partition between French and Algerians is faced on the one hand, with gerontocracy and bureaucracy, and on the other hand with the cooptation system among kins privileging the hiring of people inside clans and tribes to the possible detriment of the skills. A subtle balance.
There is probably no “implicit Algerian management model” (Mercure, 1997).
In such a context, how can we accompany the French managers in Algeria?
We think that the clashes we were told maintain prejudices tending to reinforce the idea of “culture shock”. (Vinsonneau, 1997).
The interviews we ran on a regular basis propose some examples of uncertainty zones which are liable to unbalance the manager. They reinforce the necessity of accompanying them by some cultural management.
A good example is the gas site of In Amenas, some co-workers had family bonds which were willingly hidden or else, some rules and directions were not communicated to the foreign managers.
What can be said about that? We observe an inverted movement of ancient powers by generations who did not even knew the colonial period.
Besides, conflict management on the Algerian side seems to occur in a more direct way, less formal, more passionate, than what the French managers are used to. Those ratios of power often seem to benefit the Algerians who strategically reverse the situation managing-managed people.
Resistance to change often comes back in the dialogues. It is easy to refer to the period named “industrializing industry”.
Better Understand Cultural Dimensions in Algeria
As usual, the relationship to time is the major discrepancy. Then comes the importance given to the written communication, because the French managers are not at ease with the overwhelming habit of the oral word.
Among the values shared by the Algerian people is the gathering. It does not exclusively concern the Umma from the Quran, it is also the need to collect their squandered identity and make it consistent and homogenous.
Eventually, the relationship to the common good can be compared to what could be observed in the countries part of the former Soviet bloc, like the competition towards non-performance: an attitude consisting in being motivated to make sure that nothing will work.
The Paradox of the French Manager in Algeria
The French manager in Algeria has no easy job, being positioned between two strong cultural models. The first one is influenced by the Anglo-Saxon model in organization, whereas the second, the local one, does not single out the company from the rest of human activities.
How about the language spoken?
The French language is spoken in both countries. How is it possible to know for sure what the words actually mean, the hidden meaning between the words? The famous “war treasure” the Algerians keep through the French language, brings about numerous interpretations, sometimes contradictory. How can we make a genuine basis of this for Intercultural Management?
What can we remember from this post? The 132 years of colonization hide the stereotypical vision, the “universe of meaning”, necessary to the trainings of managers.
The representation of Algeria in France is not less complex than that of France in Algeria.
Algeria is a country in full development, and benefits from unexploited touristic potential, as well as possesses incalculable wealth in its subsoil of course, but, its genuine richness are its men and women, an (active) population which is young and better and better educated.
A unique opportunity to develop a fruitful collaboration based on listening and understanding of our differences.