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What time is it?
JonamayLambert,LambertAssociates
HoffmanEstates,Illinois,USA
andSelmaMyers,InterculturalDevelopment
SanDiego,California,USA
Purpose
To demonstrate that different cultures hold different concepts of time
Targetaudience
Business executives and managers who must interact with managers, negotiators, salesper-
sons, trainers, etc., who have different cultural backgrounds. A group of 20 or more is ideal.
Time
15 to 20 minutes
Materials
Handout 1, “Group Assignment,” for each participant
Handout 2, “South American Manager Group Assignment Instructions,” for each person
in the group assigned to this role
Handout 3, “U.S. Manager Group Assignment Instructions,” for each person in the group
assigned to this role
Handout 4, “Timely Thoughts,” for each participant
Sufficient newsprint and markers for the size of your groups
Procedure
1. Tell the groups that they are going to be employees of an international company. They
will be assigned a project to work on in separate groups.
2. Pass out Handout 1, “Group Assignment,” and review the instructions.
3. Divide participants into groups of four, five, or six and ask each group to select a manager.
50ActivitiesforAchievingCulturalCompetency
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4. Give each manager Handout 2 or Handout 3 (try to have equal numbers of each role). For
example, if you have four groups, two groups should be given Handout 2 and two groups
should be given Handout 3.
5. Distribute newsprint to each group and allow 15 minutes for the groups to complete the
assignment.
6. Tell them a brief report will be required from each group. Call time and try to reconvene
the group. (Remember: group 2 has been instructed not to stop.)
7. Ask for a brief report from each group. Ask for all U.S. reports first.
8. Ask the group the following questions either directly or by posting them on a flipchart or
overhead:
Were there any differences in the group reports? What were they?
How did the groups respond to time?
What feelings did each group have about the others?
Have you encountered these differences in your workplace?
What barriers can cultural differences related to time cause?
What recommendations do you have that might prevent potential problems related to time?
Debrief
Pass out Handout 4, “Timely Thoughts,” and point out how important it is to be aware of
how different cultural groups perceive time. You might give some examples:
U.S. managers’ schedules are made and meetings are required to begin and end on time.
Time is segmented into smaller self-contained units.
Contrast this to other cultural views such as African, Latin American, and Mediterranean
countries, where time is viewed as flexible and where completing any interpersonal inter-
action is necessary before moving on to the next activity. Even the length of work days
varies as to when the day starts and stops, and how much time people spend at work.
Whattimeisit?
Reproducedfrom50ActivitiesforAchievingCulturalCompetence,byJonamayLambert,
SelmaMyers,andGeorgeSimons,editors.Amherst,MA:HRDPress,2000,2008
[Handout1]
Group Assignment
Solutions International is going to bid on a project to organize a large international conference. It
requires input from the U.S. and South American marketing groups. Each group has one week to
prepare its proposal. You have selected a manager to keep your group on task.
Use this page to develop your proposal, following these guidelines:
1. Include your recommendations for a successful international conference that will meet the
objectives listed below:
To improve relationships between domestic and international marketing groups
To develop a plan to cut costs by international collaborative agreements
2. Outline your program, your time frame, costs, location for conference meeting, and rec-
ommendations for food.
Whattimeisit?
Reproducedfrom50ActivitiesforAchievingCulturalCompetence,byJonamayLambert,
SelmaMyers,andGeorgeSimons,editors.Amherst,MA:HRDPress,2000,2008
[Handout2]
South American Manager
Group Assignment Instructions
The purpose of this activity is to contrast cultural differences related to time. To demonstrate
this, you are to allow your group more time than is allotted for the activity. Once the facilitator
calls time, you are to keep your group on task. Tell your group that time is not as important as
group relationships; getting the job done is secondary. Time will be called once again. No matter
what the facilitator says, you feel you are going to take as long as you want. After you are pres-
sured several times by the facilitator or U.S. group, you stop.
Solutions International is going to bid on a large international contract. It requires input from the
U.S. and South American marketing groups. Your group has one week to prepare a proposal.
You have been assigned to keep your group on task. In your culture, time is polychronic (a
relaxed attitude toward time). Your group knows this proposal is important but that it is not as
task oriented.

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