A few weeks ago I posted about a time when an employee of mine experienced difficulty arriving on time for staff meetings. In my post I shared how—in hindsight—I created the perfect solution to the problem.
Or so I thought.
Several years ago I shared my story with a group of young leaders and asked them to simulate solutions to the problem. We had a great discussion. Then I shared my solution with them, expecting responses that proclaimed the brilliance of my (belated) idea.
But one of the young leaders said, “I don’t like your solution. You’re assuming the value of being on time to meetings is an absolute value. But in most cultures around the world, being on time to meetings isn’t a value at all. In most cultures relationships are much more highly valued than timeliness. You were just asking her to conform to your personal value.”
To be fair, I believe my former employee’s issues with timeliness weren’t culturally-based. But this discussion really got me thinking about this issue.
In my (albeit limited) interaction with various cultures around the world, I have yet to encounter a people group outside White Americans who value punctuality.
In my previous post I shared what I thought were biblical concepts behind my culture’s exaltation of timeliness—most prominently respect for other people’s time. But I suspect what’s really behind this value is my high need for efficiency and effectiveness.
Now I’m not knocking the good ol’ “Protestant work ethic.” But I’m beginning to wonder: When my—and my culture’s—emphasis on tasks begins to outweigh the priority of people, do we tip the scales past cultural preference on into cultural sin?
I’m still fleshing this out in my mind. I would love any insight from those of you who work in multicultural settings. How do you balance the tension of efficiency versus relationship? Is this a point of conflict between the cultures on your teams or in your families? How have you resolved this?