Flavio Percocco provides a guide to navigating new perspectives when collaborating in a global community.


Gender and race are not the only indicators of how diverse a community is. There are other areas where communities should also strive for diversity that will bring tons of benefits to it. A good example of this is culture.

Without going into details on what cultures are, let’s say, for the sake of brevity, that culture is the way people do things. We react in different ways to different scenarios. The way we react is driven by our culture and our personality.

Getting to know new cultures is one of the reasons why I love (and do) traveling so much. You can read about cultures and learn a lot without traveling, but I believe the best way to know how to be respectful and how to interact with other cultures is by going into their environment. Whether the trip is for a conference, customer meeting, team meeting or just leisure, it is always a great opportunity to learn more from other cultures and bound with them.

I believe being familiar and including other cultures is critical for any community and for our own growth as professionals. Being familiar with other cultures is not just about knowing how to interact with other people, it is about being able to create an environment where people feel comfortable. Without such environment, you (and your community) lose the power that a cultural-diverse team has.

Cultural diversity brings in an enormous set of skills that can be combined depending on the task at hand. It brings the power to explore different roads when implementing new features or addressing issues, it brings different perspectives to the prioritization of tasks, it brings in a more controllable space where conversations can be had. Let’s go through some examples.

Be aware of cultures that prefer top-down management

Some cultures are used to a top-down kind of management. If you look at how members of these cultures interact in the community, they tend to follow the lead of others and do things that are considered important by the majority of the members. These members would normally not aim for leadership positions unless someone encourages them.

Some cultures are individualist and others are collectivist

Not everyone is used to working in teams. Some folks are used to working by themselves and this is, more often than not, dictated by their own culture. This doesn’t mean individualist cultures won’t work towards a common goal. They will but they won’t necessarily do it with the rest of the team.

Some cultures don’t like confrontation

I think we’d all prefer to have less confrontation in our lives but there are cultures that simply avoid it altogether. For some cultures, even simple arguments on technical topics can be considered confrontations.

You’ll find folks from these cultures to be often agreeable even when they disagree. What motivates this may be respect, fear, or other cultural barriers like language. What really matters is that we might have to try other ways of communication if we want folks from these groups to speak up.

Emotions don’t mean the same thing in every culture

Everyone reacts to emotions in different ways but sometimes it’s also driven by culture. Frustration, failure, or making simple mistakes could mean something completely different depending on the culture, which causes different reactions.

Cultures, however, are just one more thing we should strive to be diverse on but there’s really a lot more. There are also languages, geographic locations, time zones, etc. We should strive for anything that brings a different perspective to our community.

Ultimately, we have to accept that we’re ignorant on many things. We have to listen to folks from these other groups for us to be able to make our community a nice environment for them. Furthermore, we have to be open to, sometimes, trade our own values. Want to join?

To learn more:

About the author

Flavio Percoco holds multiple passports, speaks three language (outside programming and dialects), has visited more than 40 countries, stayed for >=1 month in at least 10 of the countries he has visited and lived for years in two out of these 10 countries. His passion for cultures guides his travels, relationships and even his tattoos.
Percoco currently works at Red Hat in the office of technology from where he serves the OpenStack community as a full-time upstream developer. His interests involve community work and deployment tools. He’s been an elected member of OpenStack’s Technical Committee for the past three years.

Percoco uses the @flaper87 handle on Twitter and writes posts about technology, communities, culture and philosophy on his blog: https://blog.flaper87.com


Cover Photo // CC BY NC