Gerard Hendrik (Geert) Hofstede (born 2 October 1928) is a Dutch social psychologist, former IBM employee, and Professor Emeritus of Organizational Anthropology and International Management at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, well known for his pioneering research on cross-cultural groups and organizations.

His most notable work has been in developing cultural dimensions theory. Here he describes national cultures along six dimensions: Power Distance, Individualism, Uncertainty avoidance, Masculinity, Long Term Orientation, and Indulgence vs. restraint.

By the 1960s, IBM had become a multinational computing behemoth, with a plethora of national teams supporting customers. They started to notice that the productivity of these offices varied considerably even though the offered services were often similar. This was perplexing and frustrating in equal measure. Accordingly, they commissioned Hofstede, who joined the company in 1965, to lead an extensive investigation into the issue. Between 1967 and 1973, he executed a large survey study regarding national values differences across the worldwide subsidiaries of this multinational corporation: he compared the answers of 117,000 IBM matched employee samples on the same attitude survey in different countries.

His conclusion was that national cultures influence business outcomes. He identified 6 cultural dimensions against which psychological group behaviour can be measured:

  • Power distance (PDI)
  • Individualism vs. collectivism (IDV)
  • Uncertainty avoidance (UAI)
  • Masculinity vs. femininity (MAS)
  • Long-term orientation vs. short-term orientation (LTO)
  • Indulgence vs. restraint (IND)

Recently, in his book ‘Superminds’ Thomas Malone, Director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence, defines 3 key drivers of optimal group performance:

  • Social Intelligence
  • Equal Contribution
  • Maximum Female Participation

So, I got to wondering if we could meld the ideas of Hofstede and Malone to generate a template for maximum performance in Process Hazard Assessment Teams (PHATs).

To be effective, PHATs should be able to provide a minimum of relevant technical and project knowledge – Design, Operations, Process Safety etc. Traditionally, this has been supplied by the presence of nominated engineers, usually men. I would estimate that 80+% of the composition of my HAZOP teams is male. Next, independent and competent facilitation enables this relevant knowledge to be applied appropriately and efficiently. Again, the current pool of facilitators is predominantly male. For me, the relevant Hofstede dimensions are PDI, UAI and MAS. My experience is that, culturally, HAZOP Teams score highly on all 3 dimensions, which can lead to the following characteristics:

  • High Power Distance – lower ranking team members are inhibited from proactively contributing
  • High Uncertainty Avoidance – HAZOP teams are often reluctant to challenge to perceived status quo
  • High Masculinity – Exhibiting a preference for individual achievement over cooperation and support.

Their combined impact, driven by a limited number of confident and assertive individuals can generate to elementary and circumscribed outcomes. ALARP is unlikely to be demonstrated, or even demonstrable.

Perhaps Malone can help us with this flawed dynamic? What if we were to investigate ways of leveraging his 3 tenets within PHATs?

Social intelligence is the capacity to know oneself and to know others. Increasing it in PHAs reduces individual and collective stress and therefore improves productivity. All team members can adapt their behaviour to improve Social Intelligence by:

  • Smiling
  • Being sensitive to others
  • Listening
  • Eye contact is key.
  • Learn about body language.
  • Be assertive without being aggressive.
  • Actively manage your relationships.

Equal Contribution doesn’t mean that 5 team members should get exactly 20% of the overall air time. Instead, early in the process, the facilitator should elicit each team members knowledge, experience and the dynamic between them. I try to do this by:

  • Asking team members to introduce themselves, including how they intend to add value to the process
  • Proactively engage all members of the team in the first hour of the review
  • Use the time in the initial breaks to find out more team member backgrounds (professional, social)
  • Limit the time high status individuals (Project Managers, Team Leaders etc) spend in the process

Maximise Female Participation. This doesn’t necessarily mean setting a minimum female participation threshold for PHAs (although, perhaps, at least one of the facilitation team should be a woman, if none of the technical participants are). To my mind, what would be more pragmatic, would be for the chair to emphasise the supportive feminine characteristics in their Intro Presentation, and then diplomatically restate them whenever egregious masculine behaviour surfaces.

However, if you do decide to set a minimum female participation threshold, I’d can recommend a goodly number of individuals from the sessions I have run.

women meeting