Panama is situated in the lowest region of the Panama isthmus. It is a thin strip of land that connects Northern America with South America. Panama is situated between 77° and 83° west longitudes and 7° and 10° north latitudes. Panama covers a total land area of 77,082 square kilometers. The greatest width of Panama is 177 kilometers and it stretches 772 kilometers in length. Because of its key geographic location, Panama's economy is service-based, heavily weighted toward banking, commerce, and tourism. Since taking office in 1994, President PEREZ BALLADARES has advanced an economic reform program designed to liberalize the trade regime, attract foreign investment, privatize state-owned enterprises, institute fiscal reform, and encourage job creation through labor code reform. The government privatized its two remaining ports along the Panama Canal in 1997 and approved the sale of the railroad in early 1998. It also plans to sell other assets, including the electric company. Panama joined the World Trade Organization (WTrO) and approved a tariff reduction that will give the country the lowest average tariff rates in Latin America. A banking reform law was approved by the legislature in early 1998. The most important sectors driving growth have been the Panama Canal and other shipping and port activities.
In an effort to fully understand Panama and the country’s culture, an analysis of Geert Hofstede’s Dimensions was conducted and will be discussed. The five cultural dimensions are:
Individualism vs. Collectivism
Power Distance (High vs. Low)
Masculinity vs. Femininity
Uncertainty avoidance vs. tolerance for ambiguity
Short-term vs. long-term orientation
As an overview of those findings Panama ranked high in power distance index and uncertainly avoidance. They ranked moderately high in masculinity and very low in individualism when compared to other countries included in Hofstede’s Dimensions (4).
Uncertainty avoidance vs. tolerance for ambiguity (86)
One of the first dimensions that is important to identify is Panama’s uncertainty avoidance ranking. This country ranked among the highest among all the countries studies by Hofstede. The overall ranking of Panama in this dimension demonstrates that Panamanians are very process-driven and focused on policy and procedure. They have a strong desire to understand what is happening in their lives and become uncomfortable when situations arise that creates uncertainty (4). They seem to thrive on accountability. The reason for that is that it provides them with security. This is a culture that believes very strongly in their laws, strict rules, and regulations (4). The culture in Panama is most settled when aspects of their lives are within their control. They tend to believe that this provides them with consistency and helps to eliminate or avoid the unexpected.
Power Distance (95)
The second dimension that Hofstede identified about the Panamanian culture is that they have a high level of power distance (4). In fact, their overall ranking is among the highest. This finding demonstrates the country’s inequality of power and wealth among their society. This finding provides a clear difference between those who are deemed powerful and those who are not. This level of inequality is important to understand when it comes to working directly with Panama. One might believe that acceptance of this type of structure would be difficult for the Panaman society to accept but that is not the case. Again this society is very structured and focused on the strict rules and regulations as discussed above. If the Panaman society as a whole decided that inequality is acceptable for those who do and do not have wealth and power. By the nature described of this culture, this is acceptable. Citizens of this country accept the facts that if they do not meet the criteria that grant them power they are not worthy of it. A society with this high of a power distance index ranking may have specific ideas in place as to who is deemed worthy of doing great things in their country.
Individualism vs. Collectivism (11)
Switching the focus to Hofstede’s Dimension of individualism versus collectivism, Panama ranks as one of the lowest for individualism (4). This type of ranking indicates that Panamans are focused on their commitment to others. They like to work together with individuals with whom they are most comfortable with and have had a chance to develop a relationship. Panamans thrive in environments that foster togetherness and focus on their needs of family and groups. Ranking individualism as low as it is for Panama means that in order for this society to be the happiest and most productive, they have to have time to spend with those that mean the most to them. They are loyal to each other and therefore deemed dependable citizens (4).
Masculinity vs. Femininity (44)
Hofstede also studied the differences between genders focusing on the masculinity dimension. What he found is that Panama ranks in the low to middle of the findings when compared to the other countries (4). Therefore identifying the Panaman culture as slightly more feminine than masculine when compared to other countries. This translates into both the men and the women having similar values. The degree in which societal roles are distributed can depend on the countries overall masculinity ranking. Typically in societies that focus more on collectivism, the masculinity score is higher thus making it easier to identify differences in gender roles and responsibilities (5). This is not the case when it comes to Panama. Panama seems to have a unique score when it comes to mixing the collectivism and masculinity together. Panamans determine roles and responsibilities based on power index and collectivism rankings. In general, the women’s role is primarily to focus on the domestic world while the men of the culture tend to their responsibilities in agriculture, business, and manufacturing (5). That being said, those roles are also interchangeable as discussed in a journal by Grote Kruisstraat (2). Kruisstraat believes that in countries with a low masculinity score, the sex roles in society should be equal and un-noticeable. Both genders are aware of their emotions and encourage others to show them (2). He also found that the dominant roles in society are caring for others and working diligently to develop relationships (2). Overall, the roles in society that both the men and women play in Panama can be similar and therefore they are treated as equals (4).
Collaboration Considerations - Panama
Understanding Hofstede’s dimensions can assist with facilitating more effective teamwork. Incorporating the findings listed will help plan, organize, and implement a collaborative project. The first thing focused on is that most Panaman citizens prefer to work in collective groups versus working independently. They value togetherness and often find themselves developing a solid trusting relationship with those they are closest. Realizing this, it may be difficult to make team members from Panama feel as if they are a part of the collaboration if they are not able to collectively work on aspects of this project together. This finding will also have to be balanced with their low power distance ranking indicating that team members from Panama will not speak up if they are unhappy with some of the project leader’s decisions. In addition, project leaders are going to have to cautiously implement changes. Due to the Panaman culture of collectivism, change is not well accepted. However, due to their respect for authority and rules perhaps change will be better accepted out of necessity. There should not be issues of working with other genders throughout this collaboration. The masculinity score for Panama is not high enough to indicate that there will be issues with gender conflicts regarding authority and information sharing.
How can a team implement some of the key points listed above? First of all, a clear project plan needs to be developed. Clear and concise information needs to be shared with the team on a regular basis. Setting the expectation that open and honest feedback is expected and will be given is key. Identifying qualities and abilities of those on the team is going to be important so that team members can excel in areas where they are highly competent. While working with Panaman team members, one key way to maintaining productivity with the collaborating team members from Panama is to assign them with portions of the project that can be worked on in conjunction with their fellow cultural teammate. Conducting virtual team meetings and timelines may present some difficulties if a Panaman secondary team cannot be created. Understanding Panaman beliefs regarding authority and leadership will challenge the project leader to continue to keep these team members engaged and follow up with them regularly to identify successes and possible concerns. Another key factor to the team’s success is going to be how well the project leader is able to implement change. Identifying a way to implement change while maintaining trust is vital to this collaboration.