Working as a Team in Turkey

Written by Funda Sen November 2013. Posted in Int. Skills, Working with people

Working as a Team in Turkey

The Republic of Turkey, with Ankara as its capital, is neighbours with Bulgaria, Greece, Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Iraq and Syria and borders on the Black Sea and the Aegean Sea. It’s the only country in the world that is situated on two continents: Asia and Europe.  Turkey as we know it today is a republican parliamentary democracy, founded in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who is still an honoured leader in Turkey. He is also the one who brought the Latin alphabet to Turkey and thanks to him, many women there have the opportunity to study, vote and to be treated equally with men.

Looking at things through from the perspective of anthropologist Geert Hofstede, one can say that there is a high power distance in Turkey and the country is considered to be collectivistic, which means that people expect to be told what to do by their bosses or simply from other people working in higher positions.  Despite the high power distance, Turkey is a feminine country. For working in a team this would mean that any conflicts that may occur will be solved by compromising and negotiating. Their high uncertainty avoidance makes groups want to work with (strict) rules, even if these cannot be kept. Time is money in Turkey so being clear is appreciated, since that way more attention can be given to certain factors before making decisions.

Working in a Turkish team with people of different ages could cause a fuss. One is expected to call a middle-aged or elderly person by the title Bey (“Mr”) or Hanim (“Mrs”) after their first names.  In this case, the position people work in is not important, because the title is seen as a form of respect. However, in some organisations, people of a young age are also expected to be approached in a formal way. The most common spoken language is Turkish and many people speak a sufficient level of English or other foreign languages like German. Turkish people are not really direct and would not clearly say what they think. That means that people do not easily say “no”, will always remain polite and will find a middle course to come to a certain point. Since the communication is mostly oral and agreements are not always written down, this can lead to problems and unreliable agreements.

Within an organisation flexibility is important so you won’t easily see people sticking strictly to rules, which is absolutely not in contrast to their high level of uncertainty avoidance. Their flexibility has an influence when it comes to their being punctual. Work may not be finished on time and deadlines could be extended. Arriving 15 minutes late for a meeting, whether formal or informal, is therefore acceptable. The boss would always keep a distance from the team and this can be related to the high power distance in Turkey. Decisions and criticism will be made and given by the boss or someone leading the team and it is not done to argue about it if you don’t agree.

In short, it is may be hard for some people to be able to work well in teams in Turkey since there would always be a (senior) person dominating and taking the final decisions. It may seem that an action plan is required, but sticking to it could be a problem. The level of flexibility can cause delays and may even lead to a constant change of plans and agreements. There is not really a smooth line from start to finish and to try to create one may be hard to do. Working as a team in Turkey could seem like a hell of a job for someone who is a control freak, but if you are relaxed, quite flexible and don’t mind doing things at the last minute: don’t hesitate!