Emily Levin

Managing a Cross-Cultural Team: Brazil

by Emily Levin
December 2019
Reading Time: 5 minutes

The Federative Republic of Brazil has the ninth largest economy in the world, and the sixth largest population on the planet. Along with the US and China, Brazil is one of only three countries to land in the top ten of both these measures—showing its incredible economic potential and explaining why this South American nation is such a popular one for both international expansion and outsourcing.

There is little that is ubiquitous or homogenous about Brazil, however. It is the fifth largest country in the world by land mass and spans five time zones. Rich in mineral wealth and agricultural tradition, Brazil is one of the few countries on earth that can sport snow and scorching heat at the same time.

Open, friendly and positive, Brazilians set a high premium on interpersonal relationships. First impressions and social norms matter—and the lines between business and friendship often blur—as is common in polychronic cultures.

Brazilians tend to focus on connections and are therefore more likely to ascribe financial success or social mobility to luck, to who you know or to your willingness to take risks.

As promising as Brazil is, in terms of the global marketplace—it is also a difficult market to crack—with complex labor and trade laws, and extremely protectionist policies that can be challenging to navigate. All of which makes it a strong possibility that if your global strategy includes Brazil, you will be hiring team members in this country and relying heavily on them.

Brazil: By the Numbers

  • Population: 208 Million
  • Time Zone: Brazil has four time zones: standard time zones: UTC−02:00, UTC−03:00 (in which 94% of the population lives), UTC−04:00 and UTC−05:00. As of 2019, Daylight Savings Time has been abolished in Brazil.
  • Language:  The official language in Brazil is Portuguese.
  • Currency: Real (abbreviated BRL)
  • Office hours: In most Brazilian cities, working hours are 8:30am to 5.00pm with a 1-2 hour lunch. Businesses are typically open from 9:00am to 7:00pm Monday-Friday, and open 9:00-1:00pm on Saturday
  • Appointments: Schedule your meetings a few weeks in advance, but don’t be surprised if it starts late or goes long.
  • Scheduling: Schedule meetings between 10:00am and 5:00pm, but do not schedule during the lunch hours of noon to 2pm.

Brazilian Management Style

Here are some more expectations Brazilian employees might have from you as a manager, or how you can expect your Brazilian managers to conduct themselves:

  • Dress for success: Appearance is important in Brazil. One can typically tell if someone is a manager in Brazil by the formality of their clothing. Executives tend to wear suits—even three-piece suits.
  • Polish your chit chat: As in many collectivist and polychronic countries, where relationships are key, your Brazilian employees will expect you to be willing to engage in some friendly small talk. Brazilians may not get as personal as some countries, however, and questions around sex, dating, money and politics are best avoided. Expect soccer (football) to come up at some point, as Brazilians are very keen on that sport.
  • Be flexible: Brazil is a unique sales market, and Brazilians pride themselves on being able to navigate it. Your team there will want you to listen as they explain the unique opportunities and challenges of their roles, and work with them to flex to accommodate them. Brazilians will never sacrifice flexibility for uniformity, and if you do, you may find frustrations will grow on both sides.
  • Know WhatsApp: If you want to get a quick response from your Brazilian team member, you are better off skipping emails or texts and reaching instead for WhatsApp. The international messaging service is used by 96% of Brazilians as a main method of communication. Many Brazilian businesses also use the platform as a way to interact with customers.
  • Look ‘em in the eye: Brazilians place a high premium on eye contact, so if you want to make an impression or a point, be sure not to avoid a direct gaze.
  • Make the tough calls:  You are the boss, and your Brazilian employees—who tend to be accustomed to a strict hierarchy—will expect you to make important or tough decisions. They will also expect to be given direct instructions that they can carry out with little debate or improvisation. If you want input or initiative from your employees, you may need to be very explicit about those expectations.
  • Skip the dad (or mom) jokes: Again, due to the hierarchy of Brazilian businesses, most team members will not be looking to you as a source of amusement or entertainment. In fact, they may be disappointed if you lean in to humor too much in serious moments, seeing you as somehow less competent and not behaving with the gravitas that befits a leader.

What To Expect from Your Brazilian Employees

What should you be expecting from your team members in Brazil? Here are some of the broad brushstrokes of common attitudes, behaviors and beliefs you might encounter from your Brazil employees:

  • Positivity: Brazilians don’t like to say no, and as in many high context cultures, you may need to read between the lines to hear the polite “no” hidden in a Brazilian colleague’s remarks. You’re more likely to hear a perhaps or maybe in lieu of a no, so keep an eye out. In general, this reflects a general Brazilian preference for emphasizing the positive, which influences many aspects of life and work.
  • Tardiness: Expect your Brazilian employees to be running 5  to 10 minutes to meetings or appointments. Brazilians will appreciate your punctuality but consider meeting start times to be more of a guideline.
  • Chaotic meetings: If you’re touchy about cross-talk in your meetings, you may need to make allowances for your Brazilian team members. It’s quite common in Brazilian meetings for more than one meeting to be happening at once, or to jump from topic to topic, and business to chatter, with ease. Expect, noisy animated meetings from this team, with interruptions and lots of questions.
  • Thoughtfulness: Brazilians are not prone to making snap decisions, so your employees may need time to process and come to a conclusion. Be sure to provide room for this, as pressuring these team members to come to a quick decision can make for more stress than usual.
  • Composure: Unlike many Latin countries, which have earned a reputation for volatility and emotional displays, Brazilians tend to pride themselves on their ability to maintain control over their emotions. They are still high energy and passionate—and they certainly believe in expressing their emotions with gusto—but you are unlikely to see them completely break down or lose their tempers in a business setting. By and large, Brazilians are non-confrontational.
  • Air kisses and backslaps: Brazilians tend to be demonstrative and use a lot of body language. If you come from a culture with a penchant for personal space, you may find greetings a bit close for comfort. Don’t be surprised if your Brazilian team members greet you with a cheek kiss or arm around the shoulder, or if a Brazilian colleague reaches out to frequently touch your arm or shoulder during a conversation.
  • Teamwork: Because of the importance of relationships in Brazil, it may take a little longer for your Brazilian team members to “gel”—but once they do, your Brazilian team members will be highly collaborative and supportive. Don’t be surprised if your Brazilian teams develop their own internal hierarchy, and evolve a strong sense of solidarity.

For a more thorough overview of hiring employees in Brazil, please visit our Globalpedia.

Looking for more advice on finding, hiring and managing your global team? Globalization Partners can help. Contact us today to see how we can help you expand your team in Brazil or around the world.

Contact us for more information on hiring in Brazil.

Emily Levin

Emily Levin

Senior Manager, Brand & Creative, Globalization Partners

Emily Levin joined Globalization Partners in July 2018 as Communications Manager. Emily has extensive experience in external and internal communications, content creation, and social media management.

Contact Us