Globalization Partners

Managing a Cross-Cultural Team: Indonesia

by Globalization Partners
June 2020
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Indonesia is the largest island nation in the world, made up of literally countless small islands—possibly somewhere between 13,466 and 18,307 — that span roughly 3,000 miles from east to west in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

Though it is an island nation, Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populated nation. Of those islands, only about 6,000 are inhabited, including the country’s five major islands—Sumatra, Java, Borneo (a.k.a. Kalimantan), Sulawesi, and New Guinea. The capital city, located on Java, is Jakarta, home to more than 10 million people—and the world’s second-most populous urban area after Tokyo.

A relative newcomer, politically, this newly industrialized country was previously known as the Dutch East Indies and only declared its independence from Holland in 1945. The country was effectively a dictatorship from 1945 to 1998, with only two different leaders. However, for the past 20 years, the country has been a democracy.

An economic success story, Indonesia has a GDP of just over $1 trillion, making it the largest economy in Southeast Asia. It is a member of the G-20, and it is the 16th largest economy in the world by nominal GDP and the 7th largest in terms of GDP (PPP).

Indonesia has a diversified economy and is an attractive country for many expanding global companies.

 

Indonesia: By the Numbers

  • Population: 264 million
  • Time Zone: Indonesia has three time zones. Sumatra, Java and West & Central Kalimantan are in Western Indonesian Time {GMT+7}. Bali, Nusa Tenggara, South & East Kalimantan and Sulawesi are in Central Indonesia Time (GMT+8), and Irian Jaya and Maluku are in Eastern Indonesia Time (GMT+9). A majority of Indonesia’s population is on Western Indonesian Time. Indonesia does not use daylight saving time (DST).
  • Language: Indonesian (Bahasa Indonesia) is the national language of Indonesia, but it is home to more than 700 spoken languages.
  • Currency: Indonesian rupiah (IDR)
  • Office hours: While some Indonesian companies work a seven-hour, six-day week, and some begin the day anywhere from 7am to 10am, a majority of Indonesian offices are open from 8am to 5pm, Monday through Friday.
  • Scheduling: As with many regions, mid-morning is usually best. Avoid scheduling meetings for Fridays or Saturdays.

 

Indonesian Management Style

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

  • An open loop: Indonesian managers are less likely to ask their employees to “close the loop” or provide feedback until a project is complete. If you want regular updates on ongoing projects, you should set that expectation in advance.
  • Asal bapak senang: The Indonesian phrase asal bapak senang means “keep the boss happy” and this is quite literal. A core tenet of Indonesian work culture is working diligently to please a supervisor. Though it might feel paternalistic to some Westerners, your employees will want you to make it clear to them how they should behave and how to win your approval.
  • Loyalty: As in many collectivist and polychronic cultures, Indonesians are emotional and form bonds with colleagues. Work culture is relationship-driven and you can expect it to be part of your team’s identity. Be sure to reciprocate that loyalty.
  • Failure is learning: Unlike some cultures, the Indonesians have high levels of empathy and a long-term orientation that make their attitude toward failure more circumspect. There is also a sense that sometimes failure is simply fate. The right attitude and a willingness to learn will help you overcome missteps and bosses tend to be forgiving of errors made in good faith.
  • Synchronized leadership: Unlike the more charismatic leadership styles of the West, leaders and managers in Indonesia seek prudent consensus and agreement, rather than charging forth ambitiously.

 

What To Expect from Your Indonesian Employees

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

  • Saving face: As in China, Korea, Japan and other high “face” cultures, your Indonesian employees will want to be agreeable and never want to embarrass you, so you may get a “yes” when the real answer is “no.” (Bahasa Indonesia language has twelve words for yes which actually mean no.) This attention to face also means your Indonesian workers will respond better to private criticism and feel mortified if called out publicly.
  • Observance of Ramadan: 87% of Indonesians are Muslim, so you can expect that during Ramadan many of your employees will be practicing the holy month of fasting—which comes with a two-hour workday reduction. You can plan for and expect a predictable drop in productivity during Ramadan.
  • Tomorrow and yesterday: Don’t be confused if your Indonesian colleagues refer to something that happened two days ago as “yesterday” or two days from now as “tomorrow”. Those words have a more collective sense about them in this culture, meaning “near future” or “recent past.”
  • Shyness: If you want feedback and ideas from your Indonesian workers, you may need to spend some time encouraging them. Indonesians tend to have a shy (or sungkan) culture that frowns on excessive criticism or praise, and they don’t want to come off as arrogant or “know-it-all” in the eyes of peers. They will hesitate to point out the mistakes of others and will not have a blunt communication style. Likewise, think twice before you interrupt your Indonesian staffers, as they may not speak up again.
  • Work-life balance: Indonesians value family and religion highly and have a great love for hobbies and other community activities outside work. They will expect to be able to take the time for those needs.
  • Selamatan: If your employees request a selamatan, it means they want a ritual meal ceremony with the purpose of restoring balance and harmony with nature. Indonesian culture—Javanese in particular—may call for such a ceremony when someone has recovered from sickness or to mark a milestone of some kind, as a recognition of the importance of the group. A selamatan meal may include prayers or a speech and your employees may ask you to take part.

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

Looking for more advice on finding, hiring, and managing your global team?

Contact us today to see how we can help you expand your team in Indonesia.


Globalization Partners enables companies to quickly and easily expand into more than 187 countries without the hassle of setting up local branch offices or subsidiaries. You identify the talent, and we employ your team member via our in-country payroll. This enables you to quickly and easily hire around the globe, and lifts the burden of figuring out HR, tax and legal matters from your shoulders to ours.

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