Emily Levin

Managing A Cross-Cultural Team: Mexico

by Emily Levin
September 2019

Mexico is an exciting place for business and has a rapidly growing economy. In fact, it has the second largest economy in Latin America according to the World Bank. Mexico—officially called the United States of Mexico— is second only to Brazil in landmass and population. Its hard-working people put in more hours on average than any other OECD nation.

Although your Mexican team members work as hard (or harder) than anyone else in the world, they definitely view work from a different perspective than their northern neighbors. The old saying is that “North Americans live to work, but Mexicans work to live!” As a side note, “North Americans” is how Mexicans refer to the people from the USA or Canada. Americans doesn’t work, as Mexico is part of America, too!

In Mexico, personal relationships are at the heart of both personal and work life. That’s why taking the time to build strong, long-term relationships with Mexican team members is key to driving engagement and loyalty. It’s also why most Mexicans prefer to do business in person, rather than over the phone or through email. (So be sure to use video if you’re far away!)

Demonstrative and warm, your Mexican employees have a tendency to open up about their personal lives. Don’t be shocked if they speak candidly with you about their families, feelings or other emotional and personal issues, and understand that they will expect a similar level of openness from you.

In Mexico, indirect communication is common. In fact, Mexicans rarely say ‘no’ directly, or share sensitive information in a blunt way. Instead they may have a more meandering way of getting to a point—tactfully avoiding any unpleasantries, conflict, or confrontation. This can be confusing to people from more direct cultural traditions. For example, a Mexican might say “I’ll see what I can do,” when they mean “Sorry, but no.”

It’s important to be looking for the subtext when communicating with Mexican employees.

This can be even more pronounced when dealing with a power imbalance. For all the warmth of

Mexican culture, there is still a pronounced power distance between managers and team members. Mexican employees will defer to leadership, and generally expect leaders to step in to make decisions.  Managers who are unprepared for this may see Mexican employees as lacking in energy or initiative when they are simply being respectful. Likewise, Mexican managers who are supervising team members from other regions may come across as domineering or uncollaborative.

All that said, there is definitely a breed of “new Mexican executive” that is closer in business cultural orientation to the North American norm. According to a study by Dr. Marc Elrich, these new Mexican professionals—often located in urban areas like Mexico City— “want a more equal relationship with those in authority, one in which their opinions will be sought out and taken into consideration. A low power distance orientation is also associated with wanting greater independence in pursuing personal and professional goals.”

As part of our ongoing blog series, we are exploring the business culture of different parts of the world: unpacking the challenges and benefits of working across borders, examining what makes each culture unique, and offering advice for integrating employees from different cultures successfully into your global team culture.

Mexico: By the Numbers

  • Population: 129 million
  • Time Zones: Mexico uses four time zones. Most of the country uses Central Standard Time, officially named Zona Centro (UTC-6). Quintana Roo uses Zona Sureste, or Eastern Standard Time/EST (UTC -5). The states of Chihuahua, Nayarit, Sonora, Sinaloa, and Baja California Sur use Zona Pacifico, or Mountain Standard Time/MST (UTC-7), and Baja California Norte uses Pacific Standard Time/PST (UTC-8). Most zones observe Daylight Savings Time in summer, except Quintana Roo and Sonora.
  • Language: Spanish, and 62 recognized indigenous Amerindian languages.
  • Currency: Mexican Peso
  • Office hours: Usually 8:00am to 5:00-7:00 pm, with 30 minutes to an hour for lunch. A few companies or government offices still follow the traditional Mexican working hours: 8:00am to 1:00pm and then 4:00pm to ~6:00pm with a long lunch in between.
  • Appointments: Punctuality is not rigid. Also, Mexicans use the day/month/year date format, so mark your calendar correctly: 3/5/2020 is May third, not March fifth.
  • Scheduling: Business breakfasts are very common. The best time for meetings is between 10:00am and 1:00pm, with late afternoon as the next best choice. A late lunch is the most common business meal, with some meetings set for breakfast. Dinner is generally considered too late for business.

Mexican Management Style

What will your Mexican team members be expecting from you as a manager? Mexican management style is hierarchical. This means management style often leans towards the paternalistic—a hallmark of more hierarchical cultures. Mexicans expect to give a manager their deference and loyalty. In return, a manager or boss is expected to make strong decisions and protect the interests of their teams—looking out for them in a reciprocal way.

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

  • Dress for success: Clothes make the man (or woman) in Mexico, where people—and especially people in charge—are expected to dress up for work. Men often wear suits, jackets and ties in business meetings and women also wear more formal business attire. This has started to evolve to business casual in recent years, rather than business formal. While Mexico City is fashion-forward, coastal resort cities might be more beach-oriented, with smart business casual making an appearance.
  • Mañana: Mexicans often say mañana (which means “tomorrow” in English) when they mean the “next couple of days” or “sometime in the near future.” Polychronic societies like Mexico are notoriously lax about schedules—so if you’re on deadline you will need to be explicit about the date.
  • Social graces: Good manners and polite niceties matter in Mexico. Small talk is required, and don’t be surprised at the amount of time it takes up. Topics might include: family, the weather, football (soccer), travel, hobbies, and good food and drink. Always take the time to say goodbye to someone properly before you leave or end a call.
  • Follow up: If you leave a voicemail or message in Mexico, don’t expect a call back. Most Mexican people will expect you to call again if it is important.
  • Nonverbal communication:  Mexicans communicate nonverbally, and they do talk with their hands. They may not make much eye contact (particularly if they are of indigenous cultures). This is a sign of respect and common to high power-distance countries. At the same time, Mexicans are more demonstrative and hands-on than many cultures. They shake hands and often hold the gesture. They often touch shoulders or hold arms. Mexicans communicate “yes” by holding their index finger up (as if to point) and then curling it up and down repeatedly and quickly. People may indicate “no” by shaking the hand from side to side with the index finger extended and palm facing outward. Standing with hands on the hips may be considered aggressive and keeping your hands in your pocket is impolite. Try to mirror the Mexican approach in these matters.
  • Names: In the United States, we often use a person’s first name immediately, but Mexicans will wait for your invitation to use a first name. In Mexico, people generally have three names: Their first name, their father’s last name, and their mother’s last name. Use that middle name (the father’s name) when addressing someone as Señor or Señora. The growing practice is to call all adult women Señora. Do not call people by their mother’s last name. Professional titles matter a lot in Mexico, so do use them.
  • Feedback: Try not to criticize people in front of others and be sensitive to the power of your feedback as a superior. As with most high-power distance countries, this can damage a relationship. Mexicans tend to be effusive in their public praise.
  • Management Style: A good manager combines an authoritative approach with a concern for the well-being and dignity of employees. Be authoritative but not dictatorial. You want to maintain control and make employees feel secure while maintaining a friendly, human touch. Be clear about your expectations and understand the strong power of your words and suggestions.

What To Expect from Your Mexican Employees

What can you expect from your team members in Mexico? Here are some of the most common attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs you might encounter from your Mexican employees:

  • Yes and No: Mexican social etiquette makes it difficult to say no, so “yes” doesn’t always mean yes. Mexicans are often indirect and roundabout when bringing up sensitive issues or constructive criticism.
  • Praise: Mexicans may be more effusive and demonstrative than North Americans, piling on praise and emotional expressions.
  • Teamwork: People will be very loyal to their teams in Mexico, and Mexicans work best when they are able to move to new tasks with the same team, rather than be shuffled around.
  • Deference to authority: Mexican decision-making procedures are quite hierarchical. Managers have the last say, and understand that in their minds, you are there to make decisions, not facilitate.
  • Thoughtful decision-making: Mexicans are generally flexible with the amount of time it takes to make important decisions; they like to talk things through. Voicing quick decisions may make you appear hasty.
  • Punctuality: Being late is on time in Mexico, so plan and set expectations accordingly.
  • Meetings: While the boss has the last say on decisions, meetings may still be chaotic because there are opportunities for freely sharing ideas and information.
    Expect meetings to take longer than scheduled and stray away from the agenda.
  • Verbal or written agreements: Verbal agreements are generally adhered to on the basis of trust. Breaking them can jeopardize business relationships. Nevertheless, you should try to get a written confirmation of any agreement or commitment to ensure the promise is followed through. If you have important instructions or goals, put them in writing.
  • Rules: Rules and laws are often considered guidelines

 

For a more thorough overview of hiring employees in Mexico, please visit our GlobalPedia.

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Emily Levin

Emily Levin

Communications Manager, 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.