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Cultural Rift in the UAE Construction Industry


Globalization has created opportunities for employees worldwide. It has also enabled employers to recruit employees from every part of the world. However, this has come with its challenges namely cultural differences and conflict resolutions, among others. Of great concern are cultural differences, which have the propensity of causing conflict and disunity among employees. Construction management is a booming sector throughout the world. However, its success in the United Arabs Emirates (UAE) has come with challenges. UAE has experienced influx of people from different parts of the world in recent years. This has led to cultural mix that requires a comprehensive organizational structure to handle. Moreover, harmonization of various organizational cultures is important to avert conflict. According to Abu-Nimer (1996, pp. 35-52), conflict resolution centers as well as cultural tolerance should be encouraged to achieve success in construction management sector. This paper will explore cultural differences and organizational cultures in UAE. It will also explore ways of harmonizing the two to minimize conflicts.

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According to Avruch (1998), culture can be defined as a set of dogmas, meanings, and values common to a given entity Cultures are diverse depending on one’s background. Culture defines an organization when applied to an entity. It provides distinction from other people or entities. In addition, Smircich (1983, p. 339) believes that culture in organizations can be described as a collection of values, attitudes, traditions, and beliefs that establish a universal perspective for every action or task done within the organization. In addition, it covers the way of thinking in the organization. It is of great essence to note that people are recruited from various parts of the world in a globalized world. This brings workers from different parts of the world. These people come from varying pervasive contexts of life. Augsburger (1992) argues that this difference has the capacity to cause conflict in the process of discharging activities. Furthermore, it can slow productivity in an organizational setting.

Culture takes three main levels namely values, artifacts, and basic underlying assumptions (Schein 2010, p. 5). While values are part of an individual or a group’s conceptual process, basic underlying assumptions comprise of unconscious responses. On the other hand, artifacts comprise of a layout or physical space or technological output, which may be spoken or written but obvious from group members. Culture can also relate to behavior. Avruch (1998) agrees that unconscious components of culture are known as beliefs. Furthermore, he considers those that are reportable as values and attitudes. Finally, he deems observable components of culture as behaviors. In this regard, behavior results from attitude and values, which in turn results from beliefs of an individual or entity. Culture results from various traditional beliefs and backgrounds. These cannot be controlled in organizational sectors. Therefore, organizations usually strive to establish a new culture that harmonizes all the cultures.

UAE has experienced an upsurge in influx of workers in recent years. Most of these come to construction industries. Construction management firms in the country have put in place organizational norms that have to be followed with a view to harmonizing diversity. Language barrier has been a big obstacle in attaining effective organizational culture. However, workers have been encouraged to be well conversant with both English and Arabic languages for effective communication. Moreover, conflict resolution centers have also been established to ensure that they are dealt with as soon as they arise (Bennett 1986, pp. 179-96). This is important in securing effective and successful organizational culture in construction management.


According to Fryer et al. (2004), conflict can be defined as a process in which different interests oppose each other. It involves interaction of people with incompatible goals. In such as case, they have to reach a compromise in order to solve the conflict. Conflict resolutions in organizational settings are usually difficult without sound organizational culture. Conflict can be observed between individuals in an organization if the interests of such individuals differ. For instance, in cases where stakeholders in a given organization have different preferences, goals and interests, conflict is unavoidable. However, it is important to note that some conflicts are usually good for growth of business or organization. Conflict leads to brainstorming which is essential to any organization. In essence, conflict can be important in improving effectiveness of the organization. Furthermore, Brett (1998, pp. 61-84) believes that conflict has the capability improving decision making in an organization. This allows it to adapt quickly to the changing business environment. Besides, it can help management team to overcome inertia, which has the capability of expediting organizational change and learning.

Fryer et al. (2004) argue that four types of conflicts exist in an organization. These include interpersonal conflict, intragroup conflict, intergroup conflict, and inter-organizational conflict. Interpersonal conflict occurs when two individuals have different goals and values. In construction management industries, such conflicts can arise from differences in risk management, appraisal, and valuation, among others. Intragroup conflicts result when individuals within a group differ in their goals and interests. Such conflicts are common in construction designs, valuation of property, among others. On the other hand, intergroup conflicts occur when two or more departments, groups, or teams differ in their principles, goals, or ideas. This may involve issues concerning resource allocation to the various departments of construction management companies. Lastly, inter-organizational conflicts arise between organizations when their goals differ. This may result from overpricing or undervaluation of goods, among others (Elias & Notz 2007, pp. 107-140). Conflict resolution centers are thus necessary to allow for harmony and reconciliation in construction management organizations.

Organizational culture

Organizational culture can be defined as the causal norms on how activities are carried out, actions are performed, and behaviors are fortified in a given organization (Kumaraswamy 1997, p. 96). Every organization has its own competitive strategies. However, these strategies cannot work without a strong organizational culture. Organizational culture has the advantage of increasing employee commitment to the firm. In addition, it enables the organization to define its strategies effectively. This is essential, as it ensures successful execution of activities necessary for achievement of organizational goals. Organizational culture is also important in maximizing production through employee motivation. According to Senge (2006, p. 55) this is particularly significant to human capital whose value is maximized by the right organizational culture. In essence, organizational culture forms an integral part of management competency. While these attributes can be achieved through implementation of the right organizational culture, determining an effective culture is quite difficult.

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According to Andreas (2006, p. 160), organizational culture encompasses concepts such as assumptions, values, beliefs, artifacts, and behaviors, among others. It therefore works to reduce variability in the workforce. This allows for easier control and shaping of staff behavior. In essence, it defines the distinct character of an organization since it varies from one organization to another. Culture therefore plays a crucial role in organizational setup. Organizational culture connects employees together and ensures efficiency in execution of activities. Moreover, communication is essential for implementing the right culture. In addition, when the right culture is implemented, employees are usually motivated to maximize production. In this regard, it is necessary that the right communication framework be put in place to achieve desired objectives. Furthermore, motivation is a central factor in determining an organization’s competitiveness (Andreas 2006, pp. 159-172.) To achieve success in building organizational culture, motivation, communication, and leadership should be strengthened. This would enable expediency in conflict resolution and harmonization of cultures.

Organizational culture is instrumental to every company. It works to save time, motivate employees and add to the company’s competitiveness. Given that individuals possess varying character traits, organizations also have their own norms and values. Such values can only be strengthened if there is effective communication and motivation. In essence, motivation and effective communication works to fortify organizational culture. This is essential in maintaining healthy operations in the company. However, if motivation and communication are not ensured then the company stands to lose. It is therefore important for effective leaders to enshrine good communication mechanisms and organizational culture for the progress of the company. In addition, they should ensure that employees are motivated in order to achieve high standards of results. According to Weisinger and Salipante (1995, pp. 147-170) leaders should also work to integrate all stakeholders in decision making to tap into creative ideas and innovations. Leaders also have the responsibility of reinforcing organizational culture to achieve harmony and hence productivity.

Organizational culture in Construction management firms

Construction companies face challenges on changing organizational culture. For instance, a recent report in UK has encouraged reward of contractors as well as better procurement strategies to minimize the culture of blame. Moreover, hostile cultures like macho culture have been thought to discourage participation of women in construction. This is similar to UAE where few women have been seen in construction plants (Kumaraswamy 1997, p. 99). Communication barrier has also been cited as challenge to organizational culture (Blair 2004, p. 3228). Effective communication ensures the right chain of command is followed at the correct time. Effective communication also ensures that the right message is delivered and is acted upon as required.

In this regard, companies with good organizational cultures save time in communication. Moreover, very little misunderstandings are encountered. Time is important to companies as it improves efficiency and return. Therefore, both horizontal and vertical communication lines are supposed to be integrated with organizational culture. This is essential for proper coordination and transfer of information from management to employees as well as between employees (Rao, Southard & Bates 2005, pp. 106-103). Companies should therefore shun cultural groupings between employees as this draws them away from organizational culture. At the same time, they should embrace diversity in order to keep employees motivated and appreciated. Balancing these factors can be difficult. However, with the same organizational culture, this is practicable.

Schein (2010, p. 42) acknowledges that leadership is essential in fronting for effective communication. Culture comes from top-level management to employees. In this regard, the kind of communication entrenched by management is vital in influencing organizational culture. Therefore, leaders have the responsibility of enshrining communication models that would integrate with the chosen organizational culture. In addition, they are supposed to have good interpersonal skills that would enable them to communicate effectively to other stakeholders. In essence, effective organizational culture should be a benchmark to management officials. This will enable them to integrate easily with other employees and work in accordance with their objectives. Leaders have the power to influence cultural traits of their employees (Smircich 1983, pp. 339–358).

How Organizations reconcile and harmonize the two

Conflict resolution is important in every organization. However, it should also be noted that conflict could be either good or bad. Good conflicts are those aimed at issues and not groups or individuals. Furthermore, they are beneficial to the organization. Bad conflict is characterized by distortion of information, introduction of perceptual biases and competence based conflict. Conflict can also be functional or dysfunctional. Functional conflict aims at encouraging innovative thinking, reducing stagnation, unshackling different viewpoints, and increasing ideas and information. However, dysfunctional conflicts blocking the goals of an organization. They include those that increase tension, stress or anxiety, reduce trust, lead to poor decision making out of information distortion, destruction of management to focus mainly on conflict, and division among low conflict tolerant people (Ela, Heyecan, Gulfer & Emrah 2007, pp. 519–531). Conflict resolution is necessary to maximize productivity. Furthermore, conflict management should be expeditious to allow for healing and change. Every organization must make it a priority to manage conflict because it can escalate rapidly to sour organizational culture.

Construction management organizations must ensure that good conflict do not translate into bad ones. They should also be careful in choosing methods of conflict resolution. Two methods utilized for conflict resolution includes changing individual attitudes or replacing them and changing structure of the organization. The later may involve altering the level of integration and differentiation. This encompasses assigning top managers the task of resolving conflict between departments, increasing integrating roles, aligning the needs of that organization with its design through minimizing of conflict. On the other hand, the former involves bargaining and negotiating, rotation, termination, or exchange of individuals, replacing of top management, establishing measures for airing grievances, motivation of workers as well as resolution of conflict by top management. Martin (1992) notes that individual culture and organizational must be harmonized to achieve its objectives in organizations. This involves resolution of conflicts as given above as well as developing organizational culture.

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According to Pettigrew (1979, pp. 570–581), harmonizing cultures entails several steps. Firstly, construction management industries need to encourage cultural tolerance. Secondly, construction industries should motivate workers to change from their hardened cultures. This can be done by creating ways that would encourage changes such as use of a common language, encouraging cultural mix, and appreciating every culture. This step is important in relieving tension among conflicting departments. Thirdly, construction industries need to teach workers new concepts and their meanings. This involves introducing goals, rewarding success, and reinforcing top management, establishing goals and instituting acceptable changes, among others. This process ensures that workers take a new step towards unification. Fourthly, construction industries should internalize the new concepts as well as their meanings. This involves rewarding desired behavior, creating structures aimed at institutionalizing the changes, and building of success experiences. This process binds workers together. It also ensures that they work towards a common goal. Pettigrew (1979, pp. 570–581) suggests that these steps are essential in achieving reconciliation and harmony since they resolve conflicts and effect cultural change to conform to organizational culture.


Construction management is fast expanding in the UAE. This, in addition to other sectors of growth, has led to great influx of employees in the country. However, the challenge remains of achieving effective organizational culture. Difference in culture brings about difference in goals, values, interest, and objectives. These can cause conflict, which is detrimental to the development of an organization. Organizations should ensure that conflicts are resolved as expeditious as possible. Furthermore, steps to change culture should be enhanced to realize an effective organizational culture. Success of construction management industry relies heavily on foreign labor. Organizations should therefore ensure that the right measures are taken to safeguard management of conflict as well as implementation of good organizational culture.

Reference List

Abu-Nimer, M 1996, ‘Conflict Resolution Approaches: Western and Middle Eastern Lessons and Possibilities.’ American Journal of Economics and Sociology, vol. 55, no.1, pp. 35-52.

Andreas, H 2006, ‘The role of organizational culture in motivating innovative behaviour in construction firms,’ Construction Innovation: Information, Process, Management, vol.6, no.3, pp. 159–172.

Augsburger, W 1992, Conflict Mediation Across Cultures: Pathways and Patterns, Westminster, Louisville.

Avruch, K 1998, Culture and Conflict Resolution, United States Institute for Peace, Washington.

Bennett, M 1986, ‘A Developmental Approach to Training for Intercultural Sensitivity.’ International Journal of Intercultural Relations, vol. 10, pp. 179-96.

Blair, D 2004, ‘Multicultural competency and multicultural conflicts encountered by entry level Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialists.’ The Sciences & Engineering, vol. 64, no.7-B, p. 3228.

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Brett, J 1998, ‘Culture and Joint Gains in Negotiation.’ Negotiation Journal, vol.14, pp. 61-84.

Ela, O, Heyecan, G, Gulfer, T & Emrah, A 2007, ‘Organizational culture: the case of Turkish construction industry,’ Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management, vol. 14, no. 6, pp.519 – 531

Elias, N & Notz, W 2007, ‘The Effects of Organizational Culture on Budgetary Conflict: Integrative Versus Distributive Conflict Resolution,’ Advances in Management Accounting, vol.16, pp.107-140.

Fryer et al 2004, The Practice of Construction Management (4th ed.), Blackwell Publishing, Oxford.

Kumaraswamy, M 1997, ‘Conflicts, claims and disputes.’ Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management, vol. 4, no. 2, pp. 95-111.

Martin, J 1992, Cultures in Organizations, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Pettigrew, A 1979, ‘On Studying Organizational Cultures.’ Administrative Science Quarterly, vol.24, no.4, pp. 570–581.

Rao, A, Southard, S & Bates, C 2005, ‘Cross-cultural Conflict and Expatriate Manager Exploratory Study.’ Technical Communication, vol.52, no.1, pp. 106-103.

Schein, E 2010, Organizational Culture and Leadership, Wiley, John & Sons, New Jersey.

Senge, P 2006, The Fifth Discipline, Doubleday Publishing, New York.

Smircich, L 1983, ‘Concepts of Culture and Organizational Analysis.’ Administrative Science Quarterly, vol.28, no.3, pp. 339–358.

Weisinger, J & Salipante, P 1995, ‘Toward a method of exposing hidden assumptions in multicultural conflict.’ International Journal of Conflict Management, vol.6, no.2, pp.147-170.

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