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Design sprint goes China – Cultural lessons learnt   

In this article we explore some cultural aspects that came up during our Design sprints with Chinese students. We discuss how a completely new method to the Chinese students was welcomed in a culturally different setting.


Annika Konttinen

lehtori, matkailuliiketoiminta
Senior Lecturer, tourism business
Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Niina Moilanen

Senior Lecturer
Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Published : 09.03.2023

Geert Hofstede has produced a model of six cultural dimensions and a country comparison tool that can be used to analyse differences and similarities of national cultures. When comparing the Chinese and Finnish culture, the biggest differences exist in the dimensions power distance (C>F), long-term orientation (C>F), individualism (F>C) and masculinity (C>F) (Hofstede Insights 2023).

Reflecting on the six dimensions, we present our observations made during the Design Sprints carried out with the Chinese students through Zoom in the autumn 2021 and 2022.

Power Distance: Thank you teacher

In China the power distance Index is very high. This respect for authorities and hierarchy was clear in how the students behaved towards the supervisors. The students addressed us politely and with a formal title. They did not leave a Zoom-meeting before we closed it. Feedback from the teachers was very important to them.

The students also sent social media messages and questions to our Chinese colleague rather than asked us directly until we especially encouraged them to do so. They did not express critical views as easily as Finnish students sometimes do, e.g., related to the intense nature of the Sprint.

Collectivism: Working with members of different personalities increases my empathy

China is a collectivist culture with a low score on individuality. Usually the good of the group is considered more important than an individual’s desires. We saw the collective mindset clearly as the group tasks were carried out effectively and teamwork was successful.

Also, students were in teams designed by their Chinese teachers. Mostly they worked in same gender groups. It seemed, they were safer working with similar people they could trust than mixing with new people. Sprints in Finland have received most positive feedback for the mixed groups and the opportunity to work with students with different skills and from various degree programmes.

Thus, the students from less vocal, group-oriented cultures might need more encouragement to express their opinion in a group than people from individual cultures.

Masculinity: Grades are very important to us

China has a high score on the masculine-feminine dimension indicating that society is driven by competitiveness and achievement. Success means being the best and competition starts early in life. Chinese people are ready to work hard and even sacrifice leisure to work. This was reflected in the importance of receiving good grades for the course. A couple of students kept asking for better grades even when the grading had already finished, explaining the importance of good grades to enter their future studies.

The team leader’s role was very prominent and he/she acted as a spokesperson towards the teachers.

Uncertainty avoidance: I found a new model of solving problems quickly and effectively

The Chinese score quite low on the uncertainty avoidance scale, indicating that they like risks and changes and are happy with ambiguous and open-ended situations. They are quite flexible and dislike too much structure or rules. This was reflected in a positive attitude towards the Sprint process, as the students were happy to start solving the problem despite being used to traditional teaching. The practicality of the approach was praised, too.

Even if the students followed the instructions carefully, independent, pro-active work was challenging. For example, during the time slot when the students needed to be interviewing informants independently, they came to Zoom to wait for more instructions.

Long-term orientation: This will be of great help to my future work and study

China scores high on the long term orientation scale, reflecting a very pragmatic culture with people believing that truth depends very much on situation, context and time. The Chinese show an ability to adapt traditions easily to changed conditions, a strong tendency to save and invest, and determination in achieving results.

For us, this was shown by many students mentioning the usability of the method to solve problems and to carry out tasks in their future studies and work. Emphasising the importance of good grades for the future also support long term orientation. The students relied a lot on technology e.g., using translators when the teachers were talking. This, to double check that they really understood what we were saying, rather than to trust their own communication skills.

Indulgence: I usually modify our files at weekends

China scores low on the indulgent – restrained dimension, which describes how much Chinese people try to control their desires and impulses. Restrained societies like China, do not put much emphasis on leisure time. The students followed the deadlines carefully and wanted to accomplish the tasks well. They finished our lessons 21:40 on Friday night and still did not complain about long working hours to us but rather continued working during their free time.

All in all, based on the student feedback and our observations, we can conclude that Design sprint is an agile method for future skills and can be adapted to different cultural settings as well. We look forward to our next sprints, as always.


Hofstede Insights 2023. Country Comparison China-Finland.