Cultural Nuances of Hiring and Working with Latin American Software Developers

The speed of adaptation and productivity of remote developers from Latin America depends on their experience collaborating with teams from other countries. If they have spent several years working with external clients, they will find it easier to integrate into a new team and deliver results. Similarly, companies that acknowledge the cultural differences of the LatAm region find it easier to achieve successful outcomes with their developers.

Cross-cultural communication not only prevents misunderstandings and conflicts but also accelerates personal growth and opens the door to new ideas, values, and lifestyles. We’ll discuss the crucial cultural differences in Latin American behavior, dive into Richard Lewis’ model of intercultural communication, and explore how a sense of belonging, emphasis on group identity, and shared values play major roles in Latin American teams, affecting how they build working relationships. We’ll also present opinions from Latin American developers on American working culture and building trust with their U.S. counterparts. Test

Balancing work and personal life

For developers in Latin America, achieving a work-life balance is crucial. They place equal importance on enjoying their work and meeting deadlines. This doesn’t imply that tasks won’t be completed on time. Rather, it means that a manager’s effort in building trust with their team is a fundamental prerequisite for effective cooperation. Moreover, most developers in Latin America highly value their free time, largely due to their strong family orientation and often large family sizes. Therefore, the number of vacation days and the availability of flexible working hours are significant factors in a job offer.

Addressing communication challenges

Some developers in the region struggle with constructive criticism – they’re not used to debating the opinions of a technical lead or customer. This stems from a different mentality; they typically avoid confrontation with those who pay their salaries. As a result, they may not be vocal about bugs or openly challenge the decisions of customers, seeing themselves more as executors than advisors. This reluctance can also be observed in their interactions with potential employers; for example, it’s often easier for them to skip an interview than to candidly inform a hiring manager in advance about their decision.

Recruitment experts can address these issues through coaching, workshops on cultural differences, and training specifically designed to help software developers in the region understand the onboarding process and what is expected of them.

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Behavior during an interview

A question that often concerns recruiting managers is whether to begin an interview with ice-breaker questions or to immediately delve into discussing requirements and tasks. Throughout our cooperation with software development teams in Latin America, YouTeam managers have conducted hundreds of interviews and found that candidates in the region perform better when the session begins with ice-breakers, such as asking about their city or the current weather. Any questions asked with genuine interest are particularly effective. In such a comfortable environment, developers tend to smoothly transition into discussing their experience.

Another nuance is their tendency to share personal details. For instance, when asked to introduce themselves, developers can talk about their marital status, children, and family life. Latin Americans do not feel pressured to share something interesting about their lives and hobbies.

It’s best to start with safe topics before moving on to more unusual or tough questions. For example, in addition to expressing interest in the region where developers reside, hiring managers can start the interview by exploring what motivated the candidates to apply for the position, and whether there is anything specific about the job that sparked their interest – these are questions the candidates are more likely to be prepared to answer.

Lastly, candidates, regardless of where they live, consistently feel more at ease when managers first explain the company’s background and the expectations for the role, before diving into the candidates’ experience and achievements.

Cross-cultural communication: Exploring Richard Lewis’ model

Richard Donald Lewis, an English communication consultant and writer, predicted that the most successful managers in the 21st century will be those who are culturally sensitive. In his book “When Cultures Collide”, he uncovers his model of cross-cultural communication, describing Latin Americans as “excitable, emotional, very human, and mostly non-affluent.” Due to their relationship-based culture, they may prioritize meeting long-standing partners over new clients, even if the latter offers greater financial reward. Furthermore, their perception of time and schedules differs from that of people in the United States or Western Europe.

For example, Germans cannot tolerate people being late because it disrupts their sense of order and planning. Similarly, Americans, who are profit-oriented, view their time as a precious commodity. Americans, Germans, and Scandinavians have a linear vision of time and action, so they prefer to gradually complete tasks within a set schedule.

Latin Americans, however, approach things differently. They are multi-active, relationship-oriented, and less concerned with deadlines, especially when they feel that certain nuances have not been fully clarified during a meeting. Additionally, personal relationships and the perceived importance of a particular event or assigned task can significantly influence their priorities. They may favor tasks that are more enjoyable for them to perform or that help maintain important team relationships. That’s why, when working with Latin American developers, managers should set clear expectations, provide a sense of direction and purpose for their tasks, and develop a system for sharing knowledge within the team.

Rita Bodnarchuk, CEO of YouTeam, on harmony and cultural understanding in Latin American teams: 

“With 75% of our customers and 82% of our revenue originating from the US, and 60% of our 2023 deals involving Latin American talents, my team and I have witnessed firsthand the pivotal role cultural understanding plays in fostering successful collaborations. These differences, when acknowledged and navigated with care, not only enrich communication but also streamline project execution. At YouTeam, we pride ourselves on being the conduit for such fruitful interactions, ensuring that our diverse clients and talents from various continents can work together harmoniously and effectively. My practical advice born from experience would be to regularly set clear expectations—never be afraid of over-communicating them.”

Richard Lewis highlights the critical role of building trust with Latin American teams. Once they know and trust you, they will be more accepting of your different cultural views, become more loyal, produce quality work, suggest improvements, and stay overtime without extra pay. In addition to cultivating knowledge sharing and establishing open communication between leadership and employees, managers should recognize the contributions of Latin American developers and provide user-friendly, practical tools for software development and team messaging.

Understanding low-context and high-context cultures

The concepts of low-context and high-context cultures were first introduced by anthropologist Edward T. Hall in his book “The Silent Language”. According to his studies, the United States, Germany, and Norway are examples of low-context cultures. These countries feature direct, explicit communication, and their knowledge is codified, public, and accessible. Low-context cultures are task-based, meaning that people in these countries build professional trust by delivering results and demonstrating competence and reliability.

In contrast, Latin American countries such as Brazil and Mexico are generally considered high-context cultures, where communication relies on shared history and background as well as non-verbal cues such as tone of voice, body language, and facial expressions. People in these regions often avoid direct conflicts and the delivery of negative news to maintain harmony. They are compassionate, yet find it difficult to say “no” or directly oppose the views and logic of their employers or business partners. Similar to Richard Lewis’s observations about multi-active people, Hall described high-context cultures as perceiving time flexibly and prioritizing personal interaction over formal conversation.

Therefore, the key to successful cooperation with Latin American developers involves building trust, demonstrating interest in the history and culture of their country, and asking more questions about the status of tasks and their perspectives on the work process.

A view from the other side: How Latin American developers connect with American teams

We asked experienced developers from Latin America, registered on the YouTeam platform, about their relationships with teams from the United States and how they respond to feedback from management.

Elvis, Senior Mobile Developer, Bolivia

How important is building personal relationships in your culture? How do you manage to build these relationships with U.S. colleagues who might have a more task-focused approach?

I have become accustomed to the cultures of other countries and their lower interest in discussing personal matters, and I understand if others do not wish to develop a closer relationship outside of work. While relationships are important to Bolivians, we always consider respecting others’ preferences. If our teammates prefer to discuss only work-related topics, we try to stay on the same page.

How is feedback typically given and received in your culture? How does this compare with your experiences with U.S. companies?

Companies in Bolivia consider two scenarios when it comes to giving and receiving feedback. The first is when objectives are met and the engineer has done a good job. They receive recognition, congratulations, or even rewards. Additionally, managers may hold meetings where other employees can learn from that person’s performance. The second scenario is when goals have not been met or the employee’s performance needs improvement. In such cases, managers hold only a 1:1 meeting.

The approach in the American companies I have worked for is almost the same; there is not much difference.

Gustavo, Senior Fullstack Developer, Mexico

Have you noticed any major differences in how people approach work in the U.S. compared to Mexico?

The U.S. work culture can be quite direct and task-oriented, with a strong emphasis on results. The initial pace can be intense. It took me a few years to adjust, but once you start delivering results, it gets easier as you gain more confidence.

The key to better productivity and deliverables, in my experience, is clear communication and building trust. I’ve found a lot of common ground between Mexican and U.S. work styles, which fostered stronger relationships. However, it depends on the colleague. Some are focused on tasks, and that’s perfectly fine. Others are more open to building friendships outside of work.

How is feedback typically given and received in Mexican workplaces? How does this compare to your experience with U.S. companies?

In Mexico, feedback tends to be more emotional, while I’ve found feedback in the U.S. to be objective and results-oriented. I personally prefer the latter.

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Final thoughts

Latin American developers are tech gurus with extensive experience in data science and software engineering. They belong to a ‘high-context’ culture where personal interaction is favored over formal conversation, and communication often relies on shared history and background. Latin Americans exhibit a wide range of emotional responses during communication, and place a high value on work-life balance. In addition, they avoid direct conflicts and are less inclined to debate the opinion of their managers.

The best ways to elevate their performance are to set clear expectations and goals, be willing to over-communicate details of specific tasks as they might not be obvious to others, and regularly schedule 1:1 sessions to provide feedback and encourage open communication.

For more information on cultivating trust and developing a sense of individual responsibility among Latin American talent, please refer to our guide, “How to build communication with your Latin American software team.”

Written by
Artem Vasin

Artem Vasin is a content writer at YouTeam, blending a unique educational background from both the scientific and creative fields. He holds a bachelor's degree in Mathematics and secondary music education. The author's journey in writing began with a focus on business intelligence and OSINT. At YouTeam, Artem delved into topics surrounding recruitment and software development.

His pursuit of knowledge is reflected in his completion of courses like Reuters' Digital Journalism Foundations and Ravensbourne University London's Digital Marketing and Communication. This continuous learning journey allows him to bring fresh perspectives to the subjects he covers.

Artem's literary preferences include Philip Kotler's Marketing anthology, Daniel Goleman's Emotional Intelligence, and Isaac Asimov's Robot series.

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