Individualism is one of the five intercultural dimensions developed by Hofstede. In short this cultural dimension looks at how much a culture emphasises the rights of the individual versus those of the group (whether it be family, tribe, company, etc).

Individualist cultures include the United States and much of Western Europe, where personal achievements are emphasised.  Collectivist cultures, such as China, Korea, and Japan, emphasize the group such as the family and at work this manifests in a strong work group mentality. Have a look at the world map of individualism scores.

So how does this manifest in a culture or country?

In a country that scores highly on the individualism scale the following traits are common:

. A person's identity revolves around the "I"
. Personal goals and achievement are strived for
. It is acceptable to pursue individual goals at the expense of others
. 'Individualism' is encouraged whether it be personality, clothes or music tastes
. The right of the individual reign supreme; thus laws to protect choices and freedom of speech

In a country that scores low on the individualism scale the following traits are common:

. "We" is more important that "I" 
.  Conformity is expected and perceived positively. 
.  Individual's desires and aspirations should be curbed if necessary for the good of the group.
.  The rights of the family (or for the common good) are more important. 
.  Rules provide stability, order, obedience.

Intercultural Business Communication Tips

If you are working or doing business in a country with a higher individualism score than yourself then:

. Remember that you can't depend on the group for answers. As an individual you are expected to work on your own and use your initiative. 
. Prepare yourself for a business environment that may be less reliant on relationships and personal contacts. Business and personal life may very well be kept separate. 
. Employees or subordinates will expect the chance to work on projects or solve issues independently. Being to intrusive into their work may be interpreted negatively. 
. It is not uncommon for people to try and stand out from the rest. This may be during meetings, presentations or even during group work. 
. Bear in mind that a certain amount of individual expression is tolerated, i.e. people's appearance, behaviour, etc.

If you are working or doing business in a country with a lower individualism score than yourself then:

. Note that individuals will have a strong sense of responsibility for their family which can mean they take precedence over business. 
. Remember that praise should always be directed to a team rather than individuals as otherwise this may cause people embarrassment. Reward teams not people.
. Understand that promotions depend upon seniority and experience-not performance and achievement. 
. Decision making may be a slow process, as many individuals across the hierarchy will need to be consulted. 

Read about Hofstede's other intercultural dimensions:
Power Distance
Uncertainty Avoidance