Trompenaars’ Cultural Dimensions

Trompenaars’ cultural dimensions comprise a framework for cross-cultural communication in the workplace. 

Understanding Trompenaars’ cultural dimensions

Trompenaars’ cultural dimensions for cross-cultural workplace communication were developed by Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner. To develop their model, the pair spent more than a decade researching the cultural values and preferences of more than 46,000 managers across 40 countries.

The results of the research were then published in a 1998 book entitled Riding The Waves of Culture: Understanding Diversity in Global Business. Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner found that managers from various cultures differed in specific and sometimes predictable ways since each culture had its own system of thinking, beliefs, and values.

These systems were then represented on seven cultural dimensions that comprise the framework itself. Each dimension guides employees and managers to help them understand different cultural backgrounds, improve working relationships, and avoid instances of cultural faux pas. 

In the following sections, we will take a look at each dimension in more detail.

The seven cultural dimensions

1 – Universalism versus particularism: 

  • Universalism – cultures that consider laws, rules, and obligations to be more important than relationships. Universalism espouses clear instructions and procedures, consistency, and objective decision-making. Examples include the US, UK, and Australia.
  • Particularism – these cultures believe relationships dictate the rules by which they live and that each situation may require a different response. As a result, they favor autonomy, flexibility, and relationship-building. Examples include Russia and China.

2 – Individualism versus communitarianism

  • Individualism – where freedom and personal achievement are celebrated and rewarded and linked to the needs of others or the organization as a whole. Employees are autonomous, creative, and allowed to make mistakes. This is commonly seen in Australia, Scandinavia, New Zealand, and the US and UK.
  • Communitarianism – a belief that the group is more important than the individual, providing safety and assistance in exchange for loyalty. Individuals are not praised publicly and no favoritism is displayed. Examples include Japan and many Latin American countries.

3 – Specific versus diffuse

  • Specific – these employees keep their personal and professional lives separate and believe that colleagues can work together without necessarily liking each other. This dimension is common in the West.
  • Diffuse – where employees see overlap between their personal and professional life. Countries such as Russia, India, and Spain consider good personal relationships key to meeting organizational objectives.

4 – Neutral versus affective

  • Neutral – employees suppress their emotions and tend not to reveal what they are thinking or feeling. There is a tendency to “stick to the point” during interactions.
  • Emotional – this describes employees who are more than willing to express emotions at work in a spontaneous manner. Emotions, they believe, build trust and rapport and can also be used to manage conflict before it escalates.

5 – Achievement versus ascription

  • Achievement – these are cultures that value and reward performance irrespective of rank or seniority. A person’s worth is directly correlated with what they do and titles are used only when relevant.
  • Ascription – these are cultures that value an employee based on power, position, or title. Those with authority are shown the utmost respect and are never up-staged. Ascription is common in France, Italy, Japan, and Saudi Arabia.

6 – Sequential time versus synchronous time

  • Sequential time – employees who value sequential time prefer events to occur in a logical order and consider planning, commitment, and punctuality to be of supreme importance. This describes the classic “time is money” culture that is prevalent in the USA, UK, and Germany, among others.
  • Synchronous time – here, employees consider the past, present, and future to be intertwined. They are happy to work on multiple projects simultaneously and do not see plans as rigid or unchangeable. Examples include Mexico and Argentina.

7 – Internal direction versus external direction

  • Internal direction – those with internal direction believe they have control over their environment and how they work with other individuals and teams. By extension, they allow others to develop and take control of their own environment. Conflict is handled openly and constructively.
  • External direction – those with external direction believe their environment controls them. Their actions revolve around conflict avoidance or minimization. This is done by providing direction, regular feedback, and constant reassurance. When it does occur, conflict tends to be managed quietly and efficiently.

Key takeaways:

  • Trompenaars’ cultural dimensions for cross-cultural workplace communication were developed by Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner. The pair surveyed over 46,000 managers in 40 countries to create a framework of how different cultures interact in the workplace.
  • Trompenaars’ cultural dimensions help organizations foster better relationships between employees with different cultural backgrounds. Knowledge of the various dimensions helps individuals avoid making a cultural faux pas. 
  • Trompenaars’ seven cultural dimensions are universalism versus particularism, individualism versus communitarianism, specific versus diffuse, neutral versus affective, achievement versus ascription, sequential time versus synchronous time, and internal direction versus external direction. Collectively, the dimensions address factors such as work style, leadership style, time management, autonomy, performance, decision-making, and the importance of rules and regulations.

Connected Leadership Concepts And Frameworks

Leadership Styles

Leadership styles encompass the behavioral qualities of a leader. These qualities are commonly used to direct, motivate, or manage groups of people. Some of the most recognized leadership styles include Autocratic, Democratic, or Laissez-Faire leadership styles.

Agile Leadership

Agile leadership is the embodiment of agile manifesto principles by a manager or management team. Agile leadership impacts two important levels of a business. The structural level defines the roles, responsibilities, and key performance indicators. The behavioral level describes the actions leaders exhibit to others based on agile principles. 

Adaptive Leadership

Adaptive leadership is a model used by leaders to help individuals adapt to complex or rapidly changing environments. Adaptive leadership is defined by three core components (precious or expendable, experimentation and smart risks, disciplined assessment). Growth occurs when an organization discards ineffective ways of operating. Then, active leaders implement new initiatives and monitor their impact.

Blue Ocean Leadership

Authors and strategy experts Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne developed the idea of blue ocean leadership. In the same way that Kim and Mauborgne’s blue ocean strategy enables companies to create uncontested market space, blue ocean leadership allows companies to benefit from unrealized employee talent and potential.

Delegative Leadership

Developed by business consultants Kenneth Blanchard and Paul Hersey in the 1960s, delegative leadership is a leadership style where authority figures empower subordinates to exercise autonomy. For this reason, it is also called laissez-faire leadership. In some cases, this type of leadership can lead to increases in work quality and decision-making. In a few other cases, this type of leadership needs to be balanced out to prevent a lack of direction and cohesiveness of the team.

Distributed Leadership

Distributed leadership is based on the premise that leadership responsibilities and accountability are shared by those with the relevant skills or expertise so that the shared responsibility and accountability of multiple individuals within a workplace, bulds up as a fluid and emergent property (not controlled or held by one individual). Distributed leadership is based on eight hallmarks, or principles: shared responsibility, shared power, synergy, leadership capacity, organizational learning, equitable and ethical climate, democratic and investigative culture, and macro-community engagement.

Ethical Leadership

Ethical leaders adhere to certain values and beliefs irrespective of whether they are in the home or office. In essence, ethical leaders are motivated and guided by the inherent dignity and rights of other people.

Transformational Leadership

Transformational leadership is a style of leadership that motivates, encourages, and inspires employees to contribute to company growth. Leadership expert James McGregor Burns first described the concept of transformational leadership in a 1978 book entitled Leadership. Although Burns’ research was focused on political leaders, the term is also applicable for businesses and organizational psychology.

Leading by Example

Those who lead by example let their actions (and not their words) exemplify acceptable forms of behavior or conduct. In a manager-subordinate context, the intention of leading by example is for employees to emulate this behavior or conduct themselves.

Leader vs. Boss

A leader is someone within an organization who possesses the ability to influence and lead others by example. Leaders inspire, support, and encourage those beneath them and work continuously to achieve objectives. A boss is someone within an organization who gives direct orders to subordinates, tends to be autocratic, and prefers to be in control at all times.

Situational Leadership

Situational leadership is based on situational leadership theory. Developed by authors Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard in the late 1960s, the theory’s fundamental belief is that there is no single leadership style that is best for every situation. Situational leadership is based on the belief that no single leadership style is best. In other words, the best style depends on the situation at hand.

Succession Planning

Succession planning is a process that involves the identification and development of future leaders across all levels within a company. In essence, succession planning is a way for businesses to prepare for the future. The process ensures that when a key employee decides to leave, the company has someone else in the pipeline to fill their position.

Fiedler’s Contingency Model

Fielder’s contingency model argues no style of leadership is superior to the rest evaluated against three measures of situational control, including leader-member relations, task structure, and leader power level. In Fiedler’s contingency model, task-oriented leaders perform best in highly favorable and unfavorable circumstances. Relationship-oriented leaders perform best in situations that are moderately favorable but can improve their position by using superior interpersonal skills.

Management vs. Leadership


Cultural Models

In the context of an organization, cultural models are frameworks that define, shape, and influence corporate culture. Cultural models also provide some structure to a corporate culture that tends to be fluid and vulnerable to change. Once upon a time, most businesses utilized a hierarchical culture where various levels of management oversaw subordinates below them. Today, however, there exists a greater diversity in models as leaders realize the top-down approach is outdated in many industries and that success can be found elsewhere.

Action-Centered Leadership

Action-centered leadership defines leadership in the context of three interlocking areas of responsibility and concern. This framework is used by leaders in the management of teams, groups, and organizations. Developed in the 1960s and first published in 1973, action-centered leadership was revolutionary for its time because it believed leaders could learn the skills they needed to manage others effectively. Adair believed that effective leadership was exemplified by three overlapping circles (responsibilities): achieve the task, build and maintain the team, and develop the individual.

High-Performance Coaching

High-performance coaches work with individuals in personal and professional contexts to enable them to reach their full potential. While these sorts of coaches are commonly associated with sports, it should be noted that the act of coaching is a specific type of behavior that is also useful in business and leadership

Forms of Power

When most people are asked to define power, they think about the power a leader possesses as a function of their responsibility for subordinates. Others may think that power comes from the title or position this individual holds. 

Tipping Point Leadership

Tipping Point Leadership is a low-cost means of achieving a strategic shift in an organization by focusing on extremes. Here, the extremes may refer to small groups of people, acts, and activities that exert a disproportionate influence over business performance.

Vroom-Yetton Decision Model

The Vroom-Yetton decision model is a decision-making process based on situational leadership. According to this model, there are five decision-making styles guides group-based decision-making according to the situation at hand and the level of involvement of subordinates: Autocratic Type 1 (AI), Autocratic Type 2 (AII), Consultative Type 1 (CI), Consultative Type 2 (CII), Group-based Type 2 (GII).

Likert’s Management Systems

Likert’s management systems were developed by American social psychologist Rensis Likert. Likert’s management systems are a series of leadership theories based on the study of various organizational dynamics and characteristics. Likert proposed four systems of management, which can also be thought of as leadership styles: Exploitative authoritative, Benevolent authoritative, Consultative, Participative.

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