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Building Intercultural Teams

Updated: Mar 25, 2021

Part 2 of 3

Managing Transactional and Relational Elements within Teams

In Part I of this series we looked at the four elements of intercultural team building:

  1. Overcoming Communication Barriers

  2. Building Trust

  3. Developing a Good Understanding of Common Purpose

  4. Developing Social Capital

Our next topic focuses in on two areas where intercultural complexity can trip up your team as you try to obtain those four elements.

  1. The mix of Transactional and Relational elements in teamwork

  2. Universal and Situational perspectives on relationships

Transactional And Relational Elements

Transactional elements are those that have to do with tasks, goods changing hands, etc. it is on the opposite side of the spectrum from relational elements. On an intercultural team, it is not good enough to just have a common understanding of the tasks or transactions that you are supposed to complete: You must also have a relationship with the people around you. Camaraderie, trust, and commitment are all necessary for overcoming communication barriers to build trust and the rest of the Four Elements of Intercultural Teamwork.

The most effective mix of transactional and relational elements for success is heavily influenced by the individual, organizational, and national cultures. The mix of transactional and relational elements that works best will be different for different groups within the team, and will often be different from what a manager in a new cultural mix thinks will work best for his or her team.

The way to find the right mix of relational and transactional elements for a given team is to develop a shared experience in your team members, where people build bridges across the gaps in expectations and behavior in order to be able to interact with each other successfully. We call this “Creating a Third Cultural Space.

Universal & Situational Perspectives on Relationships

In some cultures, building relationships means meeting at each other’s homes and doing social things together outside of work. This can be a big issue in intercultural teams, because some cultures see relationship as more Universal, and others as more Situational.

The Situational Perspective: "Work is work, family is family, social is social." The Universal Perspective: "Once I make a commitment to my colleague at work, I universally invite that person into other spheres in my life."

To learn more about the Situational Vs. Universal Dimension of Culture, read our article about the Relationship dimension, #2 of the 12 Dimensions of Culture.

In our experience, the best way to manage this polarity is to tend towards the universal side when relating to one another on an intercultural team. You might have to compromise on sharp distinctions between work and other areas of life if you hail from a more situational perspective in your personal culture. You might also schedule more relational events at work and outside of work, for your team to get to know each other. Having them learn the rituals and cultural aspects that are important for each member of the team, aspects that they might not ever get to see on the job, helps to overcome communication barriers, build trust, and develop social capital.

Regular events that are creatively put together do not have to cost the company lot of money, and can be built into monthly or even weekly schedules. Those eventually really develop the team, create social capital, and create a better flow of information.

Pull it Together with Inter-Cultural and Emotional Intelligences

These two elements are part of Inter-Cultural Intelligence and are greatly helped by Emotional Intelligence, especially the first three components: Self Awareness, Self-Motivation, and Self-Regulation. Together, they create a powerful ways to eventually create a team that has high social capital, and common purpose, has overcome communication barriers, and built a high level of trust.

In the next article in this series, KnowledgeWorkx will look at the convergence of transactional, technical, and relational elements that results in an effective flow of information on your team.


This series: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3


To begin your culture learning journey, Contact us or get our mini-ebook: Inter-Cultural Intelligence: from surviving to thriving in the global space.


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