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Innocence at All Costs

Updated: Mar 26, 2021

Intercultural dynamics with the US Military in Afghanistan.

A number of years ago, KnowledgeWorkx was asked to do a brief on Inter-Cultural Intelligence for the US Military in Afghanistan to help their provincial reconstruction teams do a better job on stabilization initiatives, which included interaction with non-military parties and the development of local initiatives that are beneficial for the local population.

Provincial Reconstruction Teams and a Pressing Need for Inter-Cultural Intelligence

Each provincial reconstruction was typically run by a colonel, and even after years of working in a place like Afghanistan, the average understanding of intercultural dynamics was shallow. We were asked to organize a brief for 16 of these colonels to help them with what might turn out to be an entirely new way of thinking on intercultural dynamics and Inter-Cultural Intelligence.

Once we were in dialogue with the people who would run logistics for the brief, the desire of the colonels was to move forward as quickly as possible. They felt a pressing need to learn more about intercultural dynamics, and the brief would lead to a report, which could lead to a contract for further training and development to make Inter-Cultural Intelligence key part of future provincial reconstruction team methodology.

Innocence/Guilt Worldview + Bureaucracy = Innocence at all costs.

As a bureaucracy, the US Military had a clear definition of a “brief” and a protocol on how to request one. Brief are usually unpaid, and take the form of a 2-hour discussion. In each case of a request for a brief, the legal department monitors the engagement – from a guilt-innocence point of view, each organization must check that everything is done by the book to ensure that innocence is guaranteed.

Now, during the stream of communication, someone used the word “training” instead of brief. And that put up a red flag from the legal department because “training” that is free of charge is classified as a bribe by the US Military.

In a less strenuously Innocence/Guilt oriented bureaucracy, the miscommunication have been worked through quickly and the brief carried out, but because of the US Military’s sensitivity to even the possibility of legal impropriety, this blocked the brief from moving forward for months.

During this time, the colonels pushed for the brief to go forward, saying "We've got issues on the ground, we need to move forward here," and the legal department saying, "You're not allowed to do this. You can’t receive training free of charge! We have to block this.” The legal department was interested in "innocence at all costs,” where the only thing that matters is that everything is done by the book.

Each of the worldviews in the Three Colors model have what we call an “abuse mechanism” when taken to an extreme. "Innocence at all costs” is what we call one of those mechanisms in the Innocence/Guilt worldview. When an organization is in this mode, its ability to think creatively to reach opportunities is diminished, regardless of how beneficial the opportunities in front of them might potentially be.

After months of back and forth between the legal department and people on the ground, a rise in escalations led to the brief being cancelled altogether.

How to Use The Three Colors of Worldview to Guide Your Resource Allocation

If your company is dealing with a brand new organization, but you know that they have a strong Innocence/Guilt culture, then chances are that you will need to spend a lot more resources ensuring legal “innocence” than you would do in a more Power/Fear or Honor/Shame environment.

Conversely, if your organization has a strong Innocence/Guilt culture and you want to do business with a more Power/Fear or Honor/Shame influenced organization, you will probably need to assign more resources to building relationships and understanding hierarchies than you are used to.

In the real world, an organizational culture is always a mixture of all three worldviews, far too complicated for a list of “do’s and don’ts.” In order to successfully navigate complexity at this level, you need to learn frameworks that help you categorize the information and give you a big picture idea, then learn how to correctly interpret situations.

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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