top of page


Updated: Jan 27, 2022

12 Dimensions of Culture, #2

Relationship is the second of 12 Dimensions of Culture that KnowledgeWorkx uses to map out the intercultural terrain. If you haven't already, you should read our article introducing the 12 Dimensions.

Make sense of the relational patterns of people in your organization and cater for diversity in your staff's cultural dimensions.

Relationship: Situational or Universal?

You may have found some people at work who love to include their colleagues in every part of their lives: family, hobbies, weddings, graduations – everything, while others only share the bare minimum of what is necessary to get on at work. These differences are an important part of the 2nd dimension of culture: Relationships.

The key question in this dimension is, if you build a relationship with somebody at work, do you automatically transfer that relationship to your family, social life, sports life, or entertainment life?

If you transfer relationships easily from one sphere to another, that would indicate a more universal way of looking at relationships. If you are more situational, you would view relationships in a more compartmentalized fashion, and your relationships would be closely related to the context that the relationship formed in.

People who are more situational assume the reason we relate is to get a job or task done. They might be very warm and engaging within a particular context, because they see that as a way to get the job done and be successful as a team for that particular project. For them, the extent of the relationship is defined by the place or situation in which it was formed. Unfortunately, this can come across as un-genuine to people who have a more universal outlook.

Universal-focused people might say to this, “You are superficial! You are not genuine, because when you step out of the context then all of a sudden you’re not as warm as you were when we were on the project together.”

On the other hand, People who are more Universal in their relationship focus are more cautious about making a commitment to a relationship. For them, a new colleague at work is not just a person they have to relate to in order to get the job done, but someone who they will also need to commit to beyond the workspace. They believe relationships do not have place or task-related boundaries. They normally transfer relationships from one sphere of life to another without difficulty. “Would I want that person to be a friend of the family? Would I want to be seen in public outside the work with that person? Would I go for a meal with him or her?” – These are the questions that a universal-focused person might ask when weighing the decision to commit themselves to a friendship with a colleague.

Situational-focused people might say to this, “You’re so cold! You’re not warm at all when we meet up for our projects, you don’t make me feel like an included member of the team.”

How Situational/Universal plays out in the work environment.

The tendency in more situational-oriented cultures is to also have less social interaction between colleagues across the organization. This can be a problem for people who are more universal in the way they connect.

In a universal-oriented culture, the general rule of thumb is that creating social connecting opportunities is very important to bring people together, and those opportunities need to go beyond the team or the department.

We worked with one company where the main feedback on the organizational culture from staff members was,

“We only have one social event where we all sit together and eat, at a formal dinner – but it’s not an event where we come closer to each other! It’s a nice gesture from the company that they offer us a nice meal at a five-star hotel, but we want them to invest in us bonding personally. And creating opportunities for that doesn’t necessarily have to cost a lot of money.”

Conclusion: What you should do about it.

If you are coming from a more situational-oriented culture and deal with staff or colleagues that are primarily universal-oriented, it is extremely important to be able to cater to the universal style of relationships in order to create a stronger bond between colleagues and a stronger commitment to the corporate culture.

Corporate cultures that are primarily on one side or the other of this dimension should ensure that staff coming from the opposite side of the Relationship dimensions have appropriate orientation for how to fit into the existing culture. And, if your organization is a complete mixture of the two, it is important to educate the entire workforce in order to reduce friction and develop a cohesive organizational culture that caters to both sides of this cultural dimension.

You can find out where your key stakeholders stand on the ‘Relationship’ dimension and others from the 12 Dimensions of Culture, as part of a holistic program to develop Inter-Cultural Intelligence in your organization.

This is just one piece of KnowledgeWorkx core framework. View the whole framework here.

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


214 views0 comments


bottom of page