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Relationships in Intercultural Organization

Updated: Mar 26, 2021

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.

Application of the 12 Dimensions: Making sense of relational patterns of people in international organizations and catering for diversity in 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 important parts 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 family, or social life, or 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, whereas if you are more situational, you would view relationships in more compartmentalized fashion, and your relationships would be closely related to the context that the relationship formed in.

People who are more situational 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. But this might 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.” Does it sound familiar?

On the other hand, people who are more Universal in their relationship focus are more cautious about making commitment to a relationship, because 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. “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 school 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. This might look like offering a series of more casual socials for universal style colleagues to partake in while making them optional so situational oriented colleagues can stand back and observe the level of commitment necessary. Making some events mandatory and some as options will both bond a staff as well as give them a sense of safety and freedom to observe until ready to engage.

With a mix of cultural dimensions present in a learning community, it is common to have colleagues coax each other into trying out a social situation. Often times just knowing this dimension exists and that some relational choices are more cultural than personal in nature helps. It also reduces the tendency of some staff members getting offended, hurt or misunderstood.

This dimension once understood by for instance teachers, can bring insights into how families and students at the schools choose to interact with one another. This will help some of them to deal with the need to remove cultural relational boundaries whenever necessary in order develop a health sense of loving care and belonging. It is a dimension that “third culture kids” learn to adapt to, and will need to be understood by the parents, in order for them to keep up with the social and cultural changes going on in their children.

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 leadership/management team, staff and customer-facing representatives 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 community stands on the ‘Relationship’ dimension and others from the 12 Dimensions of Culture, as part of a holistic program to develop Inter-Cultural Intelligence, empowering a global learning community.

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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