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The Trust Discussion on a Multicultural Team

Updated: Mar 25, 2021

Cross-Cultural Facilitation with the Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™, part 1 of 5

"All eyes are on you. Twenty or so coworkers from different countries have gathered for your session around The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™. Can you draw them into a learning experience that will strengthen the way they work together?"

We would like to share our experiences from walking this road, and what we have found to work well with a mix of western, Middle Eastern and Asian cultures. This is part one in a five-part series.

Trust as the Starting Point

In Patrick Lencioni’s seminal Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™, trust is paramount. It is the foundation of a strong team. We have found that to be true in intercultural environments as well as in more culturally homogenous ones.

Patrick has built out his framework with powerful tools for engaging team members on this topic. In these articles we will share a few additional tools we have developed in taking this framework around the world, giving flexibility to help you make the Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™ even more influential in varied cultural settings.

One challenge in an intercultural setting is that teams are used to different on-ramps to build trust, some fairly indirect. In this article we are going to discuss the cultural roles of Trust, Risk and Vulnerability – and then give some tips on facilitating a tailored build-up to the Trust Discussion.

Trust: Earned or Given?

Is trust earned or is it given? This is a key question from the intercultural perspective. In some cultures you are encouraged to give people “the benefit of the doubt,” a common phrase in British and American English. That indicates people are expected to give each other trust first and leave validating it to later. But what we have found in Middle Eastern cultures is that trust must be earned first. You don’t give trust unless you have a reason, when people have proven to be dependable.

This matters for how you approach building trust on teams. If you anticipate team members being more on the earned-trust side of the equation, certain behaviors will have to come first to enable the giving of trust. This is especially true if trust hasn’t been established well in the everyday workings of the team. People may not respond well to direct encouragements for vulnerability and transparency, and you will need to facilitate through an indirect route.

The Risk Calculation

Another thing to recognize is that people don’t necessarily feel the need to be seen as trustworthy in every situation, or to have a high level of trust with whomever they are with. That “need” is very much driven by The Three Colors of Worldview. Some people are driven culturally to build and maintain Innocence, others Honor or Power in the situations they face.

In an Honor/Shame paradigm, if I feel that trusting you has a probability of enhancing my honor, I’ll be inclined to try it out. Or on the flip side, if trusting you has the possibility of causing me shame – then I will stay away.

In a Power/Fear environment, I will be motivated to trust you if there is a high probability of enhancing my positional power or the way I’m perceived on the team. But if I fear the loss of power from associating with you, I will not. The perspective of the Three Colors of Worldview can help you shape your activities to motivate and draw out participants by tapping into their cultural drivers.

The Varying Role of Vulnerability

Deciding to trust and embracing the risk that comes with it is a decision to make yourself vulnerable. Vulnerability is the currency of trust. Understanding how people decide to open themselves up and show weakness is at the heart of your role as a facilitator.

In an ideal world we would love to see people be vulnerable. But studies like the Globe Project have shown that vulnerability and transparency can also be equated to weakness in a leader.

In many cultures – stereotypically Honor/Shame and Power/Fear, vulnerability is only desirable if it can serve to enhance my honor or extend my power base. For instance, a leader in a Power/Fear oriented environment might decide to be vulnerable in order to test the loyalty or willingness of his or her followers. Will they step into a tricky situation and extend their help and commitment?

So, a leader might say, “This is a very difficult situation for me. I feel I am not coping,” and he or she hopes that those listening - their followers or team members - will say “Don’t worry boss – we have this, we will do this together and go the extra mile.” A leader will have to carefully calculate if it is okay to use vulnerability that way.

Vulnerability always has a purpose. As a facilitator, you can play into these purposes as you invite people to open up. Even in an Innocence/Guilt culture a leader may use openness and vulnerability to model “doing the right thing,” to encourage others to do the same.

How to Help People Toward the Trust Discussion

DiSC and Three Colors of Worldview profiles provide a beautiful way of modeling vulnerability and approaching the Trust discussion indirectly.

In a Three Colors of Worldview workshop for instance, you can invite people to share stories about how the Three Colors of Worldview influenced their upbringing, and how the different drivers shaped them as they grew older. The questions: “How did the Three Colors of Worldview shape you as a kid?” and “How did the Three Colors of Worldview influence your cultural journey through life?” give a framework that allows people to carefully select the type of stories they want to share at the table.

DiSC profiles can be used similarly. When people go through The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™ Powered by Everything DiSC®, we like to use the section where people have a chance to talk about what motivates them and what stresses them out. These are moments of choice where people can decide what to disclose to colleagues, and it usually draws out some level of transparency.

We call this using a “third voice” in the room. The third voice says something about a person through the DiSC or Three Colors of Worldview profile. He or she is then able to interact with it. In every culture, we’ve found that the level of sharing from this method is much deeper than with an open-ended question like “tell a story about a significant moment in your life.” People feel more comfortable and safe to share.

Another tool that can be useful for these door-opening conversations is a deck of cards called Trust Cards, available from the Bader Group in California. The deck has 32 cards with trust-building behaviors and 32 cards with trust-breaking behaviors. It provides a structured way of talking about trust using the language of behaviors. We have found these to be well understood in any culture. We let people choose three trust-builders and three trust-breakers that are most important for them to interact with. These cards provide another flexible option for a third voice in the room.

If at all possible, check with the team leader and see if he or she is willing to lead the way. You might need to coach them a bit and tell them “Here is my objective with your team, here’s what we’re trying to achieve.” If you set the leader up for success with quick conversations on the sidelines around your activities, it will be a powerful model and invitation for the rest of the team to follow.

We hope these suggestions have sparked some ideas for you. Our next article will share tips for facilitating around the topic of Conflict – the second of The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™.


This series : Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5


Quickly becoming the global preferred choice for Inter-Cultural Intelligence development, KnowledgeWorkx promotes mutual understanding of other cultures and perspectives in the workplace, and helps teams to develop the intercultural capacity necessary to thrive in a globalized world.



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