Seven Dimensions of Culture

  • Post last modified:20 September 2021
  • Reading time:7 mins read

Trompenaars & Hamden-Turner’s Seven Dimensions of Culture

Like Hofstede, Trompenaars (1997) also proposed comparing countries using cultural dimensions. The Seven Dimensions of Culture were identified by management consultants FonsTrompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner, and the model was published in their 1997 book, “Riding the Waves of Culture.

Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner developed the model after spending 10 years researching the preferences and values of people in dozens of cultures around the world. As part of this, they sent questionnaires to more than 46,000 managers in 40 countries.

They found that people from different cultures are not just randomly different from one another; they differ in very specific, even predictable, ways. This is because each culture has its own way of thinking, its own values and beliefs, and different preferences placed on a variety of different factors.

Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner concluded that what distinguishes people from one culture compared with another is where these preferences fall on each of the following seven dimensions:

  1. Universalism versus Particularism
  2. Individualism versus Communitarianism
  3. Specific versus Diffuse
  4. Neutral versus Emotional
  5. Achievement versus Ascription
  6. Sequential Time versus Synchronous Time
  7. Internal Direction versus Outer Direction

Universalism Versus Particularism (Rules Versus Relationships)

Universalism Versus Particularism distinguishes societies based on the relative importance they place on rules and laws as opposed to persona; relationships.

The basic question is “What is more important- rules or relationships?”

  • Universalism places high importance on laws, rules, values, and obligations. They try to deal fairly with people based on these rules.

  • On the other hand, in Particularism where members are also referred to as pluralists, people believe that each circumstance, and each relationship, dictates the rules that they live by. Their response to a situation may change, based on what’s happening in the moment, and who’s involved.

    They focus more on human friendship and personal relationships than on formal rules and laws; place emphasis on friendships and look at the situation to determine what is right or ethically acceptable; believe that deals are made on friendship it local variations of company and human resources policies to adapt to different requirements.

Typical Universalist cultures include the U.S., Canada, the U.K, the Netherlands, Germany, Scandinavia, New Zealand, Australia, and Switzerland. Typical Particularistic cultures include Russia, Latin America, and China.

Individualism Versus Communitarianism (The Individual Versus The Group)

Individualism Versus Communitarianism distinguishes societies based on the relative weight given to individual versus group interests. The basic question is “Do we function as a group or as individuals?”

  • In Individualism, people believe in personal freedom and achievement. They believe that you make your own decisions and that you must take care of yourself.

  • Whereas in Communitarianism, people believe that the group is more important than the individual. The group provides help and safety, in exchange for loyalty. The group always comes before the individual.

Typical individualist cultures include the U.S., Canada, the U.K, Scandinavia, New Zealand, Australia, and Switzerland. Typical communitarian cultures include countries in Latin America, Africa, and Japan.

Specific Versus Diffuse (How Far People Get Involved)

Specific Versus Diffuse distinguishes societies based on how their members engage colleagues in specific or multiple areas of their lives (i.e., the extent to which societal members keep their personal and working lives separate). The basic question is “How far do we get involved?”

  • In specific oriented societies, people keep work and personal lives separate. As a result, they believe that relationships don’t have much of an impact on work objectives, and, although good relationships are important, they believe that people can work together without having a good relationship.

  • In diffused societies, people see an overlap between their work and personal life. They believe that good relationships are vital to meeting business objectives, and that their relationships with others will be the same, whether they are at work or meeting socially. People spend time outside work hours with colleagues and clients

Typical specific cultures include the U.S., the U.K., Switzerland, Germany, Scandinavia, and the Netherlands. Typical diffuse cultures include Argentina, Spain, Russia, India, and China.

Neutral Versus Emotional (How People Express Emotions)

Neutral Versus Emotional distinguishes societies based on how they view the display of emotions by their members. The basic question is “Do we display our emotions?”

  • In neutral societies, people make a great effort to control their emotions. Reason influences their actions far more than their feelings. People don’t reveal what they’re thinking or how they’re feeling

  • whereas in emotional societies, people want to find ways to express their emotions, even spontaneously, at work. In these cultures, it’s welcome and accepted to show emotion.

Typical neutral cultures include the U.K., Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland, and Germany. Typical emotional cultures include Poland, Italy, France, Spain, and countries in Latin America.

Achievement Versus Ascription (How People View Status)

Achievement Versus Ascription distinguishes societies on the basis of how they distribute status and authority and is quite similar to Hofstede’s power distance dimension. The basic question is “Do we have to prove ourselves to receive status or is it given to us?”

  • In achievement-oriented societies, people believe that you are what you do, and they base your worth accordingly. These cultures value performance, no matter who you are.

  • In ascription oriented societies, people believe that you should be valued for who you are. Power, title, and position matter in these cultures, and these roles define behavior.

Typical achievement cultures include the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Scandinavia. Typical ascription cultures include France, Italy, Japan, and Saudi Arabia.

Sequential Time Versus Synchronous Time (How People Manage Time)

Sequential Time Versus Synchronous Time distinguishes societies based on whether members prefer to do one thing at a time or work on several things at the same time. The basic question is “Do we do things one at a time or several things at once?”

  • In sequential time oriented societies, People like events to happen in order. They place a high value on punctuality, planning (and sticking to your plans), and staying on schedule. In this culture, “time is money,” and people don’t appreciate it when their schedule is thrown off.

  • In synchronous oriented societies, people see the past, present, and future as interwoven periods. They often work on several projects at once, and view plans and commitments as flexible.

Typical sequential-time cultures include China, Russia, and Mexico. Typical synchronous-time cultures include Japan, Canada, Norway, the U.K., and the U.S.

Internal Direction Versus Outer Direction (How People Relate to Their Environment)

Internal/outer direction distinguishes societies on the degree to which members believe they can exert control over their environment as opposed to believing that their environment controls them. The basic question is “Do we control our environment or work with it?”

  • In internal direction oriented societies, People believe that they can control nature or their environment to achieve goals. This includes how they work with teams and within organizations.

  • In outer direction oriented societies, people believe that nature or their environment controls them; they must work with their environment to achieve goals. At work or in relationships, they focus their actions on others, and they avoid conflict where possible. People often need reassurance & feedback about their job

Typical internal-direction cultures include Israel, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and the U.K.Typical outer-direction cultures include China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia.

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