‘The Practical Guide to Culture in the Workplace’ - Fons Trompenaars (1993)

July 27, 2007 0 comments


Another important researcher is Fons Trompenaars (another Dutchman) and his book ‘Riding the Waves of Culture’ discusses his main research rationale and findings. While some of his work has distinct similarities to Hofstede’s dimensions, other elements have a strong association with earlier, more general, research into cultural behavior. He describes seven dimensions.

Trompenaars’ cultural dimensions

  • universalism v particularism
  • collectivism v individualism
  • neutral v emotional
  • specific v diffused orientation
  • according status
  • managing time
  • relationship with nature

Trompenaars surveyed employees of fifty companies in 30 countries in the late 1980s. His research was particularly directed at how business was carried out and at business problems that occurred in a range of cultural settings, rather than concern with generic cultural issues. Five of the dimensions are related to personal interrelationships, the other two concerning the use or perception of time.

Universalism versus Particularism


the belief that ideas and practices can be applied everywhere without modification

  • USA, Germany, and Sweden


the belief that circumstances dictate how ideas and practices should be applied

  • Spain and Japan

The universalist approach says that what is good and right applies everywhere, for instance, rules penalizing sales staff that do not fulfill their quotas apply whether or not the individual claims extenuating circumstances.

The particularist approach emphasizes the obligations of relationships: a salesman has failed to achieve his quota because of his concern for a sick son, so can be excused.

Trompenaars presents findings from three cases. In response to a case concerning insider information, the percentage of respondents who would not tip off a friend (i.e. the most universalist) is greatest in Japan and least in Oman and Russia.

Collectivism versus Individualism


refers to people regarding themselves as individuals

  • USA, UK, and Sweden


refers to people regarding themselves as part of a group

  • Japan and France

    ‘Do we relate to others by discovering what each one of us individually wants and then try to negotiate the differences, or do we place ahead of this some shared concept of the public and collective good?’

    Trompenaars 1993

Findings are given for responses to three questions. In response to one concerning options for the quality of life, the least interest in individual freedom was shown in Nepal, then Kuwait, the most in Canada, then the US. This description is very close to Hofstede’s concept of the dimension.

Neutral Vs. Affective

Neutral: emotions are held in check

  • Japan and the USA

Affective: emotions are openly and naturally expressed

  • Mexico, Netherlands, and Switzerland

Some cultures are affective, in that they readily show emotions; others are neutral and control or subdue their emotions. Findings are given for one question: whether informants would express their feelings openly if upset at work. The greatest readiness to do so was shown in Italy, then France and the USA.

Specific Vs. Diffuse

Specific: individuals have a large public space and a small private space

  • UK, USA, and Switzerland

Diffuse: both public and private space are similar in size

  • Venezuela, China, and Spain

In specific-orientated cultures, the manager separates the work relationships with subordinates from other dealings with them. Findings are given for two cases. In response to a question of whether a manager should help the boss paint his house, Australian and the Netherlands showed to most unwillingness and China, then Nepal, the most willingness.

Achievement Vs. Ascription


people are accorded status based on how well they perform their functions

  • USA, Switzerland, and UK


status is attributed based on who or what a person is

  • Venezuela and China

While some cultures give status on the basis of achievement, others ascribe it on the basis of age, class, gender, education and so on. Findings are given for two cases. In response to a statement that ‘the most important thing in life is to think and act in the ways that best suit the way you really are, even if you do not get things done’ (which Trompenaars reads as a reflection of ascribed status), most agreement was shown in Egypt, then Turkey and Argentina, least by Norway, then the USA.

Managing Time

Trompenaars distinguishes between sequential and synchronic cultures and past or future-oriented ones.

Past or Present-Oriented Vs. Future-Oriented

Past or present-oriented :

emphasize the history and tradition of the culture

  • Venezuela, Indonesia, and Spain


emphasize the opportunities and limitless scope that any agreement can have

  • USA, Italy, and Germany

Sequential Vs. Synchronous Time


time is prevalent, people tend to do only one activity at a time, keep appointments strictly, and prefer to follow plans

  • USA


time is prevalent, people tend to do more than one activity at a time, appointments are approximate, and schedules are not important

  • Mexico and France

    Do countries emphasize their traditions or their forward thinking?

Relationship with Nature

Some cultures believe that they can and should control nature. Trompenaars characterizes these as inner-directed. Outer-directed cultures go along with nature.

Inner Directed

Believe in controlling outcomes

  • U.S.

Outer Directed

Believe in letting things take their own course

  • Asian Cultures

Posted by lisa
Categories: International Management Culture


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