As difficult as it is to discuss trust, I’d like to touch upon the Trusting dimension of the Culture Map created by Erin Meyer. As always, I’ll start by briefly explaining what the two dimensions of this scale are and then deep dive into some examples from Meyer’s book as well as my own thoughts on the topic of course.
Before I start going into details on that topic, I’d like you to honestly answer a couple of questions:
- What makes you build trust with someone at work?
- How long does it take you to build relationships at work? How easy it is for you to drop them?
- Do you like sharing personal time with work colleagues?
If you know the answer to these questions, it will be easier for you to relate to any of my thoughts below.
The Trusting scale of the Culture Map is all about how and why do you build trusted relationships at work. This may also strongly vary on a personal preference for separating private time from work life, but let’s give a wider overview on the scale first.
Trusting scale has two dimensions – Task-based and Relationship-based. As you can probably guess, the task-based dimension is more about you do good work consistently, you are reliable, so I trust you. The second dimension on the other hand is rather the approach of I’ve shared my personal time with you, I like you, I know others who trust you, therefore I trust you. As much as you can like someone who does the work well and consistently, the trust is not based on your ‘liking’ in case of a Task-based preference. It works the other way around as well – the alone fact, that you do a good work may not be enough for me to trust you if I’m from a Relationship-based culture.
What is really important again is to consider the relative position of two cultures that we’re comparing on this or any other scale using Meyer’s tool.
Frenchman on an American training
An example that Meyer gives in her book, and that I’ve seen a couple of times during meetings I participated in, very well shows how blurry the concept might be if you’re not aware of its implications.
Imagine a typical training or a workshop at an American corporation. A group of people coming from different parts of the world, who might or might not be working together join the same intense, 8-hour training session. What does it most probably start with? An icebreaker. Disliked by many, a thing on the list that needs to be ticked off before we move on to business. That’s mostly how the icebreaker looks like – a 3-5 minute exercise when you play around jumping, pretending to be funny animals, throwing a teddy bear to various people in the circle etc. And then once you’re in an energized playful mood… well now that we’ve met each other better let’s get back to business and our agenda.
I must say that personally I somehow got used to the fact that it’s just the part of the agenda and I don’t oppose to it anymore, although I’m not a fan of it. I’m also not saying that energizers are a bad thing, don’t get me wrong! If you’re sitting there in a training room for 8 hours listening to a lecture you need to move around a little and have a break from all the content-related slides. But if we do energizers – let’s do them in between the training modules, make them related to the content somehow and do call them energizers and not icebreakers. Don’t say that you want people to get to know each other better over a 3 minute conversation at the beginning of the training if you work across cultures.
But let’s get back to our cultural differences. So the above is fine if you have a culturally homogeneous group of people in the room. If you have a couple of other cultures in the room, including for example French, Spanish, Chinese, be aware that building relationships for these people means much more, especially in a business environment. It takes time to build a relationship and it’s not reliant on a 3 minute icebreaker at the beginning of a training. In relationship-based cultures icebreakers are very rare. If you want to enhance relations between the participants in that case, make sure to provide opportunities during breaks, after the training or during exercises to do so.
How are you?
Another thing that might be mistaken for a relationship-based approach in case of American or British cultures might be the famous ‘How are you’ question and chit chatting. It seems like Americans are always smiling, friendly, like to speak to people, open. But does it really mean the culture is relationship-based? Not necessarily – don’t be misled. In a business environment it’s just the thing you do to meet people, build your professional network. The concept of networking is also a big thing there, which may be hard to grasp and master by many relationship-based cultures.
Business networks are also often created on the basis of practicality of the connection. They are as easily created as dropped in the task-based cultures. In relationship-based cultures however building relationships relies on sharing personal time and experiences with each other thus takes more time, is more engaging and harder to just simply drop.
Why does it have to be so difficult!
Looking at my personal map I must say I’m surprised I put myself so far at the Task-based dimension of the scale. I think that working in an American company had its influence here! 🙂 But thinking about it now, I see that it might not be fully true. I like working with people who can do their job, are efficient and we work well together, but I think that this is not what I would now call trust at work. Trust for me would be a relationship that enables me to let go, have fun together after work, be able to tell each other everything, actually make friends. And although trust in performing the tasks well is important, this is not how I build a real relationship trust for people, I think. If you compare my Polish approach to a Chinese culture which is at the far end of the Relationship-based dimension it would probably look more task-based anyway. Again – remember that I’m referring Polish to British culture, where Poland is to the right of the spectrum while UK falls more onto the Task-based side.
Final example that you might consider when thinking about this dimension is about keeping relations with people who have left your company (or team). Do you still keep in touch with them after they’ve left or have been fired? Imagine that you really liked the person, spent time after work and all, but as they haven’t performed well enough they got fired. Do you still meet up and stay in touch? For many people raised in task-based cultures the answer would be ‘probably not’ as the practicality of such a business connection can be questioned. For many people who are more on a relationship-based side the answer would be ‘Yes, of course. So what they didn’t perform? We got on very well on a personal side anyway!”.
I hope this short description of the two dimensions of Trusting scale made you think about how you build relationships, what is important for you in business relationships and why do you do it this way. I obviously base my thoughts on my experiences that I’ve had with different cultures, but this is not the one and only correct way of looking at things!
This post is another one of the Culture Map series. See the descriptions of other scales as well!
Make sure to let me know your experiences with various cultures you’ve been working with! 🙂