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Trompenaars' dimensions

Created on 07 July 2007 Written by Jean Binder
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Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner defined a different set of dimensions during their cross-cultural studies, using a database containing more than 30.000 survey results. The following classification shows the main dimensions defined by Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner (2005) and summarised by Trompenaars and Woolliams (2003).


Universalism versus particularism  – The first dimension defines how people judge the behaviours of their colleagues. People from universalistic cultures focus more on rules, are more precise when defining contracts and tend to define global standards for company policies and human resources practices. Within more particularistic national cultures, the focus is more on the relationships; contracts can be adapted to satisfy new requirements in specific situations and local variations of company and human resources policies are created to adapt to different requirements.


Individualism and Communitarianism - This dimension classifies countries according to the balance between the individual and group interests. Generally, team members with individualist mindsets see the improvements to their groups as the means to achieve their own objectives. By contrast, the team members from communitarian cultures see the improvements to individual capacities as a step towards the group prosperity.


Achievement versus ascription - This dimension, presented in Trompenaars studies, is very similar to Hofstede’s power distance concept. People from achievement-oriented countries respect their colleagues based on previous achievements and the demonstration of knowledge, and show their job titles only when relevant. On the other hand, people from ascription-oriented cultures use their titles extensively and usually respect their superiors in hierarchy.


Neutral versus affective - According to Trompenaars, people from neutral cultures admire cool and self-possessed conducts and control their feelings, which can suddenly explode during stressful periods. When working with stakeholders from neutral countries you may consider avoiding warm, expressive or enthusiastic behaviours, prepare beforehand, concentrate on the topics being discussed and look carefully for small cues showing that the person is angry or pleased. People from cultures high on affectivity use all forms of gesturing, smiling and body language to openly voice their feelings, and admire heated, vital and animated expressions.


Specific versus diffuse - Trompenaars researched differences in how people engage colleagues in specific or multiple areas of their lives, classifying the results into two groups: people from more specific-oriented cultures tend to keep private and business agendas separate, having a completely different relation of authority in each social group. In diffuse-oriented countries, the authority level at work can reflect into social areas, and employees can adopt a subordinated attitude when meeting their managers outside office hours.


Human-nature relationship (internal vs external control) - Trompenaars shows how people from different countries relate to their natural environment and changes. Global project stakeholders from internal-oriented cultures may show a more dominant attitude, focus on their own functions and groups and be uncomfortable in change situations. Stakeholders from external-oriented cultures are generally more flexible and willing to compromise, valuing harmony and focusing on their colleagues, being more comfortable with change.


Human-time relationship - Trompenaars identified that different cultures assign diverse meanings to the past, present and future. People in past-oriented cultures tend to show respect for ancestors and older people and frequently put things in a traditional or historic context. People in present-oriented cultures enjoy the activities of the moment and present relationships. People from future-oriented cultures enjoy discussing prospects, potentials and future achievement.


A second division of country cultures is based on the time orientation, in which sequential cultures drive people to do one activity at a time and to follow plans and schedules strictly. People from synchronic cultures can do work in parallel, and follow schedules and agendas loosely, taking the priorities of the individual tasks being performed as a major rule.




Trompenaars, F. and Hampden-Turner, C. (2005) ‘Riding the waves of culture: Understanding cultural diversity in business’ (Nicholas Brealey, UK) 

Trompenaars, F.and Woolliams, P. (2003) ‘Business across cultures’ (Capstone, UK)


Last Updated on Saturday, 04 August 2012 22:52
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