Understanding the role of culture: Fons Trompenaars's concept

Seminar Paper, 2005

28 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Contents

List of Figures

1. Excursion: The understanding of foreign cultures

2. Introduction of Fons Trompenaars

3. Trompenaars’s Model of Culture
3.1 The layers of culture
3.2 Differences of cultures

4. The seven dimensions of culture
4.1 Category: relationships with people
4.1.1 Universalism versus Particularism.
4.1.2 Communitarianism versus Individualism.
4.1.3 Affective versus emotionally neutral cultures
4.1.4 Diffuse versus specific cultures
4.1.5 Achievement versus Ascription.
4.2 Category: attitudes to time
4.3 Category: attitudes to the environment

5. Résumé of Trompenaars’s Model



List of Figures

Figure 1: Fons Trompenaars

Figure 2: Trompenaars’s Model of Culture

Figure 3: Culture as normal distribution and with stereotyping

Figure 4: Styles of verbal communication

Figure 5: Tone of voice

Figure 6: U-type and G-type

Figure 7: Circling round or getting straight to the point

Figure 8: Plate of ethnology

Figure 9: The pedestrian

Figure 10: Whose fault was it?

Figure 11: Paint the house

Figure 12: The danger zone

Figure 13: Circle Test – past, present and future

Figure 14: The captains of their fate

1. Excursion: The understanding of foreign cultures

Different people on our earth have already had all kinds of contacts with each other at the beginning of our history. As early as the antique the Greeks for instance already traded with the other nations or the Spanish exploited the original inhabitants of Middle and South America in the 15th/16th century because of their gold. Now it doesn’t matter if it was because of armed conflicts or prosperous trade; there was ever an interest on the other party respectively the other culture.

People ever tried to get information which they could use for their own advantages. An example for this is a plate of ethnology in the Austrian museum for ethnology in Vienna created at the beginning of the 18th century[1] which should give people an impression of foreign cultures. There are different people (nations) showed in the plate: Spanish, French, Italians, Germans, English, Swedes, Poles, Hungarians, Russians, Turks and Greeks.[2] The very negative description on the Turks probably because that the Austrian had bad experiences during the siege of Vienna in 1683. These „literary treasures“ are more influenced by prejudices and stereotypes than by scientific knowledge and today they just makes people laugh about.

Today people try for instance to realize the advantages for their business relations by trying to understand the foreign cultures of their business partners. From this point of view the German proverb “other countries, other customs” (in German: “andere Länder, andere Sitten”) is quite true and it’s very important to know to which things the other party attaches great importance and in which way they act in negotiations.

For instance Italians are known as smart negotiating partners who have a tendency to improvisation; Brits are known as fair negotiating partners who keep exact to their schedules while French interpret their schedules more generous, but they are seldom unpunctual.[3]

About this subject Fons Trompenaars wrote finally a book with the title: “Riding the waves of Culture”. In this book he shows how cultural differences affect the business life and the management.[4] The report is also based on this book but doesn’t contain the study of the corporate cultures.

2. Introduction of Fons Trompenaars

Fons Trompenaars, a Dutch culture scientist, was born as the son of a French mother and a Dutch father. So Trompenaars became interested in this subject during his childhood because he noticed that if something works in one culture, there is little chance that it works in another.[5]

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 1: Fons Trompenaars

Trompenaars studied economics and today he is one of the leading experts for intercultural management. He worked more than 15 years for the Royal Dutch Shell Group in nine different countries. During this time Trompenaars collected important information for his seminars to the subject “cross-cultural management”.[6] Besides he worked as a consulter for BP, ICI, Philips, Heineken, TRW, Mars, Motorola, General Motors, Nike, Cable and Wireless, CSM and Merrill Lynch.[7]

Based on his seminars and training programmes Fons Trompenaars created a database which consists of 50,000 participants today.[8]

Trompenaars developed the “Seven Dimensions of Culture Model” for the analysis of cultural differences. With this model he wants to make executive personnel more sensitive for the features of foreign cultures and he wants to show them the possible advantages of competition.[9] This model will be described more in detail in a following chapter of this book.

His main works are: Managing People Across Cultures (2004), Business Across Cultures (2003), 21 Leaders for the 21st Century (2001), Seven Cultures of Capitalism (1993) and Riding the Waves of Culture - Understanding Cultural Diversity in Business (1993), which was awarded ‘Book of the Year’ by the Order of Experts and Consultants on Organization in 1994.[10]

3. Trompenaars’s Model of Culture

Culture is the common way how a group of people understands and interprets the world. For instance there are products, which can be bought all over the world. But in one region of the world this product stands for luxury and in another region of the world the product is just a cost-effective alternative.[11]

3.1 The layers of culture

After Trompenaars’s opinion culture comes in layers like an onion. To understand it you have to unpeel it layer by layer.[12] So a culture consists of the outer layer, the middle layer and the core.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 2: Trompenaars’s Model of Culture

Source: Trompenaars, [Waves], p. 22

- the outer layer[13]

The outer layer is the explicit culture. This layer is first impression of this culture for a foreigner. It’s the observable reality of language, buildings, houses, monuments, food, agriculture, shrines, markets, fashions and art of this culture; in other words predominantly the “products” of this culture.

These characteristics are a symbol of the deeper levels of culture. Besides prejudices about other cultures mostly start on this symbolic and observable level.

- the middle layer[14]

Explicit culture reflects the deeper layers of culture. These are the norms and values of the individual group.

The norms are the mutual sense a group has of what is “right” and “wrong”. They can be developed on a formal level as written laws and on an informal level as social control.

The values on the other hand determine the definition of “good” and “bad”, and are therefore closely related to the ideals shared by a group.

A culture is stable when the norms reflect the values of a group. When this isn’t the case, after Trompenaars opinion, there will be a destabilising like in Eastern Europe, where the norms of communism failed to match the values of the society.

The norms give the people a feeling of how they should normally behave. The values say them how they should aspire or desire to behave.

- the core[15]

The core of a culture is the most basic value people strive for: survival. All people have organised themselves to find the ways to deal most effectively with their environments, given their available resources. For instance the Dutchs have to fight with rising water, the Swiss with avalanches and mountains and the Africans with droughts, etc.

The solutions disappear from the awareness and become part of the human system of assumptions. The different cultures have been developed in different geographic regions and because of this they developed different solutions for themselves. If people realise that new ways of solving a problem are necessary, the culture will change too. From this fundamental relationship with the natural environment the man takes the core meaning of life. But this deepest meaning has escaped from conscious questioning and has become self-evident.

3.2 Differences of cultures

Not all members of a culture have identical sets of objects, norms, values and assumptions. That means that in each culture is a wide spread. This spread does have a pattern around a possible average. In this context the variation around a norm can be seen as a normal distribution. So there are similarities between cultures. The differentiation between two cultures depends on the limits of the spread. If the norms of these cultures differ significantly they tend to speak about each other in terms of extremes.[16]

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 3: Culture as normal distribution and with stereotyping

Source: Trompenaars, [Waves], S.25

4. The seven dimensions of culture

A culture distinguishes itself from another culture by the specific way how it handles certain problems. These problems will normally been seen in the context of the seven dimensions of culture which are separated into the following three categories:

- relationships with people,
- attitudes to time
- and the attitudes to the environment.[17]

In the following chapters these categories will be described more in detail.

4.1 Category: relationships with people

The following five orientations cover the ways in which human beings deal with each other will be described. These orientations have an enormous influence of the way we handle business and management and we react to moral questions.

4.1.1 Universalism versus Particularism

This dimension is about the problem: rules versus relationships. While universalism is more spreaded in Protestant societies, the particularism is based on the Catholicism.[18]

Universal cultures are orientated on rules very strict. Universalists have the obligation to adhere to standards which are universally agreed to by the culture in which they live. An universalistic culture tends to imply equality in the sense that all persons falling under the rule should be treated the same.[19]

Particularists give a greater attention to the obligations of relationships. They are obligated to friends and the members of their family and don’t believe like the Universalists that the one good way must always be followed.[20] Sometimes they just ignore the rules.[21]

Business people from both types of culture tend to think each other corrupt. An universalist doesn’t trust a particularist because after his opinion he will always help his friends. On the other side a particularist doesn’t trust an universalist because he won’t help even his friends.[22]


[1] see Appendix 1: Plate of ethnology

[2] comp. http://www.payer.de/kommkulturen/kultur01.htm

[3] comp. Köglmayr, [Euro], p. 246 et seq.

[4] comp. Trompenaars, [Waves], p. 1

[5] comp. Trompenaars, [Waves], p. 1

[6] comp. http://www.redneragentur.de/index.asp?start=rednerdetail&wahl=i25&lang=de&int

[7] comp. http://www.thtconsulting.com/index1.html

[8] comp. http://www.ifim.de/aktuell/pr-service/pr032.pdf

[9] comp. http://www.redneragentur.de/index.asp?start=rednerdetail&wahl=i25&lang=de&int

[10] comp. http://www.thtconsulting.com/index1.html

[11] comp. Trompenaars, [Waves], p. 3

[12] comp. Trompenaars, [Waves], p. 6

[13] comp. Trompenaars, [Waves], p. 21

[14] comp. Trompenaars, [Waves], p. 21 f

[15] comp. Trompenaars, [Waves], p. 23 f

[16] comp. Trompenaars, [Waves], p. 24 f

[17] comp. Trompenaars, [Managen], p. 21

[18] comp. Trompenaars, [Managen], p. 58 f

[19] comp. Trompenaars, [Waves], p. 31

[20] comp. Trompenaars, [Waves], p. 8

[21] see Appendix 2: Universalism and Particularism

[22] comp. Trompenaars, [Waves], p. 31 f

Excerpt out of 28 pages


Understanding the role of culture: Fons Trompenaars's concept
Pforzheim University  (Pforzheim Graduate School - Master in Business Administration & Engineering)
International Management 1
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ISBN (eBook)
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Understanding, Fons, Trompenaars, International, Management
Quote paper
Andrej Smolarek (Author), 2005, Understanding the role of culture: Fons Trompenaars's concept, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/56045


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