Employee Experience

Understanding Trompenaars Cultural Dimensions – A Complete Guide

6 Mins read

Imagine working with a diverse team from around the world – it’s exciting, but it can also be challenging. That’s where Trompenaars Hampden Turner’s research comes in. They’ve identified the Trompenaars Cultural Dimensions or Seven Dimensions of Culture, offering invaluable insights for managing across cultures. In this article, we’ll explore these dimensions, uncovering how they impact our daily interactions, teamwork, and global collaboration.

At the core of this research are three universal problems faced by multicultural teams. These problems serve as the foundation for the Seven Dimensions of Culture, which can be game-changers in international business.

The first five dimensions focus on human relationships, shaping our approach to teamwork and communication. We’ll delve into these dimensions to understand how they influence cross-cultural interactions.

Beyond human relationships, culture also affects our perception of time and our relationship with the environment. The last two dimensions explore these aspects, shedding light on how different cultures view time, punctuality, and their surroundings.

So, let’s dive into the Seven Dimensions of Culture, practical tools that can help you succeed in our interconnected global workplace.


Source: Slide Bazaar

Understanding Trompenaars 7 Cultural Dimensions

The Trompenaars Cultural Dimensions Model, also known as the 7 Dimensions of Culture Model, distinguishes cultures by examining their preferences across seven key dimensions:

  • Universalism vs. particularism.
  • Individualism vs. communitarianism.
  • Specific vs. diffuse.
  • Neutral vs. affective.
  • Achievement vs. ascription.
  • Sequential time vs synchronous time.
  • Internal direction vs. external direction.

Universalism vs. Particularism

This dimension revolves around the question of what takes precedence: rules or relationships?

Universalist cultures, like Canada, the U.S., the U.K., and Australia, prioritize rules over relationships, treating all cases uniformly, even involving close friends or loved ones.

In contrast, particularist cultures, including Latin America, Korea, China, and Russia, emphasize relationships over rules. They allow flexibility, bending rules for family members, close friends, or significant individuals, with each case assessed based on its unique merits.

Tips for universalist cultures:

  • Keep promises.
  • Maintain consistency.
  • Explain the rationale behind your decisions.

Tips for particularist cultures:

  • Build relationships to understand individual needs.
  • Respect these needs in decision-making.
  • Identify crucial rules that must be adhered to.

Individualism vs. Communitarianism

This dimension centers on the balance between self-care and group welfare. Individualism emphasizes personal perspectives, prioritizing individual benefits and achievements. In contrast, Communitarianism emphasizes collective well-being, focusing on how everyone collaborates to ensure no one is left behind.

Tips for individualistic cultures:

  • Recognize and reward individuals based on their personal performance.
  • Encourage individuals to take initiative.
  • Align the individual’s needs with those of the organization.

Tips for communitarian cultures:

  • Reward the group for outstanding performance.
  • Publicly acknowledge and praise the group, while privately recognizing individuals for their contributions.

Neutral vs. Emotional

This dimension explores the expression of emotions. In neutral cultures, emotions are tightly controlled and not openly displayed. This includes managing body language and maintaining a strict separation between personal and professional relationships. Conversely, emotional cultures openly share feelings, utilize body language to convey thoughts, and address conflicts proactively.

Tips for neutral cultures:

  • Maintain emotional restraint in both words and facial expressions.
  • Recognize that people may be less likely to express their true feelings; hence, read between the lines in conversations.
  • Keep meetings focused after initial small talk.

Tips for emotional cultures:

  • Leverage emotions to convey your intentions and objectives.
  • Share your feelings to enhance workplace relationships.

Specific vs. Diffuse

This dimension revolves around how cultures perceive the appropriate level of integration in their various life aspects. Specific cultures tend to maintain a clear separation between their personal and professional lives, with well-defined boundaries in their relationships. In contrast, Diffuse cultures intermingle personal and professional spheres, allowing them to overlap.

Tips for specific cultures:

  • Plan and structure your meetings with clear agendas.
  • Strive to adhere to the meeting agenda.
  • Prioritize setting objectives for individuals before focusing on building personal relationships.

Tips for diffuse cultures:

  • Prioritize building personal relationships before setting objectives.
  • Anticipate social invitations from colleagues and make a commitment to attend them.
  • Be prepared to discuss business matters in social settings and personal topics in the workplace.

Achievement vs. Ascription

This dimension delves into how cultures assess a person’s value, whether based on their performance or their inherent attributes. Achievement cultures gauge an individual’s worth by their performance and actions, demanding constant validation. Conversely, Ascription cultures form judgments about a person based on attributes like gender or age, ascribing qualities to them merely because of their assigned role. For instance, assuming that a prince is great solely due to royal birth or labeling a politician as crooked based on their profession.

Tips for achievement cultures:

  • Acknowledge individual achievements in the presence of peers.
  • Avoid excessive use of titles.
  • Recognize and reward individual performance.

Tips for ascription cultures:

  • Use appropriate titles when addressing peers. If challenging a superior’s decision, handle it tactfully.
  • Demonstrate extra respect when interacting with team members

Sequential Time vs. Synchronous Time

This dimension explores how cultures handle time, whether tasks are completed one by one or multiple activities occur simultaneously.

In a sequential time culture, time is highly valued. People prefer projects to progress in stages, with punctuality being a sign of respect. Completing each stage on time is crucial, as time equates to money. Notably, being late for meetings is considered impolite in these cultures. Examples of such cultures include the U.S., the U.K., and Germany.

Conversely, in a synchronous time culture, past, present, and future are intertwined, allowing people to juggle multiple tasks simultaneously. Flexibility characterizes plans and deadlines, and punctuality holds less importance. Cultures like Japan, India, and Mexico exemplify synchronous time cultures.

Tips for working with sequential time cultures:

  • Adhere to deadlines and commitments.
  • Strive to stick to the established schedule.
  • Be punctual for meetings.

Tips for working with synchronous time cultures:

  • Allow individuals some flexibility within the schedule.
  • Account for potential delays in meeting start times.
  • Clearly specify any non-negotiable deadlines that must be met.

Internal Direction vs. External Direction

This facet of the Trompenaars Cultural Dimensions Model asks whether we exert control over our environment or yield to its control.

In an internal direction culture, individuals believe they can manipulate their environment to attain their goals. The focus is self-centric, emphasizing oneself, one’s team, and one’s organization. Winning holds great importance in these cultures, often giving rise to assertive personalities. Internal direction cultures include the U.S., the U.K., and Australia.

Conversely, in an external culture, individuals see the necessity of collaborating with their environment to achieve goals. These cultures prioritize maintaining strong relationships over winning. Achieving goals hinges on factors like relationships and environmental dynamics. External direction cultures encompass China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia.

Tips for working with internal direction cultures:

  • Permit individuals to design their own (within reasonable bounds) learning and development plans.
  • Foster an environment open to constructive criticism.
  • Establish clear and concise goals and objectives.

Tips for working with external direction cultures:

  • Instead of setting goals, offer feedback to allow individuals to adjust their course as needed.
  • Grant autonomy to individuals to leverage their relationships in achieving desired outcomes.

Trompenaars Vs Hofstede

In contrast to Hofstede, who primarily focused on assessing work values, Trompenaars embarked on a quest to understand how individuals behaved not only at work but also in their personal lives. Trompenaars’ model, centered on gaining insights into people’s thoughts and perspectives, takes a more holistic approach. This model hones in on specific dimensions such as specific-diffuse, internal-external orientation, universalism/particularism, individualism/collectivism, achievement-ascription, and neutral-affective. It provides a framework to observe and understand behavior in various contexts.

On the other hand, Hofstede delves into how people’s values shape their behavior, primarily within work settings.

Notably, Trompenaars’ dimension of achievement-ascription shares some similarities with Hofstede’s power distance. Both dimensions revolve around how individuals perceive and value status, with some individuals placing greater emphasis on class distinctions.

Hofstede later introduced a dimension of long-term vs. short-term orientation, akin to Trompenaars’ sequential-synchronic time dimension. These dimensions shed light on attitudes towards time and how they influence behavior.


In conclusion, Trompenaars Cultural Dimensions offer a comprehensive guide to navigating cultural diversity in our interconnected world. These seven dimensions provide insights and practical advice for managing cross-cultural interactions, both in professional and personal settings.

While Trompenaars’ approach focuses on holistic behavior analysis, in contrast to Hofstede’s work values orientation, both models share common ground in understanding how culture influences our actions. The alignment between Trompenaars’ achievement-ascription and Hofstede’s power distance, as well as the resemblance between Hofstede’s long-term vs. short-term orientation and Trompenaars’ sequential-synchronic time, underscores the importance of these dimensions in cross-cultural comprehension.

By embracing Trompenaars’ dimensions, we unlock the potential for successful global collaborations, fostering mutual understanding and effective communication across diverse cultural backgrounds.

Further Reading

Ruinous Empathy Quadrant | UPDATED 2023 | A Complete Guide
Strategies to empower employee decision-making: 5 tips
Understanding The CAGE Framework – Tips, Tricks & Best Practices

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About author
Fatjona Gërguri is the content writer for Employee Experience Magazine, covering the relevant topics about employee experience, organizational culture and general HR topics.
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