Cultural Competence on All Six Levels

10/28/2014

As the world business environment has changed, we at TMC have taken into account the different levels of culture that exist within workplace interactions, whether between two people in the same office or between functional departments in global companies.

Culture exists on a number of different levels that become immediately obvious when people work together as groups. The national, individual, identity group, team, organizational and functional levels of culture all have an impact on an organization’s strategy and on the interactions among the people who make up the organization.

Most people tend to think of culture as a purely national-based construct. But as we begin to look at culture more closely, we can see the different levels that impact who we are and what we expect, reinforce and reward in our daily workplace interactions. Nationality is only one of these levels, and perhaps not even the best way to frame cultural differences. For example, a multinational team of engineers may have an easier time coordinating and strategizing than a group of people from the same country who come from different technical backgrounds. This represents the functional level of culture. Similarly, even if an organization is based in a country that has high-context and hierarchical norms, the company itself may have a culture of low-context and equality preferences. This is the organizational level of culture.

Taking into account all six levels of culture can help organizational leaders spot where any cultural gaps among groups are coming from, and prevent them from impeding workflow and cooperation among the involved parties. This facilitates smoother work within teams, departments, divisions and companies as a whole. This is what developing cultural competence is all about.  

Lynne Tarter