Trust Within an Organization is Like Insurance
“If you go into every interaction, assuming the culture doesn’t matter, your default mechanism will be to view others through your cultural lens and to judge or misjudge them accordingly,” argued Erin Meyers, in her global economics and sociology book, The Culture Map. Exploring cultural differences in social interaction and how it affects how we relate to one another, Meyer helps readers understand the dynamics beyond language barriers, words spoken, and the loss in translation in our ever-evolving globalized world.
Meyer breaks down the invisible boundaries into eight characteristics with a sliding scale for cultural implications: communication, evaluation, persuasion, leadership, decisions, trust, disagreements, and schedules.  To help readers better understand the dynamics of these eight characteristics, she compared similar cultures to understand their diverging characteristics.
We are more than just our cultural influencers, recognizing that personality, cognition, and other influences play a tremendous role in how we interact with others. “As if this complexity weren’t enough, cultural and individual differences are often wrapped up with the difference among organizations, industries, professions, and other groups. But even in the most complex situations, understanding how cultural differences affect the mix may help you discover a new approach.”
One of the most foundational implications of the book for those looking to apply this cultural wisdom is the characteristic of high context and low context. For example, I had over 30 staff members from four different countries and countless cultural contexts in my last leadership context. Two of my employees were Vietnamese, one being born in the country in the 1950s, serving as a facility manager, and the other in the context of a refugee community in Louisiana in the 1980s, serving as an office and financial manager.
Vietnamese culture is highly contextual, moderately indirect negative feedback, highly hierarchal, and moderately high relationally and in avoiding confrontation.  What made this working relationship even more challenging was that the younger employee was the direct supervisor of the older employee during a period of radical shifts to job expectations and conflict. As a result, the younger supervisor struggled to give directional instructions to what was culturally viewed as her elder.
Same context and employee. The office and financial manager is one of the most creative and artistic people I have ever worked with. So naturally, I invited her to be a part of our monthly creative staff meetings, a round table of equity in which we shared insight into how we can improve our collaborative work (programs, events, etc.) and imaginatively plan for upcoming projects. And with all the ideas swirling around our staff that boasted genuine respect, trust, and communication, I could not figure out why this office and financial manager would not add to the conversation. Instead, she would sit there, stone-faced and silent, meeting after meeting with the same result.
Until I had an intentional conversation, in which I asked some probing questions about her perspective of the meeting, her place at the table, and my role as her supervisor, did I discover that we needed to create a more culturally inclusive meeting, verbally inviting her insight into the conversation, and reassuring her that all ideas were welcome without a reflection on job performance. And then you add into the context that she was recently divorced from a husband who never welcomed her perspective into matters. Here I thought I had flattened the leadership hierarchy, taking the time to build a collaborative culture and leading relationally. And yet, these were things that I would have never had to consider, coming from a white male American perspective.
Meyers noted, “Trust is like insurance—it’s an investment you need to make upfront, before the need arises.” As organizational leaders, our approach to building trust cannot be linear, recognizing that trust is built in a myriad of ways based on the diverse and culturally rich individuals we work alongside. Meyers’s book creates a mental, social, and communicative framework for starting the authentic process of creating a place at the table for everyone within your organization.
 Meyer, Erin. The Culture Map. (New York: PublicAffairs, 2014), 13.
 Ibid, 17.
 Ibid, 13-14.
 Ibid, 129-131.
 Ibid, 194.
5 responses to “Trust Within an Organization is Like Insurance”
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Andy: Nice analysis and bonus points earned for having it done early. The part of the book that captured most of my attention was the high context -vs- low context. She spends a lot of time on it and I’m glad that she did. It was a new distinction to me and I hadn’t really thought about it too much. South Africa is a high context culture and I’ll be thinking about that during my time there. Great example you used about the Vietnamese employee’s conundrum of age and job seniority. It isn’t always easy to work through these dynamics.
I enjoyed your analysis of this book. Well done, in your analysis of yourself and making adjustments. I agree with you about trust being paid up front. What would say are the most significant barriers that prevent leaders from building that trust?
Andy, you gave such great examples from your own context. As you begin your new role, what kind of differences do you anticipate in shepherding pastors instead of a congregation? What cultural cues do you think will be the hardest to overcome when seeking to guide local church pastors toward future ministry success?
Thank you for sharing your experiences from your previous leadership context. I appreciate that you tool the intentional time to discover the why behind the action of your office manager rather than simply dismissing her presence at the table.
In your next vocational context, do you find other pastors already aware and intentional as you have been or will there need to be more training on this topic? It could be fascinating to do a group profile with the IDI for the pastors under your leadership.
I loved reading about your context and the application of these principles. Assuming that you will continue to have opportunity to lead and participate in this broader leadership circle, that also spans a more broad cultural context, is there 1-2 principles that will form how you engage and lead in this broader context?