Trusting: Task vs. Relationship Orientation

In order for multicultural teams to be effective, they need to establish trust, and how we build trust can differ greatly from country to country. Understanding your own preference and that of others when it comes to team building can mean the difference between success or failure as a team.

Erin Meyer describes the dimension of trust as cognitive trust vs. affective trust. Cognitive trust is based on the confidence you feel in another person’s accomplishments, skills, and reliability. This is trust from the head. Affective trust arises from feelings of emotional closeness, empathy or friendship. This is trust from the heart.

In addition to understanding if we trust from the head or the heart, we also need to understand task vs. relationship-based trust. Someone with a task-based approach prefers to build trust by understanding the task and getting to it. Someone who prefers a relationship-based approach needs to understand the people with whom they are doing the task. 

For task-based cultures, trust is built through business-related activities. Work relationships are built and dropped easily based on the practical needs of the situation, and trust grows when deadlines are met and goals are achieved. In relationship-based cultures, there is greater emphasis on building trust through sharing meals, engaging in meaningful conversations, sharing personal interests and concerns, etc. Work relationships build slowly over the long term. Someone with a relationship-based approach to trust building might think, “I’ve shared personal time with you and I know others who trust you. Therefore, I trust you.”

Country Comparison

Interestingly, there has been a shift toward relationship-based development of trust in business due to the growing economic influence of the “BRIC” countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China).  Workers in these countries often view relationship building as an essential ingredient for trust in the workplace.

The following chart shows where specific countries fall on the task vs. relationship dimension of culture.

Challenges: Task vs. Relationship Orientation

Task-oriented cultures tend to prioritize efficiency and productivity over relationships, while relationship-oriented cultures value human connection over getting things done.

Here are a few key challenges that can arise when task-oriented trust builders collaborate with those who prefer a more relationship-oriented approach.

Challenges for Task-Oriented Collaborators

Diving into tasks without allowing enough time to build a sense of trust and connection with peers

Taking over others’ roles/tasks or micromanaging others

Challenges for Relationship-Oriented Collaborators

Spending too much time discussing personal issues and not enough on tasks

Avoiding conflict or criticism of peers