Cultural Detective

Cultural Detective

Cultural Detective is a core process for improving collaboration, productivity, satisfaction and effectiveness in an international or multicultural environment. The project is noteworthy for two primary reasons: it is a collaborative project of over 130 worldwide professionals, and it is one of if not the only process-based intercultural competence tool available. This is important because a process-based approach allows for ongoing use and continuous improvement, helps prevent stereotyping and encourages meaningful dialogue.[1]

The approach has been used on a proprietary basis by major multinationals and NGOs worldwide[2] since 1989, and has been publicly available since 2004.[3] It includes a series of culture- and topic-specific available via site license or online download. There is talk of an online subscription service. A video describes the core process.

Cultural Detective is anchored in three fundamental capacities:

  1. Know yourself as an individual and as a complex amalgam of the influences of multiple cultures — Understand your (own) Subjective Culture.[4]
  2. Get to know others as individuals and as a complex amalgam of the influences of multiple cultures — Acquire Cultural Literacy/become culturally literate.
  3. Fully include, utilize and appreciate everyone involved, leveraging their similarities and differences as assets. Ensure systems, processes and structures support interpersonal skills — Be a Cultural Bridge/bridge cultures.

The capacities are developed through the use of the Worksheet,[5] used to analyze the series’ 1000+ critical incidents involving people from over more than cultures and spanning multiple industries and professional functions. The Worksheet is also used for real-time conflict resolution and teambuilding, as well as in a journal approach to make sense of one’s own life experiences. Values Lenses provide clues[6] to deeper understanding. Users can develop their own Personal Values Lens using the series’ Cultural Self Discovery package.


Theoretical underpinnings

The Cultural Detective method is theoretically grounded yet practical, allowing for success because it focuses on the differences that make a difference in real situations. Theoretical concepts inherent in the method include:

  1. Culture is a Lens that colors nearly everything we see, say and do, and the decisions we make. It largely dictates how we make meaning.[7]
  2. Culture is an ever-changing dynamic not a static entity.[8]
  3. Intercultural competence is context-specific.[9][10][11]
  4. People are complex amalgams of multiple cultural influences (age, gender, sexual orientation, spiritual tradition, education and training, nationality, ethnicity, organizational culture, etc.).[12]
  5. Nationality is not necessarily (or usually) the most powerful culture at play in an interaction.[13]
  6. The value of observation and objective description that attempts to filter out cultural bias and expectations[14]
  7. The link between values and human behavior[15]
  8. The importance of recognizing positive intent
  9. The distinction between intent and perception[16]
  10. The frequency and reasons for negative perception
  11. Bridges between cultures must be two-way or multidirectional for long-term effectiveness and mutual benefit.
  12. Organizations and communities must reinforce interpersonal competence with systems, processes and structures that reward and develop those competencies.[17]

The metaphor of a detective reinforces many of the key approaches and theories of the method and helps those not skilled in this area to quickly grasp the concepts and use the tool.

Connection with other models and approaches

Cultural Detective extends the earlier intercultural work of people such as Edward T. Hall, Dean Barnlund, L. Robert Kohls, Clyde and Florence Kluckhohn, and John C. Condon. It dovetails well[18] with other key intercultural competence tools such as the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity, the cultural dimensions approaches of people such as Geert Hofstede or Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner. Significant work called has been conducted on the dovetailing of Personal Leadership: Making a World of Difference and Cultural Detective.

Facilitator Certification workshops are held throughout the world and are well regarded by seasoned intercultural practitioners as well as those new to the field. Participants can receive graduate level academic credit. Many of these workshops are offered in partnership with the Intercultural Communication Institute, and also in collaboration with International House at the University of California Berkeley.

Coaching using the Cultural Detective method is becoming increasingly popular. A consortium of Cultural Detective authors and users has begun to offer a longer-term “B.I.G. Cultural Detective Coaching Programme.”

The company publishes a “Clues to Intercultural Effectiveness” e-newsletter several times a year that includes designs, activities and tips for developing intercultural competence. There are user groups on LinkedIn and Facebook.


  1. ^ Avoid cross-cultural trial by fire, Kris Bibler, Business India.
  2. ^ Tools to develop your employees' intercultural skills, Eleonore Breukel,
  3. ^ Product launch: Developing cross-cultural competence, Dr. Madhukar Shukla, Human Capital Magazine, India.
  4. '^ Cultural Detective: A tool for global diversity and inclusion practices, Kathleen Curran, Linkage Diversity Toolbox.
  5. ^ Building cultural bridges-How to attain a cultural education, Karen Huchendorf, ExpatriateCONNECT.
  6. ^ Cultural clues: How good is your cultural intelligence?, Fiona Rotherham, Unlimited Magazine, New Zealand.
  7. ^ Communication in a Global Village, Dean Barnlund.
  8. ^ Culture As Patterns: An Alternative Approach to the Problem of Reification, G Adams & HR Markus, Culture and Psychology.
  9. ^ Handbook of International and Intercultural Communication, WB Gudykunst & B Mody.
  10. ^ The Global Intercultural Communication Reader, MK Asante & Y Miike, p 219.
  11. ^ Intercultural Communication in Contexts, JN Martin & TK Nakayama.
  12. ^ Managing in an Era of Multiple Cultures, ME Phillips & SA Sackmann, Graziado Business Review, Pepperdine University.
  13. ^ Communication Highwire: Leveraging the power of diverse communication styles, DH Saphiere, BK Mikk & BI DeVries, p 24.
  14. ^ Crossing Cultures: Insights from master teachers, NA Boyacigiller, RA Goodman, ME Phillips, & JE Anderson, p 163.
  15. ^ Managing Organizational Behavior, HL Tosi, NP Mero & JR Rizzo, p 63.
  16. ^ The Challenge of Facework: Cross-cultural and interpersonal issues, Stella Ting-Toomey, p 243.
  17. ^ The SAGE Handbook of Intercultural Competence, DK Deardorff, p 224.
  18. ^ ISSN 1392-0561. Means of developing cultural awareness, national identity and intercultural communication skills, Dr. Alena Korshuk, Belarussian State University, Minsk.

External links


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