Task Orientation vs. Relationship Orientation

What You'll Learn
  • In task-oriented cultures, the primary means of achieving one's goals is through skillfully managing tasks and time
  • In relationship-oriented cultures the group to which a person belongs is a crucial part of that person's identity and goals are accomplished via relationships

Which takes priority, individual accomplishment and responsibility, or maintaining human relationships?

In task-oriented cultures, such as Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, and the U.S., the primary means of achieving one's goals is through skillfully managing tasks and time. A "good" or successful person is one who "gets the job done" efficiently. Decision-making is often the responsibility of an individual, depending on the person's rank, track record, level of specialization, etc. Discussion and debate of issues in the presence of those of various levels, and even of outsiders in some cases, is tolerated and even encouraged. The person who is most persuasive or forceful may prevail in the end. The ability to "think on one's feet" and to work independently are highly valued; conversely, appealing too frequently for assistance or guidance from leaders and co-workers is frowned upon and may signal weakness or indecisiveness. The path to success is through the accumulation of achievements, both personally and professionally.

Relationship-oriented cultures organize goal achievement somewhat differently. These include most of Latin America, eastern and southern Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and nearly all of Asia. In this type of system, the group to which a person belongs is a crucial part of that person's identity and goals are accomplished via relationships. Decisions tend to be made either top-down or only after broad consensus is reached. In either case, the emphasis is not on one or two expert opinions. A professional's track record of individual achievement is less prominent than it is in task-oriented cultures, while mature judgment, social skills, political acumen, and loyalty to the team are of high importance. Since the harmony of the group is important, issues are often discussed and debated in small, private groups to avoid embarrassing or demoralizing confrontations. The path to success is through cooperating well with one's group and displaying loyalty at all times. Making decisions on one's own, no matter how brilliant, is not appreciated; in fact, anyone attempting to do so is likely to be considered immature and rash. A "good" person puts the group first.

Tips for those from task-oriented cultures

  • Always remember to budget extra time for relationship-building and to participate in it sincerely. This is your best insurance—and has additional benefits in collaborative negotiations.
  • Find ways to be creative with scheduling if necessary. Have flexible deadlines and do not be overly demanding that others fit your scheduling expectations.
  • Try to think politically as well as logically when assessing the other group's positions, needs, and goals.

Tips for those from relationship-oriented cultures

  • Remember that task-oriented groups are under more serious time pressure and that whatever you can do to work with their schedules will be met with gratitude and appreciation.
  • Recognize that a task-oriented group shows its respect by offering logical, well-planned proposals and that lack of emphasis on certain social aspects is considered neither risky nor unfriendly.