Xenergie's Leadership and Change Blog

Working Across Cultures - Uncovering the Unconscious and Assumptions that Block Growth

Certificate in Working with Cultural Dilemmas – 11 - 12 June Dublin

Every day we make assumptions and these assumptions drive our decisions and actions.  They are formed by conscious and unconscious ideas about how the world is and so we create our reality.  We perceive the world according to how we are – not how it is.   And therein lies lifetimes of cultural struggles – between nations, tribes, families, faiths and personality types.   Culture is the assumptions, values, norms, ways of being that drive the behaviours of a group of persons.

Lemony Snicket Quote

The success of all interventions, therefore, depends on the inner condition of the intervenors.   Never before has it been so important to understand and act from this principle, not just as a leader, but also to be a fully functioning person in our world today, a person that is able to exist calmly and resourcefully within the complexity and uncertainty of the changes in world systems that we are all experiencing.

To use the quoted metaphor from Lemony Snicket,  it is all too easy to end  up floating out to sea without realising that we have disconnected from our original intention... simply because we were working from the wrong set of assumptions and have failed to connect with what’s happening around us and inside us.

Hiding under the duvet won’t stop the drift

Unchecked assumptions create a proliferation of problems which prevent growth on all levels - from personal wellbeing to the financial prosperity; it creates a degenerative energy through the negative reinforcing cycles that result.  The cause and effect relation between things is now dawning upon people, as more and more evidence surfaces from the hidden depths and the impacts of de-generative reinforcing behavioural loops are known.    The problem is however, that so many people are literally floating out to sea because they don’t even realise they are working on false assumptions so people are left wanting by the illusion that certainty and sameness are still possible in a world that can no longer works as it used to and placing a comfort blanket over the cracks does not stop you sailing out to sea.  Hiding under the duvet never works!!

Prosperity on all levels is made in relation to one’s ability to keep “flow” of positively reinforcing behaviours in your organisation and around your organisation.    Checking assumptions, therefore, may involve courage, but it also enables us in the first step of working constructively with the issues.  It calls for us to look “below the surface” at the norms and behaviours and how they reinforce one another, in order to work with them.  But first we need to understand the complex network of why things are as they are, and know why a system needs things to be a certain way in order to keep existing, before we try and enforce new ideas or rules upon them. This also has the impact of maintaining a scaffold of dignity and respect, whilst we go under the duvet to surface what’s under it and bring it back to the shore of purpose.

Developing an understanding of what constitutes culture

To work effectively with uncovering assumptions, one needs to have an appreciation of what constitutes culture – in other words, the layers of social programming – the norms of behaviour - that are created in our socialisation process from the time we are born.  These differ from our needs which are common to all human beings (safety, belonging, esteem etc.) and where we find common ground the world over.  When needs are threatened it can be a very levelling experience between factions and tribes.  I recall a client of ours speaking about a fire in their organisation, and how everyone, in a previously very silo-organised organisation, experienced the most majestic efficiency and motivation ever in the emergency as all pulled together to make sure everyone was OK. However, it can be equally divisive and destructive when lives are at threat, or there is competition for survival.

International Contingent


Within an organisational system, we find many layers of norms and values – national, industry, functional, tribal, and family – all co-existing and needing to work synergistically to achieve their purpose.  The reality is that synergy is impacted by difference, leading to tensions and conflict from the seeming un-synergy.    Effectiveness is also impacted by potential clash of personality type and false assumptions created through people’s projections (stereotypical assumptions) about personality type, often leading to a chain-reaction of drama e.g. the self-sustaining drama triangle of perpetrator, victim and rescuer

So, somehow all of these values and norms self organise into what we observe as “culture” and sustains a way of being that the organisation needs (even if it isn’t effective).  The extent to which this way of being is useful, is the study of our work at Xenergie as we help companies to see their culture, understand its constituents and optimise it to be effective in achieving the organisation’s purpose.

In recent years there has been a growing interest in evolutionary theories such as spiral dynamics and Wilber’s AQAL model which studies human development and development of memes carrying systems - such as a social network, society or company.  This was first introduced in the 1996 book Spiral Dynamics by Don Beck and Chris Cowan. The book was based on the 1970s theories of psychologist Clare W. Graves.

You can change the World

Spiral Dynamics argues that human nature is not fixed: humans are able, when forced by life conditions, to adapt to their environment by constructing new, more complex, conceptual models of the world that allow them to handle the new problems. Each new model transcends and includes all previous models. In this model, there are infinite stages of progress and regression over time, dependent upon the life circumstances of the person or culture, which are constantly in flux. Attaining higher stages of development is not synonymous with attaining a "better" or "more correct" values system. All stages co-exist in both healthy and unhealthy states, meaning any stage of development can lead to undesirable outcomes with respect to the health of the human and social environment.

Bill Joiner, Susan Cook-Greuter and Ken Wilber are leading thinkers of our age who have developed the Spiral Dynamics theory and applied it further in practice.  At Xenergie, we have found these models to be very helpful as a framework for understanding the evolutionary flavours of organisational culture and how to work with it.

In conclusion, the more we understand all these layers of cultures and how to work practically across them, the more we understand behaviours and reactions, and the more effective we become and the more we are able to work “in flow”.

What’s the solution? Learning to Work with Dilemmas

A common solution to some of these issues is to engage in a bit of psychometric profiling, a spot of teambuilding and some classes in cross-cultural awareness in order to label people.  However, the danger here is that we oversimplify the complex, when what we really need is a new, more robust, way of working with dilemmas and finding the right questions and ways of facilitating conversations that reveal unconscious assumptions and that help connect people to win-win outcomes.

At Xenergie, we have long since recognised the need for new ways of working and spend our lives bringing the theories of the new sciences of conscious leadership alive in ourselves and in real practice with our clients. Our Systemic Team Coaching approach, a 9 month team journey for unlocking the potential of tribes has been developed through this study.

Becoming a Conscious Communicator

Miguel Ruiz Quote
Conscious Leaders – people who recognize the higher purpose of their business and the interdependence of the stakeholders in their business, and who lead from this awareness – are essential to the ongoing learning, growth and development of their organization

We help our clients to understand how the world has changed  at a subtle level and we teach them the skills for reading the subtle differences and new situations they find themselves in with a raised awareness, with the result that they become conscious communicators and connectors, and aware of how they impact outcomes, simply by how they are BEING. Culture is the assumptions, values, norms, ways of being that drive the behaviours of a group of persons and everyone is implicated. Because we are not born with a culture, but influenced through a socialization process with the cultural assumptions, we need to know how we can continue to influence a different kind of culture to the one we are experiencing, if we are finding problems.

On 11 and 12 June in Dublin, we will be holding a two day workshop on Working Across Cultures which explores the dimensions of culture discussed in this article and especially from a global perspective. With colleagues and friends from around the world, we will explore the dimensions through a world lens, exploring how the global system impacts the micro systems in which we exist.

This is a unique opportunity to learn about culture with a myriad of people from different backgrounds and nations.  The kinds of questions we will explore include:

  • What influence does culture have on the systems to which we operate?
  • What can we do about culture, beyond becoming aware of cultural differences?
  • How can we connect between diverse faiths, beliefs and assumptions in a more fruitful way?
  • How will you identify, explain and work with the cultural issues in your work?
  •  How will your own cultural preferences and values play a role in your work, your outcomes and how you facilitate others?
  • What gets projected into cultural difference which is actually an avoidance of the “elephant in the room”?
  • How can one really become a Conscious leader

Through interactive discussion, research, cases, experiential exercises and examples, we will create a forum in which to explore culture by using the diversity in the room.

Program in Brief

Date:  11 and 12 June, Dublin, Ireland + Project follow up to achieve Certificate.

This program forms one of seven learning modules in Xenergie’s Systemic Innovation and Team Coaching (SITC) Practitioner Certification, a 12 month professional development program for those who want to work deeply and transformationally with organisational change.  This program is registered with both the International Coach Federation and Association for Coaching for continuous coach education learning points (CCEs).   Participants of the two day Working Across Cultures module will be invited to extend their learning to the full  Xenergie SITC programme, if they wish.


  • Explore culture as a means of addressing the dilemmas or issues we face as societies, organisations, etc. and the impact on individuals and teams.
  • Identify and reflect upon our own personal values and the impact on the team and organization systems in which we engage.
  • Develop the capacity to reflect upon our assumptions which block our development as individuals and teams (immunity to change)
  • Learn to create environments in which team and organizational diversity is leveraged and creativity arises from the dilemmas that are present.
  • Explore the evolutionary dynamics of culture and their relation to unlocking blockages and disconnects in organisational life


€1,595 per participant (2-days)

If you'd like to purchase a place on this course, please visit our online store or contact one of our representatives using the contact details at the bottom of this page.

Booking before 15 May €1,200. Please contact us directly to receive this earlybird discount.

Some bursaries are available for this course, please apply to John O'Boyle stating your reasons.

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