Building with Differences
This activity introduces participants to the high- and low-context framework of Edward Hall,
and explores the opportunities and challenges found in cultural differences. Participants will
• identify aspects of Hall’s high- and low-context framework that affect interpersonal inter-
actions and team behavior;
• improve their ability to observe cultural behavior;
• discover how differences can offer opportunities as well as challenges in interpersonal
interactions and team settings.
This is an introductory activity, requiring at least 10 participants (and no upper limit). It is
appropriate for people in a multicultural work setting—particularly for teams.
• One copy of Handout 1, “Cultural-Context Chart” for each participant
• Three copies of Handout 2, “High-Context Role Card,” and three copies of Handout 3,
“Low-Context Role Card” (samples for the towers option are given on the next page)
• Building materials, such as file cards, paper clips, Lego™ blocks, or Tinkertoys™
• Two separate breakout spaces outside the main training room
INTRODUCTION (30 minutes)
Distribute Handout 1, “Cultural-Context Chart,” and use it to introduce Edward Hall’s
High- and Low-Context Framework.
CTIVITY (30 minutes)
1. Introduce a role play in which six participants demonstrate high- and low-context behav-
iors. The role play should involve a short, concrete task such as building a tower with
paper clips and file cards, or building a bridge with Tinkertoys™. You may set criteria for
effectiveness, such as stability, attractiveness, or height.
2. Form two small groups of “builders” of three participants each. Lead each to a breakout
space outside the main room. Give each person in the first triad a high-context role card,
and each person in the other group a low-context role card. List in advance two different
behaviors on the last line; the person getting the card should concentrate on this during the
activity. Tell the participants to read the whole card and plan how they will behave. Each
group of builders may discuss how they will play their roles, but need not rehearse. It
helps to have an assistant who can coach the builders when they are doing this.
3. Divide the remaining participants into two groups of observers. One will look for behav-
iors that appear to be high-context. The other will look for behaviors that seem low-
context. Observers can study the Cultural-Context Chart while waiting for the role-play to
4. The builders return and start their task. They have 10 minutes. Observers note examples of
high- and low-context behavior that they see, as well as which builders demonstrated
DEBRIEF (30 minutes)
1. When the task is over, ask the observers to report on behaviors of each builder, and then to
identify whether or not they were high- or low-context. Help the observers report actual
behaviors, rather than make interpretative or evaluative comments.
2. After this, ask the builders to describe the behavior they were trying to demonstrate and
how they felt while doing it. It might help the discussion to observe that builders some-
times do not demonstrate a behavior that conflicts with their normal behavior patterns
(e.g., an extremely low context person might find it hard to avoid task orientation).
3. Discuss how differences impacted the performance of the task.
4. Discuss the following questions:
• “Have you ever been in an interaction or on a team that behaved in a way similar to
this role play? Give an example.”
• “How can cultural differences create barriers to effective interactions and team
• “How can cultural differences be advantageous to effective interactions and team