Here are some real-world examples of how to adapt training for multicultural settings. It's essential to go beyond etiquette and "dos and taboos."
The current focus on global markets is increasingly affecting people responsible for developing transnational workforces and international management teams in multicultural settings. The demands of doing business in a global workplace - itself still in the process of being defined are challenging training professionals, team builders, and organizational consultants around the world. The skills we've relied on in the past are no longer adequate. In their place, we need upgraded skills and strategies.
The ability to adapt methods and to work effectively in a cross-cultural or multicultural setting has become critical. Though many trainers recognize that country-specific approaches can be a deterrent to successful outcomes across borders, there have been few opportunities (until recently) for them to prepare for working in cross-cultural settings. For many, in fact, an understanding of the effect of culture on training success is still often realized only after a wake-up call or experience of culture clash in a training setting.
Raising the bar
Fortunately, however, progressive corporations are beginning to question why their efforts to impart their own corporate culture, leadership styles, and business practices in other parts of the world are producing less than optimum outcomes. As a result, intercultural skills are increasingly sought in trainers and consultants having to create new global work environments.
Says Clifford Clarke, CEO of Clarke Consulting Group, Redwood City, California: "Successful U.S.-based multinationals like Motorola are beginning to challenge their assumptions around the potential damage being done by U.S.-centric methods in global training settings.
"Most of [the people responsible for] the delivery of training and team organizational development programs in [the United States] assume that U.S. corporate values and materials are transferable with little or no adaptation. On the contrary, the data shows that by utilizing trainers who can deliver material in [trainees'] local language while translating the core message in a way that has meaning - and is palatable to the other culture - success ratios increase dramatically."
If the importance of cultural adaptability in global training settings is increasing - especially where East-West delivery of information is concerned - how does one begin to successfully adjust training styles, methods, and approaches for overseas audiences?
John Mirocha, head of a Minneapolis-based consulting firm, has conducted leadership and ethics training in Europe, Canada, Asia, and Latin America; cross-cultural team building in Honduras, Brazil, and Argentina; and strategy development in Brazil. His international training experiences have all been short-term assignments - a week or two - in foreign settings, giving him insight on how nonexpatriate trainers and OD experts can adapt more readily to foreign settings.
Says Mirocha, "When I first began my training adventures in cross-border settings, my assumption was that because I had studied abroad and worked cross-culturally in the United States, it would be similar [elsewhere]. "Boy, was I wrong! I didn't really grasp the depth of the issues. I also didn't understand simple things like where you can send training materials (in Western Europe) and where if you do, they'll be stolen or confiscated (in Brazil)."
Mirocha adds that short-term training assignments make it difficult to adjust to the effect of jet lag and the difficulties of having to work in cross-cultural situations when he wasn't clearheaded.
The glamour of international travel can fade quickly when one is confronted with demanding travel schedules and added pressures at home. "Even when rested," says Mirocha, "several days of working outside your own culture is exhausting if you're attempting to understand [the unique dynamics present] and be effective, although cultural styles become more apparent after several trips to the same country. …