Cultural awareness training - HRD 2002 preview

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HRD2002The exhibition at HRD 2002 will feature several organisations who provide language and cultural awareness training to enable people to function in different cultures and countries.

TrainingZONE talked with some practitioners about what training about different cultures can do and why organisations need it.

Is this kind of training just something you need when moving to another country, or are there lots of angles to it?

Culturewise: A decade ago, business-culture training was mainly restricted to providing expatriates and their families with information on the countries and regions they were about to visit. Since then we have seen the rapid development of the global organisation, a revolution in IT and telecommunications technology and the widespread introduction of virtual, matrix and distance management structures. One result of these changes has been that individuals and teams in global organisations need to be as effective in working around the world as they are at home. In other words, if you have to deal with clients in China, a boss in Washington, virtual team members in Kong Kong and a multi-cultural office at home, then you need the skills to reconcile your own cultural biases with some of the many different ways of working encountered across the globe. As a result, most of our biggest clients now look to us for training that goes beyond simple cultural 'do's and don'ts'. Although expatriate briefings still have a role, our main focus nowadays is on raising employee awareness of the cultural dimension to business, and on developing a whole range of generic skills associated with cross-cultural and intercultural effectiveness.

Farnham Castle: Country Briefings are only one aspect of intercultural management training. The expatriate population is likely to decline further in the short term and probably reach a plateau as companies seek to use indigenous managers. Increasingly, the work at Farnham Castle is focused on the development of international management skills provided both through our range of business briefings which provide an indepth introduction to the business culture and practices of all major countries and through our intercultural management training workshops. With the growing number of global and international companies, these workshops address the issue of managing and working in multicultural teams either physically or virtually and as well as providing an introduction to cross cultural awareness provide practical skills and strategies for directors and managers at all levels to meet this challenge.

Is it primarily about language? And what else does it involve?

Farnham Castle: The aim of all programmes delivered at Farnham is to improve business effectiveness and it is our belief that understanding is the cornerstone. What we mean by that is that our briefings are less about the do’s and don’ts, which are readily available on the internet, but about the why. Why do people behave the way they do, what is the background, the reason. Communication is of course a vital element and again we are not talking specifically about the ability to speak the local language fluently but about how you communicate, negotiate and present. We are also great advocates of attempting to learn some of the language both for business and personal use. It builds bridges with new colleagues and neighbours, it provides a demonstration of commitment to the new country and colleagues, it allows greater participation at an earlier stage and avoids misunderstanding and the possibility of being misled.

Culturewise: Language and cultural skills are both important elements of effective cross-border communication. Indeed, Culturewise is one of the few organisations in the UK to recognise this fact by offering a fully-integrated, modular programme for developing both skill-sets simultaneously. Of course there are fundamental differences in the approach trainers take in each area. Most of us can, instinctively, recognise the value of speaking a counterpart's language. But, it is often much more difficult to recognise the importance of understanding another cultures and the cultural bias behind our own way of doing things . As a result, the first task that business-culture trainers often have to address is simply raising awareness that there are a whole range of culturally different, but equally valid, ways of thinking and behaving.

What are the main problems for British professionals in encountering other cultures?

Culturewise: When dealing with counterparts in a work environment the British often fail to recognise differences in four key areas; communication, approaches to deadlines and work, attitudes towards the role of leaders and teams, and finally our way of looking at business relationships. Of all these, misunderstandings in communication probably cause most real problems.

Farnham Castle: Problems for all international managers are very similar whatever your origin:
Understanding the way things are done around here and why they are done that way.
Understanding the way people from other cultures communicate, negotiate. Understanding what they are really saying and making yourself understood.
Developing skills to create effective relationships with individuals from other cultures.
Of particular difficulty for Brits is the fact that the international language is English and there's an assumption that you can communicate in your mother tongue without a need to try and develop some basic skill in the local language. One of the other major issues is the unique British sense of humour (which many other cultures find difficult to understand), sarcasm, our self-criticism, our ability to be humorously abusive to others and in many cultures the political incorrectness of our humour.

Are your services just for business, or do you help with people's social lives? and families?

Farnham Castle: Country Briefings cover every aspect that individuals, their partners and children need to know to make the transition into the new assignment as smooth and effective as possible. It is Farnham’s policy to encourage partners by reducing the programme fee for accompanying partners by 50%! We also run special briefing programmes for children and young adults.

Culturewise: Culturewise provides a range of tailored courses specifically focused on the challenges encountered by families on overseas assignments. Aimed at partners and children, these dovetail neatly into our more business-focussed workshops for the working partner.

How does this kind of training pay off?

Culturewise: All the statistics on expatriate assignments point to the same conclusion; that there are significant cost-savings associated with providing pre-assignment cultural training. Our own research has also identified a range of other bottom-line benefits associated with more generic cross-cultural awareness training. In particular successful learners on our introductory 'Cross-cultural effectiveness' workshops identify improved self-confidence, reduced stress, improved personal relationships and more successful team functioning as key learning outcomes.

Farnham Castle: The overall payback for all intercultural training is the ability of the individuals involved to become more effective more quickly (and presumably more profitable in the broadest sense for most companies) in whatever overseas role they undertake and helps avoid the possibility of a failed or ineffective assignment. The additional benefits for both the organization and the individual are less tangible but include knowledge and skill acquisition, broader management skills development and the opportunity to give ‘fast-track’ managers the experience they need to fulfill their targeted roles.

Can you give general training on adaptation that will apply to many cultures, as well as specific preparation for particular cultures?

Farnham Castle: We regularly provide more general intercultural awareness training. This is particularly useful for global directors and managers who have responsibilities in different countries around the world as well as the ‘global manager’ who may move quickly from one area of responsibility to another. Providing a ‘mental toolkit’ allows individuals to adapt their style and approach to achieve the same objectives. ‘Working in a Multicultural Team’ is a common theme and increasingly ‘Managing Virtual Teams’. Increasingly organizations work with us to improve their skills in specific cross-cultural areas i.e. ‘Working with European Cultures’, ‘Working with the Japanese’,
‘Presentation skills for a multicultural audience’, ‘Working more effectively in a Sino-British management team’, ‘Transatlantic Teambuilding’. The requirements are increasingly diverse and each programme has to be custom designed to the specific brief.

Culturewise: Of course, specific country briefings have an important role to play, especially where learners deal mainly with one country or region. However, the majority of training we provide, both by hours and value, is generic in nature. It is designed to provide people with clear, practical strategies for communicating more effectively, building better relationships and working more productively across a whole range of cultural barriers.

What is the most challenging environment you have prepared someone for?

Culturewise: For individuals on assignment overseas we have provided workshops on countries as diverse as Namibia, Turkmenistan and Bolivia. Of course for global teams and organisations the greatest cultural challenges are often experienced at times of change - for example, during international mergers and acquisition. Much of our work focuses on developing the combination of attitudes, knowledge and skill that enable organisations and their people to thrive in these circumstances.

Farnham Castle: We can and prepare for work anywhere in the world. A few examples of recent briefings include Equatorial Guinea, St Helena, Vanuatu, Benin, Uzbekistan (and other ‘stans’), Guatemala and Brunei.

Is demand for these services on the rise? Do you see any particular issues becoming more and more important?

Farnham Castle: As organizations become increasingly aware of the issues to be faced in managing and working with multicultural workforces and the benefits to be accrued by thorough training and preparation the market seems set to grow particularly in the area of intercultural management training. The recognition that it is no longer acceptable to expect your overseas colleagues to want to conduct business in English, and the benefits in building relationships derived through an ability to speak or at least demonstrate a willingness to speak even a small amount of the local language is also indicated through the increasing interest in language tuition and in particular through the intensive method delivered by Farnham.

Culturewise: The UK market for business-culture training is currently undergoing a period of rapid change; with new providers, new approaches and an exponential growth in demand. This is likely to continue. More importantly, recent events have shown in stark terms the continuing need to understand the cultural chasms that separates different parts of our world.

Thanks to Farnham Castle and Culture Wise for their participation. See them at HRD2002.

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