Finished that cultural diversity course? Got your tickets? Ready to take that great technology training abroad? Before you finish packing, here's question to consider: What are you bringing to guarantee success?
Grasping the basics of respect for other cultures and their unique ways of doing business should be a prerequisite for anyone who works abroad. But just knowing the essentials will not make you an effective trainer. It is very possible to do absolutely everything right in a cultural sense, yet fail completely. Cultural sensitivity, although important, does not ensure understanding or effectiveness.
No matter how in-depth your diversity course, there are still unwritten rules and assumptions that can impact your results, especially when you have attendees from more than one culture. To conduct successful training overseas, you must move beyond sensitivity. You must be intensely personal and specific. Effective training is conducted, not for a group of nameless faces, but for a specific set of people and a specific set of goals. Getting great results hinges upon not simply what you have to tell them, but on what you know before you arrive. Here are three critical questions to answer before meeting your international trainees.
Who Is My Local Liaison? Working with your client's Brazilian representative in Miami or its Singapore group in Boston does not mean the you have set up contacts in those countries. This is like strolling through EPCOT World Pavilion and thinking that you've toured the world. Although interesting, it just ain't the real thing.
A U.S. contact is a necessity but can lull you into a false sense of security. Someone local must be responsible for the implementation of your training. Their help can be invaluable in making your time and that of their trainees productive. Ask them to review the acronyms and analogies you plan to use, set up the logistics, and coordinate culturally acceptable meals and breaks. Make sure that they plan to attend, so you can check with them frequently regarding the attendees' comprehension, attitude, and progress.
Who Will Be in the Room? The depth of understanding that you have about the status, language, gender, and levels of management of the trainees can make or break a training. Once you understand the group, you can make informed decisions about the flow of your training. For example, if a component of your program is breakout groups, it may be wise to pre-assign attendees by management level or language. Determine if questions may be posed to individuals or only to the group as a whole. If you expect an interactive session and the attendees consider questions a sign of disrespect to the speaker (as in many Eastern and Southeast Asian cultures), you're in for a really quiet (and ineffective) day.
Who Measures the Training's Success? The successful training of your group is on someone's goal sheet. Work with your liaison to get that person or a senior manager from that department to kick off the first day. Just five minutes of introduction, in the local language, that reiterates the event's goals and prepares attendees for the process (lecture, work sessions, or labs) makes a big impact on the group's attention and actions. Follow up with that individual before you leave and again when you return to your office. This connection carries a lot of weight, since it reinforces not only your work, but theirs.
Knowing the basics will help you avoid blunders, but to be really effective as a trainer, you have to do a bit of "away-from-home work" before checking those bags through customs. Your efforts will be rewarded with success, no matter what the currency.