The Evolution of Cross-Cultural Trainings

Since cross-cultural preparation is widely accepted to improve expatriate performance and 83% respondents believe it has good or great value, the lack of a practice that makes the benefit mandatory is disappointing.Brookfield Relocation Report

I have been an expat since 1997 and worked as a cross-cultural trainer and expat coach between 2009 and 2015. I have yet to meet a single expat who thinks the training or coaching wasn’t worth their time. On the contrary, the feedback was very positive all-round, with both assignee and spouse realizing that investing one or two days in a training has saved them weeks of worry and misunderstandings in settling-in time.

Sending expats on assignment costs the companies a lot of money, so they try to save where they can. With the advent of new technologies, culture trainings have shifted from in-person to online: “35% of respondents provided media-based or web-based cross-cultural training – an all-time high. More companies (25%) use it to supplement formal training, and its portability is cited as a chief reason (20%) along with cost (20%).” (Brookfield GRS)

woman ipadThat’s 60 % of respondents using some form of web-based cross-cultural training.

If you’re an expat, are you one of the 10 % who exclusively use or have exclusively experienced media-based or web-based training to prepare for your assignment? How effective did you think it was?

I can imagine video-conferences and delivering the training in a conversational style. Trainer and expat would see each other, and have some freedom to communicate non-verbally (provided the webcam connection is smooth). I also know that when I’ve facilitated a training where a presentation was given by e.g. a local expert over the phone, the participants nearly always suggested in-person presenters as an improvement.

When I think about webinars – printed material and narrated slideshows may certainly be appealing to the introvert* assignee, or those who prefer to learn by reading and listening. What about experiential learners or extraverts* though?

Virtual, by definition, is lacking actual human interaction. Can talking to a screen ever be as satisfying as the welcoming handshake, getting up to doodle something on the flipchart, and simple face-to-face communication? The topics we’re dealing with in cross-cultural trainings can get quite personal in nature, so how does the relative anonymity of an online training influence the expats’ willingness to open up?

I wonder what your experience would be comparing online vs. face-to-face. I know that I’ve coached online and it’s worked like magic, but training and coaching are two different things.

What if, horror of horrors, the “media- or web-based culture trainings” refer to self-study courses? You know, the ones where you just log in and click through to the next screen without paying any attention? How, when it’s tough enough to get the expat into a room with an engaging, personable, experienced professional, can the employer convince the assignees that it’s a good investment of their time to go read and do some exercises online? Can you call it a training if it’s tantamount to reading a book?

Bottom line, from my experience either / or isn’t useful, it needs to be yes / and. Proper safeguarding of the company’s investment in an expat and their family on assignment includes an in-person training to start, followed by periodic online or web-based culture refreshers, and targeted coaching sessions to work through challenges as they come up. What’s your experience?

*introversion preference – one half of the first dichotomy of preferences for energy source as defined by the MBTI®. People with a preference for introversion get their energy from and focus their energy on their inner world of thoughts and experiences. Dealing with the outside world can be draining their energy, they like to think things through.

*extraversion preference – one half of the first dichotomy of preferences for energy source as defined by the MBTI®. People with a preference for extraversion get their energy from and focus their energy on the world of people and things that surrounds them. Left to their own devices they might get antsy, they prefer talking things over.

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