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The Evolution of Cross-Cultural Trainings


The Evolution of Cross-Cultural Trainings

Pic Credit: jannoon028

Pic Credit: jannoon028

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

As you know, I’ve been offering cross-cultural trainings myself, and facilitating programs for global service providers since 2009. I have yet to meet a single expat who thinks it wasn’t worth their time. On the contrary, the feedback is 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.

Interestingly, “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)

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

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 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 can get quite personal in nature, so the relative anonymity when training online might act as a barrier or a lubricant to trusting and sharing, depending on the personality of trainer and assignees.

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 is not coaching.

The above is assuming there is a live trainer involved in the media- or web-based training delivery. What if they include or allude to self-study courses though? Talking from the extravert perspective now: How, when it’s tough enough to get them into a room with an engaging, personable, experienced professional, are you going to convince your assignees 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?

In summary, using online material to periodically repeat and practice what was learned in a face-to-face training, is something I can get behind. What about you? Looking forward to your comments below!

Thanks and have a good one.

*introverts – 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.

*extraverts – 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.

(From the archives, first published in April 2010) 



What happens between the slides

Pic credit: ddpavumba

Pic credit: ddpavumba

I've decided I'm going to stop worrying about making my presentation slides look super pretty.


Because it's never about the slides, not even the information on them. It's about facilitating an environment where learning can happen. 

In all my trainings with groups of adults the most salient insights usually show up:

  • during informal chit-chat
  • while on break 
  • exploring side tangents
  • discussing in small groups

Adult learning is a funny business - it's all about the experience. 

Games, case studies, role plays, or demos yield better results than a one-sided monologue. Yes, theory is necessary to explain the underpinnings and create a framework that the participants can fill with their own experiences. No, I wouldn't squeeze 12-point font into 16 rows in one text box anyway. But at the end of the day, every program has to answer only one question: 

"How can I apply this to improve my situation?" 


Expatriate services and training


Expatriate services and training

Once you have decided to use expatriation and an expatriate has accepted an overseas assignment, several concerns have to be addressed. On the one hand, will the relocation allow the expat and their family to at least maintain their current living standards, and on the other, which training does the expat and their family need in terms of language, cultural awareness, and professional skills for the assignment to be successful.

Since the relocation services vary across the spectrum due to size and resources of the company, let's take a closer look at the training aspect for now. Leiba-O'Sullivan (1999) identified various cross-cultural competencies a successful expatriate might need. She refers to the KSAO categorization of competencies, which refers to knowledge, skills, ability and other (including interests and personality constructs). She defined knowledge and skill as dynamic competencies that can be acquired through training, in contrast to ability and 'personality,' which are stable competencies that may "constrain the potential to develop a skill."

The questions that have to be raised in this context are whether or not all cross-cultural competencies can be acquired through training, whether every person is equally trainable and are cross-cultural competencies really necessary for successful adjustment. I'll look forward to reading your comments and thoughts about this. It can be summarized to say, as we have already mentioned in the expatriate characteristics during the selection period, that stable competencies like an open mind and an outgoing nature unafraid of different cultures need to be in place for the cultural nuances to be learned, understood and practiced.

Frazee (1999) suggests that any sort of training should be provided as soon as possible, which means the company and the expatriate can start thinking about training sessions as soon as the expatriate has agreed to go abroad. During the final weeks before the relocation the family will be busy selling the house, the car, saying good-bye to friends and might not be relaxed enough to sit through a thorough training program. Frazee suggests that language training, instead of in the form of intensive courses, should be provided over an extended period of time allowing for the material to sink in. As you know, I believe coaching and similar support services would be most beneficial when viewed the same way, as an equally longer-term process. In any case, the family should have basic conversational skills of how to buy groceries and the polite way of saying yes, no, and thank you. This is especially important for the spouses, as they are the ones left alone during the workday of the expatriate having to get along with everyday life. More detailed classes can be scheduled once the family is in the country.

As for cultural education, classes should provide the profiles of home and host country, pointing out the main differences and similarities. It is also be helpful to prepare the expatriate and the family for 'culture-shock' that they might experience, describing the symptoms and providing tools to counteract it (Frazee 1999). The programs I deliver for Cartus' clients are very well researched and balanced, as they allow for the exploration of personal experiences as well as giving theoretical frameworks that translate across various cultures.

When accepting to go abroad for an extended period of time, expatriates often fear the "out-of-sight, out-of-mind" problem might occur. Companies can counteract this by establishing close communication ties with the expatriate by nominating a mentor from the home office to stay in touch. That mentor can keep the expatriate updated on internal affairs, inform them about job opportunities upon return and generally take care that the expatriate's name is not forgotten amongst staff in the headquarters. Regular visits can be arranged for the expatriate to show face and be involved in home country business (Allen and Alvarez, 1998). One of the companies I've surveyed, for example, makes use of the Internet and its Intranet by having established an "Employee's Channel" for the exchange of information and staying in touch between expatriates and headquarters. Also, a "Women's Club" organizes meeting of expatriate families in the city and welcomes new arrivals.

Bottom line is, careful training and preparation of expatriates and their families is indispensable when trying to avoid an assignment to terminate early because the involved parties were not aware of what was awaiting them. In the long term, the resources invested in pre-departure training are an investment in the successful assignment and a content expatriate that will do his or her best for the company.


Frazee, Valerie (1999), Send your expats prepared for success, Workforce p 3 Leiba-O’Sullivan, Sharon (1999) The Distinction between stable and dynamic cross-cultural competencies: Implications for expatriate trainability, Journal of International Business Studies, p 709

Til next week, have a good one! 

Image by Nick Harris,Flickr, Creative Commons License.


Ideas to make your life less virtual and more real


Ideas to make your life less virtual and more real

As much as I love my virtual world and bubble of supportive and like-minded bloggers and twitterers, I'm still a raging extrovert at heart who prefers personal interaction nine out of ten times. Remember people? Actual human beings, sometimes smelly and obnoxious yet superbly entertaining? Here are three things I've done this week to meet such creatures, and a virtual bonus.

Before I tell you about the first, attention must be paid to last Saturday night that I so thoroughly enjoyed going out with my girlfriends. The joy, the laughter, the dancing - my bruised toes bear proud witness, and yes, next time I'll wear something more comfortable. Ladies and Gentlemen, if you haven't yet been to participate in the Gay Bingo at the Rose Room in Dallas, I thoroughly recommend it. There's money, CDs, show tickets, T-shirts and lots more to be won, and to round the evening off, you can go dancing at The Round-up Saloon. Meeting lovely lovely Matt and his friends made our night, in case you read this, thanks again for a wonderful time! :-) If you're more into the traditional style, when was the last time you went out with friends to have a game night, or bowled?

The first recommendation I have (not only for extroverts, of course) is joining a Toastmasters club. Founded by Dr. Ralph Smedley in the 1920s, Toastmasters International is a non-profit organization that has helped and continues to attract millions of men and women around the world to improve their communication and leadership skills. Not only do you learn how to give effective presentations, you also practice time management and team work skills. All this takes place in a friendly and supportive environment that welcomes people from all walks of life and levels of shyness. For $4.50 per month, joining a local club is the best possible affordable investment you can make in yourself. Find a club near you, or have your employer sponsor one, and visit as many meetings as you like before making the decision to join. More information here, and you're welcome to ask me, too.

Secondly, I participated in a free workshop held at a local hotel to learn more about how to do business with the Government. Now, the training topic you are interested in can be anything at all. How about photography, or Tango? The point I wanted to make is if you have a few hours to spare during the week or on the weekend or in the evenings that you don't want to spend alone on your couch, check your local listings for free courses that are offered at your colleges, google your topic of interest, and find groups you can join. Some websites to get you started are and For both browsing and marketing purposes, in case you have your own business or want to start one, I invite you to search conferences that are held in your area on They're organized by field and region, and who knows - you may even talk your boss into sponsoring your next weekend in Vegas.

Last but not least, my friend and role-model Yvonne invited me to another Forum of Expatriate Management (FEM) round table discussion which she facilitated this week. From a professional perspective of somebody eager to learn about the grassroots and backgrounds and corporate needs of their field, a forum like this one is the best place to sit, listen, and take notes. I've written about it before, and can only say the participants don't disappoint. Some new faces, some known ones, another yummie lunch sponsored, by the way, by this company that'll go on my resources list, and I cannot think of a better way to spend a couple of hours. Is there a professional forum available for people in your line of work? Is there anyone you can ask if you have a particular question regarding best practice or successful planning? Why not start with the q&a section on LinkedIn, where you can search and pose questions if you're registered. For those times that the virtual forum is no longer effective, I challenge you to offering a meeting in person in your offices, for example. It's a great way to informally get your hands on the pulse of your industry.

The virtual bonus is virtual, because in my case it's international and via teleconference. By all means, you can make yours an in-person event. It also works as something essential and not only as a premium: the mastermind group. As Napoleon Hill stated in his widely acclaimed bestseller "Think and Grow Rich: (It's) the coordination of knowledge and effort of two or more people, who work toward a definite purpose, in the spirit of harmony. No two minds ever come together without thereby creating a third, invisible intangible force, which may be likened to a third mind." I was invited to one such group by fellow FIGT participants, and last week was our first tele-conference. That one hour of talking to five other like-minded expat coaches has left me energized, motivated and hopeful for the future of this business we're all in, so I thoroughly recommend sharing concerns, exchanging opinions, and providing support in a group with a focus that suits your situation.

Which one activity to aid your personal or professional growth are you going to commit to for the following week?

Til next time, have a good one!

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Image by Beverly Goodwin flickr, Creative Commons License