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Why cross-cultural training programme is a must-have for the modern workplace

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Think globalisation, and it is difficult not to think of remote workers, international assignments and increases access to foreign knowledge – critical factors in bringing about organisation advancements.

If you own a business in this day and age, you will agree that strengthening presence on the global map despite being locally rooted is something everyone strives for. It is the high global internet penetration rate that has made that possible.

Today, technology has enabled businesses to scout talented professionals from all over the world, to work for them – whether by relocating or remotely.

But when people from different cultures come together to work, there are bound to be gaps in communication.

Case in point, an Indian employee, working for a German company was told by his German manager that a report, which took him a week to prepare, was not good enough.

Consequently, the employee felt compelled to resign from his job because he felt unappreciated for his efforts and believed that his efforts behind the task were not noticed. The situation blew out of proportion.

The German manager certainly didn’t mean for that to happen. However, the lack of cultural preparedness on both sides is what causes such scenarios at work.

To assuage such difficulties, businesses with global teams need something called cross-cultural training. Such programs are designed to help employees, imbibe, and understand the cultural norms and practices of the host country.

Such type of training helps expats in preparing them for a new lifestyle and helps them adjust to the changes in their environment.

Multiple studies have shown that expats who were provided cross-cultural training before relocating to the host country were able to adapt faster to the changes than those who weren’t trained.

It is obvious – if you are comfortable with the people you work with and in the environment, you work in, you will prove to be more productive.

In this article, I attempt to examine three reasons why businesses, with multicultural staff, should focus on cross-cultural training programmes:

Drive cross-cultural awareness

Acclimatising to a team from a different country takes time, patience, and cultural awareness. Let me share an example. Work-life in the UK is mostly governed by strict deadlines and minimal tolerance for delay. Whereas in India, life moves at a comparatively slower pace, regardless of the hustle seen in the big cities.

Such cultural differences may give way for misapprehensions between two parties, especially in a business scenario. The Indian counterpart may delay a meeting by arriving late, which could offend the UK counterpart and give them a wrong perception about Indians.

When one is culturally aware, there is an understanding and acceptance that enables them to work in harmony.

Tip: Finalise a culture statement or catchphrase – one that all your employees can resonate with. Then, hang it on the wall for constant reaffirmation. Try to practice what you preach and incorporate the same in your company’s principles.

Ease the cross-country transition

To succeed in the global corporate scenario, professionals must understand, appreciate, and accept diverse cultures and practices in different countries. Relocating to and living in another country can sometimes be overwhelming.

Often, there are cultural differences between one’s home country and the host country. For instance, India has a different societal organisation when compared to other parts of the world.

In India, joint families where more than six family members live together in one home is typical. Besides, visitors can drop by without prior notice. Often, such differences in cultural norms are unknown to expats.

To simplify this transition, businesses must provide cross-cultural training to expats.

Tip: Create a series of videos highlighting the differences in communication, lifestyle, work ethics between professionals from various countries.

Facilitate productive communication

A professional, engaged with a multicultural team, would have to interact with numerous kinds of people, including peers, customers, project shareholders, vendors, as a part of their job. Being able to interact with a diverse group of people from another country requires a certain amount of confidence and skill.

For instance, Indians have a few non-verbal cues in their style of communication, such as putting palms together and bowing down slightly to welcome someone. Italians, on the other hand, “talk” with their hands which could come across as aggressive.

This may seem puzzling to a person who may not know this kind of communication. Cross-cultural training provides expats with the confidence and behavioural skills required for effective communication.

Tip: Arrange for some team-building games – that can happen in-house or online – that enable your employees to mingle with each other, apart from work.

Summing it up

In the business world, professionals from different parts of the world interact with one another, and achieve targets and make business decisions as a team. Cross-cultural training teaches the multicultural staff about both the cultural differences and similarities.

As a business owner, it is your responsibility to ensure inclusive work practices, and enable your teams to desensitize and become more accepting of one another’s cultures.

By acknowledging the differences and similarities, they can become more comfortable in their respective dispositions and do better at work.

This article was first published on e27, on Feb. 3, 2020.