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What does a good cultural awareness training course look like?


Since Global Business Culture started delivering cultural awareness training courses to major global corporations about twenty years ago, we have witnessed a proliferation of people coming into the market to offer similar products.  This is great as it means clients have more choice in terms of training providers they can work with but at the same time it presents clients with the perennial problem that accompanies choice – who to choose?

I thought it might be helpful to outline what twenty-years of experience in the industry has told me with regards to what a good cultural awareness training course should look like:

  • Intensely practical:  It is not really very helpful to merely recycle the well-know cultural theories of Trompenaars or Hofstede.  Without going into why these theories might in fact be flawed, we have found that what really resonates with our clients in the business world is the practical application of issues around cultural differences to day-to-day working situations.  Looking at ‘power distance’ isn’t of practical value but analysing how ‘power distance’ impacts on information flow and decision-making within a hierarchical structure is of immediate practical benefit.
  • Sector relevant:  The training deliverer needs to have some understanding of the practical application of cultural issues on the sector the client operates within.  Although the trainer does not need to be an absolute expert in insurance or real estate finance (for example) they need to understand what these sectors are and where the cultural challenges might lie.
  • It’s not all about them: Any good cultural awareness training course needs to make people look at their own behaviour as well as the behavioural norms in a target country.  Delegates need to leave the training course with a realisation that they themselves are also part of the problem and with an awareness that they might need to modify their own behaviours.
  • From awareness to knowledge:  Although the topic is often referred to as ‘cultural awareness’, a good programme should move from awareness to knowledge.  People need to be aware of cultural differences and the profound impact they can have on cross-border activities, but they also need to have knowledge of the behavioural norms in a target country.  The trainer needs to be able to focus on delivering the most important areas knowledge to the client on that country.
  • Beyond the superficial:  Too many courses focus on the superficial cultural differences in another country.  If the programme is about Japan, the course will focus on business card giving etiquette for example.  You will never lose a deal in Japan if you inadvertently offer your card in the wrong manner. I’m sorry but you just won’t!  You might lose the deal though if you don’t understand Japanese attitudes to risk and how to address that much more profound issue.

This is obviously not an exhaustive list but looking back at the key points it leads me to one conclusion –  that the training deliverer needs to have real, in-depth knowledge of not only cultural issues but also a wealth of commercial experience. You can’t talk about this stuff unless you’ve been there and done it. You need to have walked the talk.