The three A’s of training across cultures

Learning and development

The three A’s of training across cultures

If you want to truly understand cultural differences like those studied by Geert Hofstede, try delivering the same training programme in 60 countries.  OMT Global has done this and learned a few things along the way.

Here are three considerations that you don’t want to ignore when designing training for participants from multiple cultures:

1.  Activities

  • Cultures with different attitudes to authority will have differing reactions to common activities like brainstorming or interactive Q & A. Some cultures want the instructor to just tell them the RIGHT answer while others want to be involved in finding the BEST answer. We got feedback on a programme in the US that the participants wanted to be more involved in brainstorming solutions so we added an interactive activity to generate ideas, but when we delivered the same program in Mexico, the learners gave negative feedback on the course because they felt they had to come up with their own answers but the feedback was positive again when we took the original directive approach.
  • Collectivist versus individualist cultures will react very differently to activities that reward participation and interaction with trainers. Asking for responses from a group and awarding prizes for positive contributions goes over well in France, but when we took the programme to Indonesia the trainer had subgroups generate responses and present them to each other rather than looking for individual contributors.
  • Different activities with different techniques can produce the same learning results.

2.  Agenda

  • Cultures with differing orientation toward time will demand more or less adherence to a clearly planned and scheduled agenda. Depending on the culture, you may need to be flexible with your agenda and jump from one section to another in a dynamic way.  With another culture, this kind of scatter-gun approach could be detrimental to your learning objectives.  In Germany they are very good at using the “parking lot” approach to place off-topic ideas onto a later agenda in order to stay on track, but when you try to keep to the timed agenda in Argentina, you may find that they want to explore a side-topic fully before moving on even if it changes the order of the agenda – they will not focus well if you force the timing.
  • Cultures with different levels of uncertainty avoidance will react very differently to the level of detail in the agenda. You might be better off keeping the outline high-level, or you might need to spend extra time upfront clearly defining the day’s plan.  In Greece they want to know all the details of the plan or agenda upfront – they may not stick to it, but they will have a hard time starting the program without a lot of detail.

3.  Acronyms

  • Acronyms with double meanings are such a simple way to contextualise complex sets of ideas that it is hard to get around using concepts like SMART goals because they have a double meaning that reinforces the concept. Unfortunately that double meaning usually only works in one language and can be distracting or confusing in translation.
  • Acronyms without double meaning might unintentionally have one in another language. We use the acronym MST for our Master Sales Trainers but it turns out (unfortunately) to be the common term for sexually transmitted diseases in France (Maladie Sexuelle Transmis) so our French programme only uses Master Trainers.

In summary:

Training that needs to be delivered across diverse cultures should:

  1. 1. use simple language avoiding acronyms and double meanings
  2. 2.have a modular structure that can flex and adapt to the learning style of the participants

For an academic exploration of what OMT Global learned through practice, you should check out the amazing CDLF (Cultural Dimensions of Learning Framework) from Patrick Parrish and Jennifer Linder-VanBerschot.


P.S. if you were paying attention above, you will note that I used a heading that will not effectively cross alphabets, languages or cultures.  Can you find other cross-cultural complications in this post?

Sinead Collins

Sinead joined OMT in 2011 and is a Design and Marketing Executive. She specialises in managing key marketing activity. She creates and designs compelling marketing campaigns that speak directly to our customers. Sinead works closely right across the organisation to help develop the business.

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