Your company is expanding into international territory, hurrah. You now have teams on several continents, multiple time zones, and from countries all over the world. This is a great milestone for your organization, and it’s an exciting time to be part of the L&D team.
But it also presents new challenges. Misunderstandings, bottlenecks, interpersonal scuffles….now might be the time to introduce cross-cultural training to smooth things over. The question is, where do you start?
At 360Learning, we found ourselves contemplating the same issue this year, as our headcount ballooned and our international presence expanded. We decided to call on a renowned cross-cultural training expert to provide guidance to our teams. Naturally, we added our own collaborative learning touch to ensure the material stayed entirely relevant to our company culture and context.
Below, we outline what our process looked like, for companies looking for inspiration on how to get the ball rolling on their cross-cultural training.
It’s all well and good for top management or even your L&D team to assume there’s a certain training need. But is this pain point an actual pressing one for the entire company?
At 360Learning, we’re committed to a bottom-up approach to training and learning. Anyone can declare a Learning Need (from the most junior hire right up to the C-suite), which all employees can then upvote and comment on. Then, our L&D team can select the most pressing issues that require training and prioritize them according to expected impact, feasibility, and so on.
In this particular case, the hunch that we might be ready for some cross-cultural training was right on the money, with a sizeable portion of 360Learners showing support for the idea:
Not only did declaring this Learning Need garner the necessary upvotes, it also helped the L&D team identify internal subject-matter experts (SMEs) and other interested parties that could be useful in building out the program, as you can see in the discussion below:
With that validation in hand, the L&D team got to work.
Subject-matter expertise is obviously an essential ingredient in any effective training course. But not all companies have a bona fide cross-cultural expert on hand. While there might be strong communicators, team-builders, or managers from each culture represented by your staff, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re up to speed on the cultural particularities of working internationally.
That’s why we decided to bring in an outside specialist, someone who had spent years studying this issue. We landed on INSEAD professor Erin Meyer. She studies and writes about how successful managers surmount the challenges of cultural differences in a global environment, and her book The Culture Map provides concrete tips and examples to help employees work more smoothly across cultures.
We were thrilled to learn Erin would be able to work with us, and our L&D team and our other internal SMEs got busy planning the next steps of this company-wide training program.
We took a blended approach to this course, with an asynchronous and live, (virtual) component. Erin's work is very accessible, but there’s still a lot of information to cover. We wanted to prime learners and make sure they had some time to digest the main points, as well as understand how the book's theories were applicable to the specific environment of 360Learning.
So, along with sending out an invitation to a live training session with Erin herself (via Zoom) well ahead of time, we also created a course using our own platform that outlined the main themes she would go over. We also encouraged learners to buy the accompanying book, which could be funded through each 360Learner’s yearly L&D stipend:
Not only did the course help learners get a handle on the key concepts to be discussed during the live event, but it also gave them a chance to ask some early questions and discuss their reactions with their peers, as you can see in the discussion forum on the right.
This course was also the opportunity for us to zoom in on the portions of the training that were particularly relevant for us—since we’re headquartered in France and expanding fast in the United States, many learners were interested in deep diving into the cross-cultural challenges of working between these two particular countries.
By now, most learners have had it up to here with the usual boring, online Zoom training. The best way to drive down engagement rates is to provide a session that’s tedious, inconvenient, or too much like a dry university lecture.
Instead, we thought it was crucial that the session be as relevant to our company and as dynamic as possible. We prepped our speaker on the particularities of our company culture, and the challenges we were facing. For instance, we set up interviews with Erin and a few 360Learners who had lived internationally, who were able to share their stories with her so that she could incorporate them into her presentation.
We also made sure to make use of the chat feature so that the audience could interact and participate with the instructor. Because most employees had a chance to peruse the preparatory eLearning course and book the training was based on, we were confident they wouldn’t get lost during the presentation.
The hour-long session went off without a hitch, and audience participation was high. Now, it was time to think about the follow-up.
As with almost everything we do at 360Learning, we followed up the event with a satisfaction survey, to understand if the training met the majority of learners’ needs. But we also wanted to go a step further.
During the pre-training courses, we asked learners to rank where they thought the 360Learning work culture fell on Erin’s international country scale—were we more French or American in our approach to communicating, for example? We shared these results with the company in a post-training communication.
Not only would this information help all of us better understand how to work well together, it also gave learners one more opportunity to interact with the course material and make it truly contextually relevant.
But we wanted to go a step further. We asked for volunteers to use what we’d learned thus far as a springboard to address a new set of questions that were completely specific to 360Learning. With the L&D team’s guidance, volunteers broke into teams to work on a set of key questions that aligned with our own set of guiding principles, called Convexity, at 360Learning:
We’ve got the first of these courses published, and can’t wait to see how the rest will turn out!
Launching our first cross-cultural training program was a challenge and an excellent learning opportunity for the L&D team. Overall, the experience was a success, as our feedback survey indicates:
We also received valuable insights about areas that could have been improved, like including breakout groups, or expanding even more on the topic. All in all, this format was considered a successful one, and we’d recommend it for any organization looking to implement a similar session.
Questions, comments? Don’t hesitate to leave your thoughts, below!