Why invest in intercultural training?

Working internationally requires an intercultural toolkit always at the ready. Your toolkit should include communication and rapport-building skills, high levels of cultural self-awareness and the emotional strength to handle the psychological demands resulting from intercultural exchange.

Many companies still hesitate to invest in intercultural training as they question the potential return on investment of soft skills training. They might suggest that their employees can learn from online resources or develop skills ‘on the job’. By then of course, it might be too late to avoid a costly mistake or reputational damage. 

Intercultural training provides a safe environment to raise concerns, discuss existing issues and understand where they come from. Intercultural training also develops universal skills such as good communication, team work, managing uncertainty, curiosity and self-reflection that are all transferable to a wide area of situations and contexts. The better we communicate interculturally, the better we communicate in our own culture.

All cross-cultural exploration begins with the experience of being lost.

Edward T. Hall

Here are a few tangible reasons why you should prioritise building the intercultural skills of your employees.

1. Ensure successful international assignments

We hear too many stories of international assignments that haven’t worked out or have gone awry due to cultural challenges. Intercultural training improves expatriate performance by increasing local knowledge and improving communication and relationship-building skills. Training also helps to preserve the well-being of expatriates and their families by building resilience and developing coping strategies for when times are tough.  Global mobility professionals have a duty of care to look after their international assignees: helping them to stay safe and well, integrate into their new environment and ensure that their assignment is rewarding, both on a personal and professional level.

18% of international assignment failure is because assignees cannot adapt to the host location.

Brookfield 2016 Global Mobility Survey

2. Strengthen cross-border mergers, acquisitions and joint-ventures

The benefits of cross-border M&As should outweigh the burdens yet cultural issues are commonly cited as the cause of up to 30% of cross-border M&A failure. Unhappy staff, ineffective decisions and poor financial results are too often the norm. Leaders see culture as something soft and fluffy and not a priority during the early stages of integration. But by the time the problems arise, the damage has already been done making it harder to reconcile.

The Airbus 380 story is a classic example. An €11 billion pan-European project was delayed by two years with a consequent loss of €2 billion in profits in 2006. Cross-cultural competitiveness and incompatible local systems lead to conflict and a lack of transparent communication which in turn caused delays which grew and grew. Future leaders involved in cross-border M&A should learn from this and other case studies and consider the intercultural landscape during the early stages of integration or even before the deal is agreed. Intercultural training can help managers to create a shared vision and values and to put in place protocols and practices to engender transparent and effective communication.

3. Engage your millennials­­

What can organisations do to attract, develop and retain their millennial employees - their talent pipeline?

Alongside flexible hours, a great atmosphere and career development, millennials aspire to be a part of an organisation that’s thriving, evolving and improving the world. Showing them a clear career path with opportunities for international experience is important. Intercultural training that prepares millennial employees for future global leadership roles demonstrates the long-term value and investment in their careers.

4. Maximise the potential of multicultural teams

Multicultural teams bring a diversity of creative approaches, problem-solving strategies and thinking styles that can create an unbeatable level of productivity. According to Nancy Adler, international teams have the potential to outperform domestic teams but it takes longer to get them off the ground. Intercultural training provides team managers with the skills to harness this diversity and maximise the team potential. Team members develop greater understanding of their colleagues’ cultures and expectations and learn how to see problems through different perspectives.  If training takes place in the early ‘forming’ stage it can be invaluable in understanding each other’s styles and preferences and teams can co-create their own protocols, guidelines and ways of working together – their own culture, in effect. Employees that can put themselves in each other’s shoes and understand one another are more likely to work effectively and productively together.

Is your organisation leading the way?

If two companies are competing for business in China, the company whose team has developed an understanding of meeting, greeting, presenting, communication and negotiation styles will win every time. The employee presenting at a global conference who understands the subtle nuances of audience expectations across cultures and knows how to adapt their style to a multilingual audience will receive better feedback than the presenter who presents just like they do back home. In essence employees with cultural sensitivity are always a step ahead because they have their intercultural toolbox ready to bring into play.

Time to act

What are you waiting for? Intercultural skills help to take the pain out of international working and enable employees to develop the skills and expertise required for overseas or global roles. Investing in intercultural training shows employees that they are valued and career progression is important; it shows your customers that you are interested in them, that you are on their wavelength and you can see the world from their perspective.

With thanks to Vanessa Paisley

How can we help you?

  • Find out more about how we can help develop your intercutlural skills.
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