Culture Training: A Key to Your Cross-Cultural Team’s Success
Updated: Sep 24
Don’t just examine cultural differences
Recently I had the pleasure of reading an informative article by Andy Molinsky, an Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at Brandeis International Business School. Molinsky’s article “The Mistake Most Managers Make with Cross-Cultural Training”, examines cross-cultural teams and how managers often choose traditional culture training programs to help employees succeed. These programs, says Molinsky, focus on the more superficial layers of “culture”: “The (typical) program—which is self-study and available on any digital device—also enables employees to click on a country and learn about its history, values and cultural ‘assumptions’. Molinsky argues that while learning about cultural differences can be useful, “the real problem is that your employees aren’t learning to adapt and adjust their behavior across cultures” and therefore no substantial gains are made from the training. Molinsky raises an interesting point: it wastes valuable time and resources merely memorizing cultural differences. If you want to get your employees to flourish as a dynamic cross-cultural team, their training needs to focus on subtly adapting their behavior to the cultural nuances of their specific global team members.
Learn to adapt to cultural differences
The article takes the example of Americans working on a team with Germans. In order for the training to be functional, it’s important to understand not only the differences in the way the two groups do business but also “how to actually adapt one’s own behavior and either deliver feedback in a German style or react to straightforward and often blunt feedback from German colleagues without taking offense” (and also vice-versa, how Germans need to adapt their behaviors when working with Americans). Where possible, an experienced culture trainer will use real scenarios such as interactions with coworkers in meetings and real communications such as conference calls and e-mails.
Analysis of interactions between team members will be offered as well as suggestions for future situations. Acting against one’s natural style of behavior can be difficult and ingrained but the long-term investment pays off when teams operate smoothly across the board via each e-mail, telephone call, project management, etc. For a manager or decision maker seeking culture training for their global team, when investigating options it pays to resist the temptation “to merely hand someone a book, a website or a manual.” Look for a culture training provider who offers culture-specific lessons targeting the behavior study and adaptation for your unique team. As savvy companies are becoming increasingly aware, when time is money, cookie cutter approach culture training is no longer a viable option.