Intercultural Training Toolkit: Building a foundation with self-awareness

Intercultural training is not a new concept for global mobility, but perhaps more than ever, it has to address the needs of complex employee populations. HR and mobility professionals are challenged with managing programs that can meet the needs of multiple and increasingly savvy generations, all while containing costs. Often skill building is not prioritized over the immediate need to manage the financial and logistical components of a move. But both the individuals and the host country team will later feel the impact of not creating culturally competent relocating employees. 
In a series of articles we’ll bring you into our intercultural training room. Over the next few months you’ll gain an insight into our methodology and likely training outcomes. 
This first article examines the cornerstone of our intercultural training program – building self-awareness and how to accelerate the process.  

“What do I need to know to not offend?”, “Why won’t my team tell me when there are issues on the project?”, “Why aren’t people in this country on time and what can I do?” – these questions are Employees in Desert with Camelsvery common at the start of our intercultural trainings. And it is very understandable why. These are the types of things relocating employees notice in their first weeks and months in their new location. Most realize that understanding the new culture and how to navigate it will be a key contributor to the success of their assignment.

But before we can dive into learning about the new culture and understanding it better, it is imperative to better understand oneself and one’s own culture. In other words, employees are bringing more to the new country than personal belongings. They are also bringing their way of thinking, feeling, acting and reacting. And understanding this “self” is the key that unlocks the door to a fulfilling and successful assignment. If you don’t know where you’re starting from, how can you map out your journey?

So how do we do this in intercultural training? We make sure we first explore and better understand that “self” and build on that understanding throughout the training. More importantly perhaps, we create a certain momentum around employees’ awareness and learnings that can continue after the training ends. It’s all about creating context for the individual – helping them understand how they behave in both personal and professional situations. Understanding the past can contribute to predicting and preparing for the future challenges of an assignment.

Here are four interconnected principles to build that “muscle” of self-awareness in the training room and beyond:

Make time to connect and reflect

Couple Looking Out at Street

Intercultural training can be a great opportunity for employees to take some time to process and reflect on their assignment. This is something that most likely has not occurred since the decision was made to go on the assignment – during the whirl of logistical plans and other decisions that have to be made when all available time and energy is dedicated to preparing for the move. Often we hear couples comment that this is the first time in months that they have had a meaningful conversation with each other that is not about household goods, visas or house hunting. In the training room, the trainer and our agenda “hold the space” for employees to make sure they process, reflect, assess and check-in with themselves and their partner. We also support them in finding ways to make space in their busy lives to continue to “connect and reflect” throughout the assignment. This time not only benefits the participants but sets the foundation for a more conscious international assignment experience that benefits your organization, too.

Look deeper

“Normal” life is busy and demanding. And as a result, we often find ourselves moving from one task or interaction to another, just trying to tick off some items on our long to-do lists. This pressure only gets more intense on assignment. Employees often do not even realize they are making assumptions and taking actions based on a surface level of understanding. In our training room we continuously encourage employees to look at what might be going on, on a deeper level. Where are they making assumptions? What values might be driving their behaviors? What is another possible perspective? We even see seasoned relocating employees have many moments of clarity where they suddenly realize they missed key signals in an interaction or made a decision based on an assumption. These “self-correction” techniques lead to greater self-reliance – a powerful tool and key indicator of likely success. As a mobility professional, giving your employees the opportunity to be skilled in this area will lead to fewer issues on assignment for you to unravel.

Identify the here and now

Boy Walking Along the BeachOur intercultural trainings are also a great opportunity to take a fresh look at what the assignment looks like right now in the moment and what that means to employees, as well as their partners and families. Since the employees have already relocated when the training takes place, they are no longer dealing with hypotheticals or educated guesses. With their own actual on-the-ground experience and guidance of the trainer, the employee can get clarity on what the true challenges, opportunities and goals are. We often hear them and their partners saying things like: “ I always thought I was a strong team leader. Now I am not so sure.” “I thought my older son would struggle to adjust but my younger son is the one having issues.” “I did not expect it to be so hard to get to meet people.” Many things are different than expected or what was expected to be a challenge can be a breeze – and something that was not even considered is surprisingly exhausting and overwhelming. Assessing those differences and considering the influence that personal values is having on the situation will help avoid the judgement rush that can often make a matter worse.

Revisit your definition of success

Most employees relocate with a list of objectives that define a successful assignment for them. What they have most likely not done since they arrived in the new country is re-evaluate those success factors. Our intercultural training allows employees to not only adjust certain expectations or goals, and to further define others, but also add to their definition of what a successful assignment entails – both professionally and personally for themselves, partners and families. By the end of the training they have a much more complete and current vision that they are working towards.

When looking at these four principles of self-awareness it easy to see how they not only work with each other but even depend on each other. When all four are present, the self-awareness “muscle” is flexed and grows – both in the training room and after. And that means we can move to the next learning, but in its own right it brings a more fulfilling and successful assignment for all involved.

Our next article will examine the impact of cultural values. For more information on how you can upskill your people to improve their focus and performance on assignment, visit Global Skills or contact Jo Danehl.

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