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Organizations operating in today’s global business landscape have access to a dynamic and multitalented pool of employees located around the world. The benefits are far-reaching; demographically diverse workforces empower companies by enhancing agility, social performance, innovation, customer service, and ultimately revenue.
However, diverse, cross-cultural teams cannot collaborate to their full potential if they struggle to communicate. What’s more, if not managed, language and cultural barriers can prevent mutual understanding and alignment. Different team members pulling in different directions can cause disharmony, limit creativity, and sabotage day-to-day operations and big-picture, growth-driving activities.
The key to unlocking the full benefit of a diverse workforce? An effective training program for multicultural teams, which can quickly become one of your most valuable competitive advantages. Here’s how to create one in five steps.
How to build a training program for multicultural teams in 5 steps
Step 1: Set clear expectations
When creating a training program for multicultural teams, you and other stakeholders have a firm grasp on your desired outcome. The success of your program hinges on your team’s understanding of that outcome and the role they and their colleagues will play. Expectations must be set in terms of leadership and collaboration to ensure every person is on the same page:
Multicultural team members will have varying expectations about leadership, placing differing degrees of value on factors like age, professional experience, social status, and cultural background. Layout the ground rules:
- Who is responsible for making decisions?
- Who should voice criticism?
- Who can delegate and to whom?
Effective teamwork is built on trust and respect. So before you jump into your training program, establish boundaries around relationship-building, flagging ways team members can communicate concerns.
- If a conflict arises, what are the next steps?
- If someone fails to deliver on time, what is plan B?
- If your team members are located across time zones, is there an opportunity for real-time communication and collaboration?
Step 2: Acknowledge and overcome communication barriers
Communication will not be seamless. It’s integral to acknowledge this fact from the outset, letting your team members know that asking for extra time or support during the training program is perfectly acceptable.
Once you’ve acknowledged communication challenges, you can plan to overcome them. Depending on the size, scope, and nature of your organization and training program, you have options.
Localize your training program to be as culturally neutral as possible
When training smaller multicultural teams or teams with a broad geographical reach, you may choose to deliver your material in a common language – one that all your employees can speak and read.
However, effective training is about more than language. Consider eliminating cultural references (such as holidays or celebrities), imagery, graphics, idioms, and other elements that may not resonate with some employees. In other words, aim for cultural neutrality.
Localize your training program for each geographical group
When training larger multicultural teams or teams with a narrow geographical reach, you may benefit from localizing and transcreating your training program to meet each group’s language and cultural needs.
Step 3: Keep communication styles front of mind
Every culture has its own communication style above and beyond language – that’s one reason why localization, rather than basic translation, is essential to delivering effective training programs for multicultural teams.
When you understand the diverse communication styles between the cultures represented in your workforce, you can build your training programs to suit. Of course, you may not be an expert in cultural norms and expectations – a localization partner can help you optimize your content for cross-cultural audiences.
Generally, communication styles can be divided into verbal, non-verbal, and somewhere between the two.
- Verbal communication styles are driven by direct and open language. Examples of cultures that use primarily verbal communication include the United States and Germany.
- Non-verbal communication styles are driven by indirect cues. When conversing, people speak one after the other – never over the top of each other. People also tend to resolve conflict right away. Cultures that fall into this communication style category include Japan and several Arab nations.
- Communication styles that sit somewhere between the two leverage both verbal and non-verbal cues. Conflict can be resolved immediately or at a later time. Examples of cultures in this category include Italy and Latin America.
Step 4: Make empathy a core value
Training multicultural teams can be frustrating. It’s your business on the line, and if your employees don’t ‘get it,’ they could put a dent in all your hard work. However, put yourself in their shoes and make empathy a core value throughout your training sessions and beyond.
How can you alter your training material to promote mutual respect and foster trust? Have you considered things like check-ins and opportunities for discussion, enabling team members to speak up if they don’t understand something? If you use one shared language, are you sensitive to lesser-known words or phrases that non-native speakers might not understand?
With an empathic lens, you can bolster your team’s confidence and enhance their understanding of training material without coming across as condescending. Remember, your team members are intelligent and talented – that’s why you hired them.
Step 5: Ask for and deliver feedback
Honest and constructive feedback is an extremely valuable element of workplace training. The benefits go both ways:
- Asking your team for feedback on your learning material can inform your future approach to training programs for multicultural teams.
- Providing feedback to team members helps open lines of communication. If the feedback is positive, it boosts employee confidence. If it’s constructive, it helps employees fix their mistakes and move forward.
Keep in mind that different cultures give feedback in different ways, and in some cases, constructive criticism, even when well-intended, can be considered negative, unkind, or rude.
Create a training program for multicultural teams without the guesswork
One size doesn’t fit all. Training multicultural teams is no easy task – particularly for those unfamiliar with languages and cultural nuances. Poorly executed training can severely limit productivity, stifle collaboration, and keep your business from benefiting from the innovation and problem-solving capabilities that come with diversity.
Take the guesswork out of training your multicultural team with a localization partner. We have the knowledge and experience to set your global business up for success. Contact us today, and let’s discuss your needs.