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As I mentioned in a previous post watching out for too-near hippos by night and too-curious monkeys by day, I’ve been fortunate to do my training work all over the globe. From -72 Celsius/-96 Fahrenheit to +44 Celsius/111 Fahrenheit I’ve run the gamut of intriguing work places and spaces.
When you find yourself 12 hours ahead or behind your regular timezone, in a culture that is obviously different from your own, cultural issues naturally tend to pop. But. Cultural issues are always at play. Truly. Truly.
Culture is what gives meaning to our lives.
No matter where you find yourself doing training & development work, whether your participants seem like they are culturally similar to you, vastly different or somewhere in between, culture is a HUGE component of every successful training. Loose sight of its significance at your peril.
An important caveat.
I’m using what I’ve observed working with other cultures. However the examples I give below don’t necessarily relate to the overall culture. You will always find exceptions, other, difference. That’s what makes it interesting.
So please don’t take the examples as written in stone (aka generalizations or stereotypes), as in all Kenyans (fill in the blank) _______. You’ll hear my gasp and choke from afar if you do!
Besides I’ll guarantee there are things about you that ‘fit’ your overall culture and things that don’t. For example, I’m Canadian but I really dislike hockey. Yep, it’s true and if you dislike me because of it, the only thing that’s changed is you.
Now on with the cultural training & development lessons.
Whether I’m in my own backyard or several timezones away here are some of what I’ve learned about cultural lessons for training & development:
- Time: I was working in the Philippines years ago and one night decided to go to a movie. While I waited for the movie to ‘begin’ I noticed people ambling in and out of the theatre. Curious, I followed a bunch in. Gobsmacked, I realized the movie had already ‘started’ and I was ‘late’.
It turned out to be a great example of how fluid some cultures treat time. My culture? We save, bank, shave, mark and bide out time. It’s a commodity that we measure down to the nanosecond. Working in a culture where time was much more flexible was refreshing. Although I have to say my cultural roots sure showed another time when, working in an indigenous community in Mexico, we just about missed our flight because of this fluidity.
- Physical space & body awareness: ever ask a corporate North American audience to dance and move their hips? It can be done but with a lot of preparation and foundation laying. When I did a 5 day training in East Africa with Ugandan, Kenyan, Tanzanian and Rwandan UN workers let’s just say they put my North American clients to shame in the way they moved. A movement exercise to reinforce the program evaluation training I was doing there was met with loud cries of ‘more!’
How cultures react to the physical space around them and how much they are aware of and consciously use their bodies varies tremendously.
- Formality / informality: a final cultural element to keep in mind when training is the formality / informality continuum. Where do you lie on the continuum? Where do your participants lie?
When I was doing a cultural intelligence training for the United Nations in Brazil I was a bit worried (to say the least) when at the start of the workshop there were only 3 people in the audience. Turns out the organizers were waiting for my formal say-so to open the door. I’m happy to report that the workshop was overflowing.
How can you tell where you should aim your training on the formality/informality continuum? Simple. Look at what you and your participants are wearing. Clothing is a big clue. See a sea of suits? You’re likely in a formal setting. Open toed sandals peeking up at you below bare arms? Could be a more informal environment. Language is also a clue – watch for the level of formal terms in use.
Take a look at your cultural roots when you’re both preparing and delivering a training. For sure your roots will show. Same with your participants.