• How Can You Train A Culture?


    On the face of it culture is a big subject. How can you even begin to deal with a country or a cultural topic in a one or two day course? Well, at one level you can’t. But you can do three things that are very useful to people trying to understand a culture they are visiting, working with or living in.

    1 Show them what to look for.

    Help them distinguish the ‘must know’ from the ‘nice to know’ information and where to look for answers.

    2 Demonstrate the principles of how to work interculturally.

    Notice I wrote ‘Demonstrate’ not ‘Explain’. Use situations and sometimes simulations to show what they need to do to feel at ease overseas. Show them how to build good relations with their overseas clients and colleagues in order to work productively.

    3 Apply the principles.

    Help them apply what they have learned to the markets they deal with.

    In order to do this successfully, as an international communications and culture trainer I use three sets of skills.

    • Knowledge transfer skills. I know what I am talking about and can pass the knowledge on.

    • Group discussion management skills. I can work with the group and encourage them to discuss their experience and help them identify the local and international problems they may face.

    • Consultancy skills. I can work with delegates individually and in small groups to evolve strategies to resolve international problems.

    No training should simply transfer information. Go to a lecture for that. Good training is a focused discussion. It actively involves the participant. It aims at finding solutions to improve performance at both the local and international level.

    How do I organise international communication and cultural training?

    Once again, I think in threes. Prework, Delivery and Post-work.

    Let’s take an example. A leading British Corporation asked me to run a one day team workshop for them and their Japanese partners. Prework had to be simple. Delegates are short of time so keeping things simple is important.

    I distributed a short questionnaire to get job information and travel experience and key objectives for the training. I also ask delegates to define areas they wanted to see covered in the training. This was really useful in helping me prepare.

    I also distributed the RADAR profile. This a twelve point questionnaire, that helps me identify their cultural management style. It was crucial in helping me identify team differences.

    Next delivery. We work through a series of interactive exercises focusing on their experiences. The aim of this was to identify possible problems and encourage each team to find ways of adapting.

    We also used scenarios or critical incidents. . Scenarios are short ‘stories’, focused on UK/JAPANESE experience. Each scenario was five or six lines long and ended with, ‘What do you recommend?’ I split the group in pairs, one UK delegate and one Japanese. They had to discuss the scenario, decide how to resolve the problem and present the solution to the group. This encouraged the group to explore problems in common and find win/win solutions.

    Finally, they reviewed their RADAR profiles and identified differences in style. Then they discussed how to adapt.

    By the end of the seminar everyone agreed. They had built stronger relationships. They knew how to adapt. They would work more closely in future.


    After the seminar I sent each delegate three things. One, a summary of conclusions. Two the Japanese ad UK market cultural briefings. Three, notes we had made during the seminar. This gave them an independent record for future reference.

    As part of the postwork the delegates have completed evaluation forms and I am able to provide a debrief to the training manager on the success of the seminar.

    Everyone agreed the seminar was a success. Why? They had the opportunity to talk together. The training created a focused space in which participants exchanged their experience in a structured fashion. They reflected on their experience. They used it to learn how to improve co-operation, performance and productivity in the future. That’s what training is about.

    Barry Tomalin


    What do you think is important in training?

    Tick the box to show your level of agreement.



    6-12 You believe the group learning and group experience is the prime outcome.

    12-17 You believe in group learning and experience but your input is equally important.

    18-23 You need to get across a fixed content but will the group accept it and use it?

    24-40 You believe the group is there to listen and learn from your wisdom and experience. Do they need practice in using it?


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