13 March 2013

The Top 10 Ingredients of a Successful Cultural Training Course


In this article aimed at those working in HR/Training /Learning & Development, Barry Tomalin outlines the key components of successful Cultural Training programmes.

Given the impact they can have on the way organisations and their people conduct business internationally, ensuring a maximum return on investment is essential.


The general aim of a cross-cultural training course is usually clear. It is rarely precise.  The broad aim is to improve international performance in key markets or improve performance of international teams (either within the company premises or across borders).  Why the lack of precision?  I suspect it is because of ignorance.  Also much cross-cultural training is based on bad previous experience in the market and people don’t like to talk about it.

In fact, a large amount of training is commissioned on the back of ‘We don’t want to go here again.’ But the trainer only finds this out DURING the training. To get clear precise aims the Business Unit manager and the Learning and Development manager need to ask: –

  • What precisely is the business cultural training designed to achieve?
  • What situation is it trying to avoid?


“Can you give us half a day on the Middle East?  We’re sending someone out there.”

This is not a brief.  This is an aspiration.  Think it through.  Depending on how you break it down there are at least four distinct regions and over twelve states.  There are Arabs, Berbers, Iranians and Turks and significant religious differences among Muslims, Christians and Jews. Make sure the trainer knows: –

  • Which counties are being targeted;
  • What industry;
  • What the ‘someone out there’ is expected to achieve


The trainer or training company will normally send you a training proposal on the basis of your brief.  Does it do what you intended?  If it doesn’t, amend it.  Too often the eye snakes down to the price and leaves the content unexamined. Check with the Business Unit manager.  The danger is the coverage will be too general.  Make sure all your issues are clearly and precisely addressed.


No.  Why not? Two reasons.  Good training is part information part discussion and consulting.  This needs ‘talking time’, not mine, yours.  The value comes from exchanging views, asking questions and building an overall picture of the task and what adaptation may be needed in order to achieve it successfully.  You can do part of it in half a day but you need a full day to do it properly and sometimes two days.

I haven’t given you the second reason.  Costs.  It costs as much for a trainer to travel and train for half a day as for a full day.  I know time away from your desk is a major issue but a full day’s training is probably going to be both more time efficient and more cost effective.  Remember, this is not a lecture.  This is consultation.


Many HR managers see cultural training as a mass market game.  Let’s get everyone in and get it done with.  When we discuss cultural differences we are not talking about etiquette.  We are talking psychology.  It needs discussion not just instruction.

That is why most training companies put a limit of ten to twelve on group sizes and are very happy with one-on-one to up to six people. Participants in their feedback also say they prefer the small group environment. This is why many training companies assert the right to use a second trainer if numbers exceed twelve participants.


A clear precise brief (See Point 2) will clarify the business viewpoint but we need to go further and identify participant needs.  Training companies should offer a pre-seminar questionnaire to be completed by delegates and returned to the trainer.  We also offer a profiling tool to allow participants to identify their own management styles, which can then be compared with the markets they are dealing with during the seminar itself.

Some companies go much farther.  One joint venture needed two one-hour group conference calls plus one-to-one calls with each participant group leader before the seminar.  Another has produced a series of videos for all participants to view BEFORE the seminar in order to make better use of time IN the seminar.

The key to success is HR, which has to be pro-active in chasing up late returns of preparatory work.


Several training companies I work with emphasise in their feedback forms, the quality of the surroundings and facilities.  The bad news is the boardroom is very nice but it’s not adaptable for hands-on training.  There is no flexibility, no room for people to change groups and no room for people to get up and do things.  We know one of the main constraints on HR is room availability but a dedicated training room is much more effective

Here are a few things to check: –
•    Tables and chairs that can be moved around
•    Enough chairs for the participants
•    Something to write on, something to write with
•    Flipchart and pens
•    Data projection facilities
•    Coffee/tea/water – candies and biscuits? (Participants get peckish.)

I know I’m teaching my grandmother to suck eggs here but you’d be surprised how often this doesn’t happen.


Evaluation is important.  Either use your own evaluation form or the training company’s.  There is a training rule.  Never let them out of the room without completing an evaluation form!


You should expect from the training company the originals of the evaluation sheets and a trainer’s report summarising the positive outcomes, the opportunities for improvement and any recommendation.


The biggest concern of any training programme is how to take the training back into the business and ensure continuity.  Many training companies offer follow-up documentation in the form of country management briefings. Some arrange coaching sessions with members.

A good example is a one hour one-to-one pre-booked conference call with the trainer to follow up the training and give the participant any personal support required as a result of the seminar.

Internally, the company itself should be ensuring report-back by participants to managers and possible internal briefings of other members of the team.  One company we work with even makes preparation for this part of the training day. You may want to do this as well.

To find out more about SIMON & SIMON’s range of cultural training courses, and how these could benefit your organisation please call us on 020 7821 0999 or visit our cultural training webpage

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