How To Triumph in Global Training

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Abilitie has the pleasure of working with 80+ world-class facilitators, who lead our simulations across the globe. We reached out to one of our lead facilitators, Steve Gartrell, to share his insight into how he effectively facilitates across cultural boundaries and barriers. What we got was a power-packed, robust list of all the how-to’s of cross-cultural facilitation.


Today’s Learning & Development departments face significant challenges as their responsibilities expand to provide training to colleagues across widely varied geographies and cultures.  Technical expertise has always been a must for all trainers, and excellent facilitation skills have differentiated the best trainers from the rest of the pack. However, even the highest performers often struggle when training in unfamiliar geographies with participants who have different language and cultural backgrounds from their own.  I have been fortunate to lead hundreds of sessions around the globe, with participants from almost every country on the planet. In my experience, the most successful trainers in today’s demanding L&D landscape consistently provide what learners need in these environments by:

  • Creating an environment of connection and comfort

  • Leveraging diversity in keeping participants engaged

  • Adapting content and facilitation

Before you send one of your L&D high performers into a complex new training environment, encourage them to use the following best practices in:

Creating an environment of connection and comfort

The day before the session:

  • Arrive a day early

  • Walk the streets, ride the subway, read a local newspaper, watch local TV, learn the local map

  • Eat local food, listen to local music

  • Listen to people talk, absorbing their speech patterns, accents, popular phrases, and greetings

  • Suspend judgment and absorb the environment by saying these words to yourself:

  • “That’s different…cool!”

  • “I’ll try it!”

  • Plan to incorporate what you see, hear, learn, and try into your conversations with your participants

  • If you are unable to arrive a day early, do as much of the above on the internet as possible

As participants arrive:

  • Greet every participant as they arrive

  • Tell them your name, ask their name, listen for their pronunciation (if unclear, ask, “What is the correct way for me to say your name?”)

  • Have participants write the name they would like you to call them on their name tent

  • Learn and use their names

  • Post your name so all can see

  • Always remember that the shortest distance between two people is a smile—share yours continually

  • Be infectiously curious in learning about their organizations, roles, and backgrounds

  • Ask open-ended questions and listen actively to their responses

  • Include references to what you saw, heard, and tried when appropriate

Leveraging diversity in keeping participants engaged

  • Share your eye contact with all, being sensitive to local cultural norms for the duration of direct eye contact

  • Assign discussions or activities in pairs or small groups early in the day to get participants interacting comfortably

  • Group participants who have less language familiarity with those who have stronger language facility

  • Confirm understanding--don’t confuse head nods for agreement

  • Be an interviewer as much as being an expert

  • As much as possible, ask rather than tell

  • Converse more than you profess

  • Be a great audience when participants are speaking

  • Ask open-ended questions to confirm local applicability/variability (“How will this fit in your market/culture?”)

  • Adopt a conversational tone throughout

  • Solicit and welcome divergent viewpoints

  • Overtly value all participants’ input

  • Talk with participants during breaks and meals

Adapting content and facilitation

Content

  • Integrate local/regional examples and cultural references—not just the standard ones you use “back home”

  • Exercise caution when integrating humor (only use if locally inoffensive, understandable, on point, and funny!)

  • Streamline the number and depth of topics

  • Streamline the number of slides

  • Streamline the amount of content per slide

  • Increase slide font sizes

  • If detailed slides are needed for documentation, distribute a second, more detailed deck after the session

Facilitation

  • Speak in shorter sentences

  • Clearly enunciate

  • Speak more slowly than you normally would

  • Periodically confirm that your pace and enunciation are appropriate (“How’s my English?”)

  • Briefly summarize each key point at its conclusion

  • Pause after key thoughts

  • Avoid colloquialisms

  • Allow additional time for in-class participant reading and activity debriefs

  • Assign exercise scenarios and background information as pre-reads rather than in-class reads

  • Create a safe zone for participants’ grammatical and spelling challenges

  • Allow breakout groups to work in a common, second language if best for all

  • Tailor discussions and exercises for local fit and time allocation

  • Eagerly incorporate local traditions (work schedules, prayer times, dietary requirements, traffic challenges)

  • Try to learn as much as your participants do in each session

  • Increase the ratio of learning through doing/interacting vs. professing/listening

  • Adapt vocal dynamics, eye contact, body language, and gestures to local cultural norms

  • Expect variations in perceptions of time and arrival and break and lunch return timeliness

  • Anticipate challenges from equipment, internet service, utilities, security, and administrative process variations

  • Have all files on multiple back-up media (email, USB drive, additional computer or hard drive, paper originals)

  • Carry appropriate electrical adaptors

Without having all three of these elements in place, even trainers with the greatest technical expertise and previously effective facilitation skills will likely not provide the global training results your group is tasked with providing.  

By now you have probably realized that, even if your organization doesn’t have locations around the world, your workforce has likely evolved to include faces from many, many places.  In other words, these elements are as critical for your L&D success today in Baltimore as they are in Bangalore, in Dallas as they are in Dubai, in Saint Paul as they are in Sao Paulo.   Connect, engage, and adapt: make sure that the employees you are responsible to train are receiving all three, no matter who or where they may be!

Steve Gartrell is a US-based expert facilitator who lived in Asia for half of his childhood.  Following a successful corporate career in the Fortune Global Top 10, he has conducted over 13,000 hours of high-impact leadership training on five continents and the webosphere.  His favorite place to go is “anywhere I’ve never been!”    

Steve Gartrell

Steve Gartrell is a US-based expert facilitator who lived in Asia for half of his childhood.  Following a successful corporate career in the Fortune Global Top 10, he has conducted over 13,000 hours of high-impact leadership training on five continents and the webosphere.  His favorite place to go is “anywhere I’ve never been!”

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