Buyer Beware: Think Twice before Buying a Cross-Cultural Training

Much of cross-cultural training bought in the corporate world is the right solution to the wrong problem and yields low return on investment. When a multicultural team is not performing well, culture quickly becomes the scapegoat. The team’s issues, however, are not necessarily the result of a lack of cultural knowledge.

I wrote this article 6 months ago together with my American “Culture-Partner-in-Crime” Jamie Gelbtuch, owner of Cultural Mixology. Our opinions about culture training, our observations, frustrations but also our proposed solutions turned out to be very complementary. Working on this article was intellectually challenging while fun at the same time.

The article was published in Training Industry Magazine, the May/June 2020 edition. You can read the full version here. We have learned a lot from the writing process and decided to further pursue this topic up until we have the right approach to making cross-cultural teams work. We’ve come a long way, and there’s much more to do. We’re glad to hear your thoughts.


The article in a few bullets:

  • Research has shown that “country” can be a poor container of culture, as more differences exist within countries than between them.
  • Perception is a poor compass for deciding where to invest company dollars. In any investment decision, one should return to the facts and clarify the underlying problem that needs to be solved.
  • Cross-cultural training focuses on how cultures are supposed to be rather than how individuals actually are. Training about Brazil doesn’t talk about your company’s team in Brazil. It talks about working with 200 million Brazilians in
  • Using the regular culture frameworks to explain behaviors contributes further to stereotyping and can go as far as creating blame. As we analyze the other culture, we implicitly confirm that the problems we face are a result of the other culture. Our own behaviors, assumptions, and openness to differences remain unchallenged.
  • We argue that every request for cross-cultural training should be received with caution to avoid defining a solution before defining the problem.
  • After thinking through the 5 steps central in the High Impact Learning method, it is unlikely that the outcome is a need for cross-cultural training.
  • It is the openness to learning, rather than the cross-cultural knowledge itself, that should be the focus of training.

But of course, we ask you to read the full version, which will take you 8 minutes. More importantly, we look   forward to hearing about your experiences, especially

  • When your team engaged in cross-cultural training, what we the observable behavior changes you saw in the team afterward
  • Have the stereotypical descriptions of other cultures helped you understand or distracted you from the real issue?
  • If you were to formulate one piece of advice (not two!) for improving cross-cultural training to benefit your company/team, what would it be?

Please get in touch with all your thoughts and comments, I’m looking forward!

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