Cultural training is a common exercise for companies who are expanding internationally.

Sometimes these international relationships come as a result of acquiring existing businesses across the globe, or sometimes they arrive in the form of new partnerships with businesses in other countries.

In order for these relationships to be successful, teams need to gather an understanding of the cultural norms and expectations so that they can communicate effectively and reduce the risk of offending others.

Why Cultural Training Matters

Think about the implications of cultural differences within a real life setting: A team in Mexico might place a high value on titles and status within the organization and look to leaders for explicit direction, while a team in Sweden might hide their organizational titles and place importance on working as a team. Or in another instance: You start discussing a story about your family life—and your new business partner is appalled by the personal details you’re sharing.

Knowing and understanding the cultural expectations of your new associates not only makes things run smoothly within a business, but it dramatically reduces unnecessary friction that can lead to mistrust.

eLearning as a Solution

The next question becomes, “What’s the most effective way to offer this type of training?”

eLearning offers a unique format for cultural training in that it allows learners to experience the nuances of cross-cultural interactions in realistic situations.

Scenario based eLearning lets learners test out their initial reactions to different situations and get results on how that choice would have been received by others.

For example: You’re presented with a situation in which you need to decide how to communicate with your whole team—including partners in another country. You can either schedule a call, or fly in the outside team for an in-person meeting (even though it might take longer.) Depending on which option you choose, you’ll get results that show how your decision impacted the people from a different culture.

These opportunities to recognize the failures (and successes) in cross-cultural communication create meaningful learning opportunities that have real life application. Including some feedback throughout the course also helps learners gauge their success along the way.

How to Approach Cultural Training

We recommend beginning this type of training with a foundation of cultural understanding for each unique location.

This typically comes in the form of basic situational interactions. When learners can see how their actions and responses to common business situations play out within different cultural contexts, they’re not just being told the cultural expectations—but they’re being shown how they unfold through back-and-forth conversations.

After an interaction wraps up, taking a moment to review the values and expectations with the different culture reinforces those important factors to remember. This is a great time to recap the general cultural lessons being taught within the previous interaction.

Then, when each cultural region has been completed and the learner feels comfortable with the information and understanding they’ve gained, a final quiz makes sure he or she has properly retained the lessons. This final wrap up is also a great way to measure learning outcomes and identify areas for improvement via feedback.

A Powerful Training Tool

When executed correctly, the eLearning format creates a neutral area for sensitive topics like cultural training. Because each trainee works on his or her own, you reduce the risk of unintentional offense and can train your team seamlessly across the board before they are launched into actual interactions.

Just remember: Cultural training can easily be transitioned from a linear format into a more interactive format like eLearning—it’s just a modern twist on the classic training you’ve been using for years.