Somewhere on a small island located in the Pacific Ocean, a group of 10 employees are settling down in the training room of their call center. The organization has recently been awarded a contract for an aviation firm based in the Middle East. The employees will be responsible for handling inbound calls made by the firm’s customers in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. On the bright side, the language spoken in both the countries is the same – English. The main challenge, however, is that the call handling employees have never interacted with a person from the Middle East. In a few moments, the trainer will commence the cross-cultural training, educating the workforce on an ethnic background they have never interacted with.

Training a Culturally Diverse Workforce

The majority of metropolitan cities across the globe are experiencing an increase in multiculturalism. The societies are being introduced to diverse customs, lifestyles and traditions. Not only has relocation influenced communal set-ups, it continues to establish global organizations in numerous capitals.

The work culture within a conventional Multinational Corporation (MNC) invariably leads to employees interacting with more than one ethnic background. Offshore outsourcing of operations, or international organizations, require a culturally diverse workforce to function as one team.

While the process of intercultural communication opens the door to knowledge enhancement, it also generates an inventory of differences. Employees are unable to relate to the newly introduced culture and its norms. Lack of ethnic awareness, stereotyping and language dissimilarity are some of the most common barriers leading to operational disputes and project failures. Considering the organization’s financial constraints, employees do not necessarily travel to the city or country to receive first-hand experience related to the culture, which leads to assumptions and obliviousness.

Another common repercussion of diverse cultures working together are the difficulties encountered with problem-solving and conflict management. A difference of opinion and failure to negotiate, while determining solutions to challenges, is inevitable and often leads to unsolicited disagreements and delayed responses. In the long run, consistent disagreements result in the overall regression of the organization.

In order to avoid misinterpretations and diverges, fostering awareness around the other culture becomes a necessity. Customized training workshops, established around the related ethnic background, can assist in cultivating sensitivity and aid interactions. The goal of the training course should be to eradicate any existing stereotyped thought processes and introduce the need to be considerate of other backgrounds.

Developing a Multicultural Training Strategy

Incorporating the following measures, in the process of developing an effective and educational learning curriculum, can ensure that multicultural exchanges become effortless and productive.

Field experience: A considerable number of MNC trainers travel to different cities and countries to spend time with the associated culture and bring back first-hand experience for the training room. Not only does this allow adapted development of the training prospectus, the trainer is able to share their personal narratives. As an alternative, organizations tend to opt for a trainer who originates from the culture in question. This practice ensures authenticity of information and transparent communication of cultural expectations.

Instruction material: Incorporating books, videos, movies, music and documentaries related to the ethnic background into the training program can create a graphic impact and enhance the learning experience. Employees are better able to comprehend the culture’s method of interaction, behavior, expressions and general facts. The visual material also assists with engraving essentials surrounding customs and beliefs, including history, attire, norms, rules, interests and values.

Language exploration: A difference in language is a significant barrier to communicating effectively. Introducing employees to common slang and jargon is a useful technique and prevents moments of awkwardness during interactions. Some MNCs also opt for voice and accent training for the workforce. This technique allows employees to converse with the other culture successfully. Another language aspect requiring exploration is the method of nonverbal communication. Many cultures have unique ways of communicating through gestures and body language. Embracing these methods during interaction with other cultures is an excellent approach to breaking barriers.

Business etiquette: Educating employees on professional protocol is a necessity. A difference of interpretation in work-related procedures, methods and notions is a common occurrence in a multicultural environment. This further affects the quality, effectiveness and delivery of a project or responsibility. The curriculum surrounding work culture should include crucial expectancies, including hierarchy, professionalism, presentation and communication, which will eventually allow involved cultures to be adapted and implement a common viewpoint.

Introduce a cultural ambassador: Oftentimes, employees prefer having a dedicated personnel, who can be contacted at regular intervals and answer the most basic queries. A dedicated ambassador, representing the culture and being available to clarify details related to the background, is a productive option. It is preferred that the ambassador is from the background in question, which also ensures that the information being verified is authentic.

Keep abreast with current affairs: Keeping an eye on the world news and staying informed about matters related to the other culture is a great initiative. This may include subscribing to newspapers and apps delivering the latest information. This particular practice is also useful in breaking the ice when commencing conversation with the other person and understanding general reactions to a particular update.

The Role of Training

In general, employees are keen on exploring various backgrounds to ensure easier workflow and communication. Despite initial resistance, regular workshops and information snippets are beneficial in introducing the workforce to a new dimension. While it is our responsibility to impart knowledge to individuals by highlighting facts surrounding the culture, there will be times when contrary specifics may need to be shared with the audience. Oftentimes, this is what employees tend to remember the most and it affects their impression of the background. Where possible, always highlight encouraging and progressive essentials related to the culture, which can be used by employees to enhance work relationships.

Going back to the previously introduced scenario of the classroom in the Pacific Ocean, the employees have finished watching a documentary with a woman driving a Ferrari in a hijab and challenging men to race on the busy streets of Dubai. As preconceived stereotypes begin to diminish, the participants are fascinated by how their own culture is different to the one in the Middle East and the amount of surrounding knowledge awaiting exploration.