Building a Global Training Program: Content and Instructional Design

Perhaps the most important topic for a global training program is communication.

By Jennifer Lawrence, Founder, Cambridge Corporate Training

Once a company decides to pursue a global training program and reaches shared agreement on how to define and develop the initiative, the instructional design team can take the next step: deciding what content to offer and how to design instruction to deliver it. Perhaps the most important topic for a global training program—and thus, an excellent place to begin—is communication. This article explains:

  • Whytraining in communication provides a strong foundation for global programming.
  • Whatteaching objectives are essential for global training in communication.
  • Howto design appropriate instruction for global training in communication.

Why Start with Communication?

Communicating effectively with team members and customers around the globe is considerably more complex than interacting within one office or headquarters location:

  • First, language and cultural differences may make shared understanding difficult. As one manager described a typical phone conversation with a colleague, “We both speak English, but I live in Mumbai, India, and he’s in Savannah, GA. Sometimes we pronounce words so differently that it’s hard to follow each other’s sentences.”
  • Second, managers who live and work in different countries or regions may not possess the same tacit knowledge, so commonly held assumptions may be quite different, contributing to misunderstandings or lost opportunities for connection. For example, a company memo that states, “We will be closed for the Labor Day holiday,” immediately brings to mind the first weekend in September for North American employees in the U.S. and Canada. . . and May 1 for employees across Europe, Asia, and South America.

Initiating your global training program with the topic of communication signals your company’s commitment to developing and engaging all members of the workforce by building a shared base of understanding. Improving communication across countries helps to ensure that all employees can contribute most effectively toward shared corporate goals, regardless of their proximity to headquarters. Three popular types of global training programs that achieve this purpose are:

  1. Cross-cultural communication
  2. Cross-functional communication
  3. Communicating with virtual teams

Teaching Objectives for a Global Training Module in Communication

The essential teaching objective for cross-cultural communication programs is:

  • To develop, display, and deploy a shared understanding of cultural and language norms that differ by country or region.

Programs that focus on communicating across functions, as well as geographies and time zones, should add two more essential objectives to the above cross-cultural objective:

  • To develop, display, and deploy a shared understanding of department goals.
  • To identify and resolve causes of conflict that hinder cooperation between functions.

Communication programs focused on the challenges of virtual teams emphasize two related objectives in addition to the cross-cultural objective listed above:

  • To ensure shared understanding of procedures and goals to achieve intended outcomes.
  • To develop, display, and deploy expertise with a range of work team technology tools.

How to Design Instruction for Global Training in Communication

Training instruction that is interactive and flexible provides the ideal teaching environment to deliver these communication objectives. The method of delivering training content is itself a source of learning for participants: Do you want participants to learn that communication between people works best when information is delivered as a lecture accompanied by PowerPoint slides? Or do you prefer your employees to absorb the lesson that communicating important issues often benefits from creative conversation and shared dialogue?

Interactive instructionemphasizes employee participation throughout the training. When employees “jump in” right from the start, they find overcoming linguistic or cultural awkwardness to be easier, and they are more likely to remain relaxed and enthusiastic while trying out new approaches through the training process. Initial ice-breakers or introductions set a light tone and offer opportunities for the group to come together informally. Make sure to include opportunities for participants to practice new approaches with a few peers, and to then share the resulting role-plays or stories with the larger audience. This “two-step tryout” technique provides employees who may be more diffident with a chance to become comfortable speaking and sharing in a small group, while offering more outspoken and confident employees an opportunity to share ideas across the entire class.

Flexible instructionprovides space for spontaneous suggestions and creative interaction. When trainers plan space in their agenda for participant feedback and sharing, the resulting program is considerably more fluid and the learning more sustainable. Providing learners with time to absorb and consider the implications of the training experience allows participants to reflect and reinforce new concepts. One simple way to create a more flexible training module is to include discussion of the participants’ goals at the workshop beginning, before launching into the day’s topics. Circle back at the training’s midpoint to check with participants that their stated goals are being reached—and be prepared to adjust topics, tone, or timing if needed. Listening and responding to participant perspectives reinforces the communication skills that your workshop is conveying.

Building a Successful Global Training Program

Building a global training program that starts with a communication module; sets learning objectives for communicating across cultures, with different functions, and in virtual teams; and offers instruction that is both interactive and flexible will enable you to offer an important corporate service that will enhance your employees’ abilities to contribute effectively in locations near and far from your headquarters offices.

In my next article, I will explore teaching in a global training program, including tips for instructors.

Jennifer Lawrenceis the founder of Cambridge Corporate Training, which provides advanced management education to business professionals around the globe. Previously, she headed corporate relations for Harvard Business School’s executive education programs and was a professor at Boston University’s School of Management. Lawrence began her career as a marketing executive at Reebok International. She holds an MBA and an M.Ed from Harvard University and can be reached at:

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