In the last six months, Microsoft acquired a record number of three Israeli start-ups, Apple opened its first R&D center outside the U.S., and Google acquired traffic and navigation app Waze. These are just a few examples of Israel’s visibility in the global business environment. And it’s not just in the high-tech sector—pharmaceuticals, financial, and manufacturing corporations all have sites or offices in Israel to capitalize on the country’s innovative spirit, technical know-how, and Western-style business practices.
In this environment, training—especially cross cultural training—has become a crucial element in aligning work with business goals. Standardizing learning and training is a means of integrating acquisitions and creating a more cohesive workplace.
TIME FOR A COFFEE BREAK
Imagine this scenario: Mark is a highly regarded diversity and inclusion (D&I) training specialist. His key to success is a well-structured, carefully thought-out approach. When he is sent to Israel, he does diligent homework about the Israeli context.
Mark kicks off the day by asking participants to share their cultural background. He plans for 10 minutes. Mark’s question is answered by bantering and joking references to people’s country of origin. Many of the jokes are told in Hebrew, but what he does understand makes him uncomfortable. Any of the comments would be considered inappropriate in a U.S. business environment. Here, people seem to be enjoying themselves immensely with no outward sign of discomfort. After 30 long minutes, he closes down the exercise, decides to forfeit the next section in the interest of time, and goes straight to theory and concepts.
As he begins his presentation, one of the participants asks him how the training connects to her work. Mark points out that this issue will be handled later on in the day. Another participant interrupts and gives an example from her team. This sets off a lively discussion, voices are raised, people talk over each other, and no one seems to be listening. Mark’s pleas to get back to the content are not heard. Someone suggests a coffee break. Mark looks at his agenda and realizes he is irreversibly off track.
It is easy to mistakenly assume that training Israelis is like training Americans. In spite of surface similarities, there are significant gaps in the ways learning, communication, work, and professionalism are approached. The basic assumptions about and expectations from training programs are markedly different.
For example, what is considered a “good” workshop in Israel will entail a high level of interaction between participants. Israelis learn by doing and work best in groups. Bantering, joking, and debating all are seen as fostering a healthy work environment. Everything is open for discussion, including people’s ethnic origins, political views, and other subjects that would be considered taboo in other countries. Given Israelis’ very direct communication style, being “politically correct” is considered an obstacle to authenticity and honesty, which are highly valued. Personal and professional lives overlap, and participants tend to know each other well. Thus, training becomes a teambuilding activity. The boundary between the training room and the office is blurred, and learning has a higher chance of being utilized immediately.
A “good” trainer is expected to be flexible and address whatever comes up. Flexibility and improvisation are more valued than “wasted” time planning. Israelis expect training that follows just-in-time audience needs; there is no “extra credit” for covering all slides.
Training in Israel can present challenges. However, if style and content are adapted, high return on investment and the opportunity for a meaningful interaction will override the challenges.
Anat Kedem is a senior associate with Global Dynamics, Inc. (www.global-dynamics.com). She specializes in cross-cultural training and global teambuilding, especially between the U.S. and Israel. She can be reached at 305.682.7883 or firstname.lastname@example.org.