While the world may seem to be spinning out of control over divisive politics, a strong unseen undercurrent of training that builds respect and understanding is running through global organizations. These training interventions have unique challenges to overcome, but the results in improved productivity, profitability, trust, and respect among co-workers make tackling these challenges worthwhile.
Let’s look at two case studies, one a German pharmaceutical company and the other a manufacturing facility in Saudi Arabia, and see how they faced their diversity and inclusion challenges.
CULTURAL INTELLIGENCE TRAINING FOR 200 INTERNAL CONSULTANTS FOR A GERMAN PHARMACEUTICAL COMPANY
Challenges: More than 200 savvy internal consultants from multiple countries were coming together in Germany for a one-day retreat, so they could get to know each other better and learn about cross-cultural differences within their teams and with regard to the global clients they support. HR wanted there to be multiple opportunities for the participants to meet in smaller groups so they could get to know each other better. The majority of the attendees were from Germany, and the training was to take place in English. A U.S.-based training organization was selected to deliver the training. The German hosts wanted to have a fun evening event to conclude the day, with all the attendees dressing up in costumes representing cultures other than their own. For example, the Germans would dress as Brazilians. However, the American participants said they would refuse to do this since it would lead to stereotyping and divisiveness rather than inclusion.
Solutions: A U.S.-based training organization, which specializes in global team development and with prior global experience with this company, was selected to design and deliver the multicultural retreat. The training company assigned seven of its German-speaking and Germany-based trainers to assist in the design and delivery of the program. This eliminated the possibility that the training had underlying American cultural biases and prevented the impression that this was a U.S. program being imposed on a predominantly German audience. The only presentation made by an American was the keynote to kick off the retreat.
Seven facilitators were selected, so the 200 participants could meet in smaller groups. The training methodology was almost exclusively interactive, with many opportunities for the participants to get to know each other and to share insights about their cultures. Case studies derived from the participants were used to illustrate cross-cultural challenges they face in their assignments. Participants shared their cultural profiles and discussed best practices to overcome the differences with each other.
At the conclusion of the program, the participants wrote their key learnings on a 40-foot-long roll of paper and then walked around the list capturing each other’s ideas, which later were posted on the group’s Website. In consultation with the training organization, it was decided that the costume event was inappropriate and could be offensive, so the evening event was an elaborate dinner followed by a dance party.
The success of the program was measured in part by the number of participants who identified colleagues from other countries as “buddies” and committed to stay in touch on a monthly basis to share ideas and experiences. Informal measures of success were the hundreds of key learnings from the program that were recorded, and the laughter and smiles of the participants.
INCLUSIVE LEADERSHIP AND DIVERSITY TRAINING IN SAUDI ARABIA
Challenges: Saudi Arabia is committed to increasing the number of Saudi citizens employed in the economy, with a focus on non-energy-related industries. To achieve this objective—known as the Saudization program—foreign companies are being incentivized to open new manufacturing facilities in the kingdom. Due to historical factors, many Saudis have not had significant experience managing and leading the diverse workforce in Saudi Arabia. As a solution to this lack of experience, Western companies working in Saudi Arabia are offering cross-cultural and diversity training for their multicultural teams. Some of the unique diversity factors that must be addressed include: degree of religiosity (those more observant versus those who are less observant); nationality differences (both in regard to the many employees from Southeast Asia and the nationality of people from the Middle East); and discrimination by some, based on gender, sexual orientation, and those who are not Muslim.
Solutions: A training program was designed to specifically address these topics in an open and non-confrontational manner. The process began with interviews with the current non-Saudi head of a new and expanding manufacturing facility, who identified six specific topics he wanted to address. Next, the HR leader for the region offered corporate mission statements regarding diversity and leadership competencies that the head of the facility would introduce at the start of the program. A trainer with more than 20 years’ experience working with leading Saudi organizations was selected to lead the training. Getting a respected trainer was critical since both the topic and the trainer (who is a Western woman) could be seen as “foreign” and not relevant to their situation. The training methodology combined instructor-led facilitation and interactive group activities to draw out and reinforce key learning points. A deliberate informal facilitation style encouraged inclusive participation.
The result of the program was an increased openness to address the diversity issues being faced by the leaders and supervisors at the plant. All of the potentially disruptive topics were discussed openly and with respect for all. The leadership team and supervisors created specific action plans and milestones to be achieved. The success of the program was measured by the positive responses of the Saudi and non-Saudi attendees. In fact, the supervisors wanted to roll out the program to their employees.
OTHER TRAINING EXAMPLES
Here are other examples of recent diversity and cross-cultural interventions:
1. A two-day cross-cultural strategy retreat for executives of a leading European biopharmaceutical company being bought by a major Korean chaebol on how to best integrate the cultures of the two organizations.
2. Customized cross-cultural training for expats going to the U.S., France, Saudi Arabia, and Taiwan. Each family received its own program to address its specific needs.
3. An unconscious bias training for a high-tech company in Malaysia focusing on the hidden aspects that impact successful relationships. Special concern was paid to the systemic differences found in Malaysian society between the three main ethnic groups: Malays, Chinese, and Indians.
4. Training U.S. scientists to work with Japanese scientists on the impact of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in World War II. This training was meant to help the U.S. scientists understand the cultural underpinnings of Japanese society and workplace relationships to expedite working relationships.
5. Teambuilding for Israeli and American technology teams. While both the Israelis and Americans had the necessary technical skills, their differences in communication styles were leading to mistrust and bad feelings. These common cultural differences were addressed in a non-threatening workshop featuring numerous simulations.
6. Webinar series on working globally for the U.S. unit of a major Dutch chemical company that has a multicultural workforce and client base.
While it may appear that those things that divide us are immutable, the reality is that organizations are seriously addressing these differences in order to build bridges of understanding.
Please share your best practices and challenges when addressing differences with me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Neal Goodman, Ph.D., is president of Global Dynamics, Inc., a training and development firm specializing in globalization, cultural intelligence, effective virtual workplaces, and diversity and inclusion. He can be reached at 305.682.7883 and at email@example.com. For more information, visit http://www.globaldynamics.com.