Delivering Successful Training and Development Initiatives in High-Context Cultures (ASTD Blog)

by Anna
Published on: February 22, 2014
Categories: Uncategorized
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Originally Published: February 18, 2014 – by Anna Pinsky

Source: http://www.astd.org/Publications/Blogs/Management-Blog/2014/02/Delivering-Successful-Training-and-Development-Initiatives-in-High-Context-Cultures

In my previous blog, I talked in general about the challenges and opportunities of working in new or unfamiliar international cultural contexts. Now, I would like to focus on the area of training and development in high-context cultures.

Make training safe through careful design of exercises

Effective adult learning requires the provision of a space in which it is safe to try out new skills, where it is acceptable to make mistakes, and where individuals can be given support to learn from those mistakes.

However, in some high-context cultures training can be challenging due to the fact that training participants are going to be less willing to try something new for fear of making mistakes. One reason for this, in Japan, is the traditional education system which focuses on rote learning rather than learning through inquiry. Mistakes are seen as something to avoid at all cost rather than as a part of the learning process itself. Consequently, it is said that the education system does not encourage learning from mistakes and creates an environment of fear.

For example, Japanese students are generally known to be much quieter and less willing to ask questions in classroom situations than their western counterparts. B.J. McVeigh writes inJapanese Higher Education as Myth that it is fear rather than shyness that leads to the lack of a response or questions in a classroom setting.

So, what are the implications for us when we are delivering training in such contexts?

What it means is that we have to be more creative with exercises so that individuals can take the risk to try new things without fear of being seen to “be wrong” in front of others. In practice this might mean focusing on replacing large group exercises with more small group or pair exercises and letting individuals prepare answers or exercises with others before presenting to the wider group.

Take time to check needs with participants—not just the training sponsor

Prior to delivering any training in high-context situations, it is also well worth your time to conduct interviews with several training participants—and not just the training project sponsor.

Doing so will not only enable you to get a better grasp of the participants needs, but also help you start to develop a relationship of trust with individual participants so that they can help act as your supporters to demonstrate various exercises and make other participants more willing to take the risk of trying out new roles and activities during the training itself. Keep in mind that individual interviews can be conducted over the telephone, if necessary. 

Check for insight and awareness first

The Development Pipeline, outlined by D.B. Petersen in The Evidence-Based Coaching Handbook, is one model used by many coaches to gauge where the greatest need for development is required for an individual client. In other words, the Development Pipeline is a useful model to identify which aspect of learning might be preventing the individual from making progress with their own development.

Here is a simple summary of the five parts of the Development Pipeline:

  1. Insight: Extent to which the person understands what areas he or she needs to develop in order to be more effective.
  2.  Motivation: The degree to which the person is willing to invest the time and energy it takes to develop oneself.
  3. Capabilities: The extent to which the person has the necessary skills and knowledge.
  4. Real-world practice: The extent to which the person has opportunities to try out new skills at work.
  5. Accountability: The extent to which there are internal and external mechanisms for paying attention to change and providing meaningful consequences. 

Precisely because of potentially different cultural norms and expectations, when delivering training or development initiatives in high-context cultures one should set aside extra time to ensure that “Insight” is addressed. That means making sure you have checked that training participants understand why the training is taking place, what issues the training is intended to address, and what different behaviors and tasks participants will be expected to demonstrate as a result of the training.

What have you learned that you would add to the above list to help others prepare for training in unfamiliar or different cultural contexts? 


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