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The global market has opened up opportunities for new businesses to enter, as well as for those already operating internationally, to expand their operations. This undoubtedly increases the chance of cross-cultural misunderstandings and it is now more important than ever for businesses to undertake training programmes that minimise the risk this occurring, and maximise the potential for successful expansion into an international market. Recent studies indicate that there is an alarming lack of preparatory training taking place when compared with the rate at which the global market has opened up.  But what are the issues and where should this training be focused?

Cultural Awareness

When a business is about to go international, it is important that there is an awareness across the organisation, of the cultural differences that affect the values and attitudes of the people from a foreign country that staff are likely to be dealing with.  In this way, the potential problems that might be encountered during contact with foreign partners, colleagues and agents, can be avoided. Cultural awareness is about treating different attitudes and beliefs with respect and appreciating that some of our own approaches might appear to be different or unusual to foreign colleagues. This training is usually undertaken within the office environment by hiring in specialist trainers to deliver cultural awareness programmes across the organisation

Pre- Departure Training

In order for a business to operate successfully within an international arena, it is almost inevitable that key members of staff will be sent abroad for extended periods of time, and quite possible that representatives from a foreign partner will become involved in moving across to your business. Being relocated into a different culture without adequate training can lead to what is known as culture shock.

Culture shock can normally be attributed to lack of preparation and training, and it is this that pre-departure training is designed to address.  Any business that is looking to play a major part in the international arena can find that progress is hampered by not having the required number of suitably trained and orientated personnel. One of the major problems that can arise is that the employee can experience performance issues in a foreign environment or ultimately fail and be returned before the assignment or task has been completed. This can have repercussions both in terms of expenditure and also the working relationship between partner organisations. It is also worth mentioning that for long-term international assignments where the spouse might also be relocated, then the spouse should also be encouraged to participate in pre-departure training.

Here are some of the main reasons that companies give for not providing this type of training:-

  • The value of the training is in doubt
  • Time to undertake the training is not available
  • The budget required is not warranted due to the temporary nature of the assignment
  • Lack of knowledge of how to carry out training and lack of training experts and expertise
  • The right people do not need to be trained and all that is required are the technical skills

Post Arrival Training

Continuing with the process of orientating the employee after arrival is seen as a vital part of the on-going support process.  Awareness of how staff members and their family are experiencing culture shock and how to develop strategies to manage it effectively is something that is key to ensuring that the assignment is a success. Issues can crop up unexpectedly within the work environment, at home or as a result of everyday life within a different culture. This is equally as applicable when a worker from a foreign a country is assigned to the home country of the business. Productivity, performance and potential failure are all at issue here, and the effort and expenditure involved can pay off in terms of the eventual success of the assignment.


This article has outlined some of the main issues with regard to training and cross-cultural awareness that need to be considered when developing an international business strategy. Not only are we considering the potential success of the enterprise, but there are also some basic welfare issues with regard to the employees that are likely to be sent on assignment abroad. Training, adequate preparation, and on-going support, are the key ingredients that will make for a successful outcome, and ensure that progress is not hampered unnecessarily.

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