In The Spotlight: Intercultural Training


The Intercultural Training Group originally formed as an independent research and training organization in 1963. For more than 50 years, we have expanded the expertise, research, and resources of this important function in the overall assignment lifecycle.

Jennifer Rowe, Manager, Intercultural & Language Services, provides some perspective on the criticality of intercultural training.

How does Intercultural Training prepare the employee for unexpected challenges?

Jennifer: It really depends on the individual and where they are relocating. Each program we provide is customized based on the client and individual’s specific goals and needs. What many don’t expect, however, is that just because you have visited a location, or gone there on business, that experience doesn’t prepare you for successfully adapting to living and working in the location. Cultures are layered and a tourist’s experience is quite different from a local. History, values, and approaches to how people work and live have the potential to impact and complicate a move. Proper intercultural training can prepare an employee and his/her family to succeed on assignment.

Through our competency-based training employees and families build knowledge, awareness, and skills so they know how to respond when new or unique circumstances arise.

What are the benefits of intercultural training for corporate clients?

Jennifer: Corporate clients look to intercultural training to help their employees be as effective as possible as soon as they land in their assignment location. In other words, they want them to quickly be able to build business relationships and work successfully with their new colleagues. They are also looking to prepare the assignee’s family for the transition to the new location as well. The inability to adapt to the host location, both for the assignee and for the family, can cause issues and is often a factor in assignment failure. If the assignee and family can successfully adapt to the new country, then the odds of having a positive assignment outcome increase as well.

In addition, as clients continue to scrutinize mobility spend and looking for ways to bolster ROI for international assignments, intercultural training is a cost effective way to help secure a more effective return on the assignment investment for clients.

With so many online training programs available, why do you recommend at least a one-day face-to-face training?

Jennifer: At its best an intercultural program is a one or two day face-to-face session. An in-person training session not only provides time for in-depth knowledge transfer, but also offers focused, live, one-on-one interactions designed to equip the assignee and family with the skills needed to adapt to a new culture. That simply can’t be replicated in an online program; however, we do incorporate online tools to supplement the training experience. For example, the CultureWizard’s Culture Calculator tool is used to guide participants in creating a personal cultural profile based on their preferred behavioral styles. This profile is then compared to the general cultural profile of the destination country, which helps assess similarities and identify potential challenges moving forward. Our participants evaluate the training highly, describing the time investment as very worthwhile and helpful in preparation for their international assignment.

How is BGRS’s Intercultural Training different from other providers?

Jennifer: Overall, the quality of our programs is exceptional. Not only have we established one of the largest intercultural trainer networks in the industry – over 360 active trainers – but the way we structure and deliver our programs is definitely unique. Each of our programs has a lead intercultural trainer, and we also integrate resource consultants throughout the training day. These resource consultants offer an added perspective and bring with them knowledge of specific information based on the participants’ needs. For example, if a participant’s spouse is concerned about a particular aspect of living in the destination country, as part of the training we might incorporate time with someone who was previously on assignment as an accompanying spouse in that same location.

We are proud to say that none of our programs are off the shelf. Our programs are customized at the individual module level and every participant experiences a tailored program because their needs will always be different. Another notable difference is our seamless integration with the BGRS Client Services teams. Because we are part of the same company, the information-flow between our team members and the consultants is continuous, and it helps drive a smoother process for the assignees, their families, and our clients.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where your intercultural training expertise paid off?

Jennifer: Oh, most definitely! While visiting Japan, I was taken to a nice restaurant, where the proprietor knew my host. As is customary, we removed our shoes before entering the building. After the meal, I bent to tie my shoe laces and put my foot on a wooden step that led into the restaurant. Instantly, I heard a sharp intake of breath, and I knew I had done something wrong. I turned to find my host staring disapprovingly at my foot. No one said a word, but I know the Japanese rely heavily on non-verbal communication. Facial expression, tone of voice, and posture tell you what someone thinks and feels. I immediately took my foot off the step and apologized to the proprietor. Although I don’t speak Japanese, I was able to convey my regret and humility through body language and gesture. In the end, my intercultural expertise allowed me to quickly recognize the unwitting error and save face for my host by apologizing appropriately.

For more information about the lasting value intercultural training can deliver to both companies and employees, read Developing Your Talent through Intercultural Assessment and Training.