With the globalization of the world's economies, the ease of
travel, and convergence in many industries, the need for global
training events is becoming more common. However, global training
events are full of minefields. The hidden dimensions of
cross-cultural differences can undermine even the most successful
and well-intended training manager.
Imagine that you have been tasked with coordinating a major global
training event. Take the quiz below to test your cultural
A multinational corporation is having a global training event with
visitors from Asia. You have been asked to emphasize the
international nature of the event. As a personal touch, you have
nametags printed for each attendee in both English and their native
language in a beautiful, red script. Some participants take their
tags and put them in their pockets, preventing anyone from knowing
who they are and from which country they come. What happened?
For the opening dinner reception, you have made sure to offer a
wide variety of foods. While the main course was a big American
steak, you also made sure there was pork-fried rice for Chinese
visitors and lamb korma for your visitors from India. Many people
did not touch the food. Why?
The centerpiece of each table had a floral arrangement accented by
colorful chopsticks placed vertically in the flower arrangement.
You noticed people removing the chopsticks. Why?
Each attendee was given the gift of a beautiful travel clock with
the company's logo on the bottom. Most people did not even open the
gifts and a few left them behind. Why?
The importance of understanding
Over the past 20 years, we have seen each of these cultural
blunders mentioned above, and some of them totally ruined an
otherwise well-planned training event. Given religious diversity,
differences in male and female relations, national differences, and
more, a training planner has to be cross-culturally competent or
risk offending guests. In reality, just a few key factors are most
critical, and these can be learned.
We will review the explanations for the above misunderstandings,
but realize that these cases are just the tip of the iceberg.
Why didn't people wear their nametags? Perhaps they didn't want
people to know who they were or from where they came? This is not
very likely. The reason some guests refused to wear their nametags
is that in some Asian countries it is considered very bad luck to
have your name written in red. One's name is written in red when
one dies - not an auspicious beginning to a training event.
The main course is a major blunder. While many Asians enjoy steak
(Japanese in particular), others do not eat it at all. For example,
a devout Muslim from Indonesia (the largest Muslim country in the
world) might be concerned that the meat was not halal - prepared
according to Muslim tradition. Of course, they also would stay far
away from the pork-fried rice.
Your Indian attendees looked over the offerings including the lamb
korma (your favorite Indian dish) and refused to eat anything
beyond the salad and the dessert. Was it that they didn't think the
korma was prepared properly? Not likely. Many of the guests from
India were vegetarians, and therefore, none of the main courses
Why did some of the participants remove the festively painted
chopsticks? Was it because it was inappropriate to paint
chopsticks? Did they want to take them home as souvenirs? Not
likely. Placing chopsticks vertically is also a sign of death. It
is reminiscent of placing incense sticks to commemorate the loss of
a loved one.
Finally, why didn't some people open their gifts and others left
their gifts behind? In many Asian cultures, opening a gift in front
of others is considered rude. But why leave them behind? Perhaps
they already had a clock? Not likely. Usually people would accept a
gift because rejecting a gift causes loss of "face" to the giver.
Perhaps the logo was inappropriate? Not likely again. The problem
is that in some Asian countries clocks are a bad omen. The word for
clock is similar to the word for death in
Given the increased importance of global training events, it is
critical that planners remain sensitive to cultural differences.
The very success or failure of your next meeting could depend on