What should your cross-cultural training objectives be?

Published on December 20th, 2021

You may be surprised to hear the most common question intercultural trainers are asked. The most frequent question is, “What’s this all about?” 

Too often, learners come to learn about culture and cultural intelligence without any idea of what they are expected to learn and little understanding of what the benefit to them is. This is a fundamental weakness. We know from andragogy (the theory of adult learning), that adults are problem-oriented learners and learn best when they can see the immediate relevance of learning to their real-world challenges. There is no such thing as a surprise learning party! 

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A mixed reputation 

Cross-cultural training has been a central part of international and cross border working since the 1950’s and has a reputation for being at the heart of resolving sensitive problems and challenges faced by multicultural teams. However, like any training, the actual experience of training varies a lot. For some, it is billed as mandatory training to prevent racism; for others, it is framed as a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.  

Learners are often unsure of the expectations from them and can come into the learning environment nervous or even resistant.  

Don’t panic! 

If you’re scheduled to do some cross-cultural training, rather than panic that you’ve done something wrong, let’s take a look at how you can get the most out of the time you will be investing in learning about culture. After all, if you can set effective objectives, you have a much better way of evaluating whether you have invested your learning time and budget effectively. 

Several years ago, a CFO from a high-tech finance organization told me that he wanted to do cultural training in order to be able to get people from other cultures to do what he wanted them to do. It should not be a surprise that we were unable to meet his selfish egocentric objectives.  


At the heart of cultural intelligence (CQ) you will find inclusion. Cultural intelligence enables people from differing backgrounds, perspectives, cultures and countries to work effective, creatively and productively together. CQ builds common ground, shared understanding and collaborative frameworks. It starts with understanding yourself – examining how culture impacts you as an individual and recognizing that you are a unique cultural creation.  

With the smallest amount of imagination, you can deduce that if you are a unique cultural product, everyone around you must be unique as well. And that’s where awareness grows to knowledge. To state this clearly, if your cross-cultural training is designed to raise awareness it is not complete. When you become aware that you have a headache that alone is not enough – you need to take a tablet to fix it, or the awareness will just make the headache worse as it is in the front of your consciousness. 

And just as knowing that ibuprofen or paracetamol can reduce headaches is not enough – you need to take the tablet – in intercultural terms, we need to do something with our knowledge. 

Start by knowing yourself 

That means that when you think about your objectives for cross-cultural training you should be identifying the skills you need to grow to be effective in specific intercultural situations. The first place to start should be to conduct a self-analysis. There are many tools to help you with this, the most famous of these is a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats), but I prefer the SWAIN model: 

  • Strengths: skills and behaviors that help you be more effective 
  • Weaknesses: areas where you need to develop more skill or ability 
  • Aspiration: what do you want to be able to do, what specific tasks do you want to be able to do better? 
  • Inhibitors: what is preventing you from achieving your aspirations? 
  • Needs: what do you need to do/learn/get to overcome the inhibitors? 

From the Needs you identify, you can set yourself specific SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound) learning objectives to ensure that you don’t forget or ignore what you learn. Be keeping a record where you have made yourself accountable to a specific success measure within a specific timeframe, you can activate your learning in your work behaviors. If you don’t have a plan for how you will consolidate learning, learning psychologists predict that you will have forgotten 95% of the learning within three days. 

The value of a second opinion 

If you have the opportunity, discuss your objectives with a mentor or trusted critical friend. Spending 30 minutes identifying your learning needs will multiply the effectiveness of any training, by giving you the focus to extract what you need out of it. It will help you identify the questions you need to ask of the trainer, coach or the content. These questions should start with, ‘what is the problem I am trying to resolve?’ and they can develop from there. 

Remember that cross-cultural collaboration is about inclusion, working together and effective communication so set yourself realistic objectives that are relevant to you and incorporate enabling better working relationships. Culture impacts all of us in everything we do, but until we make our learning intentional, deliberately identifying specific outcomes, we risk thinking about a terrible headache, but not managing to do anything about it. 


Matthew MacLachlan is a well published, leading expert in the field of cultural intelligence, global leadership and organisational development.

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