Best Practice Cultural Intelligence Training

Best Practice Cultural Intelligence Training

by Felicity Menzies

Cultural Intelligence training develops four competencies necessary for effectiveness in diverse cultural settings:

CQ Drive involves the development of interest, self-confidence, and perseverance in intercultural interactions.

CQ Knowledge involves the acquisition of information about cultural differences and an understanding of the nature of culture and its implications for one’s own and others’ behaviours.

CQ Strategy involves the development of a flexible and well-developed mental capacity for detecting, understanding, and responding to cultural differences.

CQ Action involves the development of a repertoire of verbal and nonverbal behaviours that can be applied flexibly and appropriately across diverse cultural settings.

Best practice Cultural Intelligence training

Effective Cultural Intelligence training should include:

1. Needs assessment

Cultural Intelligence training should be tailored to meet the developmental needs of the participants. Consideration is given to:

  • CQ Assessment: this online questionnaire measures a person’s current overall Cultural Intelligence and strengths and weaknesses across the four main competencies and eleven sub-competencies.
  • Career development plans: CQ training for potential global leaders should begin early in their careers.
  • Nature of intercultural exchange: more intensive training is required for individuals who engage in frequent, critical (more at stake), and complex (greater cultural difference) exchanges with diverse others.
  • Propensity for Cultural Intelligence: individuals who are open to experience, are extroverted, are emotionally stable, have a low need for control, hold a minority status, or possess high cultural capital (for example, pro-diversity values acquired from their parents) respond faster to training and develop higher levels of Cultural Intelligence.
  • Attitude: some participants are enthusiastic and eager. Others feel they are already culturally sensitive or simply do not perceive cultural differences to be relevant. Members of dominant groups may be suspicious of Cultural Intelligence training, mistaking it as an accusation of prejudice. And members of marginalised groups may be concerned they will become the ‘subject’ of training. These concerns can trigger resistance or disengagement.
2. Activity-based instruction

The best learning occurs when a person practices and reflects on their use of newly acquired skills. Activity-based instruction is ideally suited for Cultural Intelligence training because it develops tacit skills. These skills include suspending judgement, alternative perspective taking, making culturally relevant attributions, checking assumptions, and responding appropriately. Activity-based instruction engages learners mentally, emotionally, and behaviourally, which aligns more closely with the realities and complexities of intercultural exchanges.

3. Real-life challenges

Learning motivation increases when training is relevant to the trainees’ life. Cultural Intelligence training must incorporate the real-life challenges of the trainees.

4. Collaborative learning

Cultural Intelligence develops with an intentional, critical, and unbiased examination of one’s worldviews. While private reflection can be useful, group reflection encourages a deeper analysis, a broader information search, and attempts to reconcile or synthesise conflicting viewpoints that lead eventually to a new understanding. Group dialogue also ensures that new concepts, information, and ideas are understood, and enhances outcomes by identifying areas or issues that an individual may have missed.

5. Exercises based on sociological theory

Early diversity programs have been criticised for heightening intergroup tensions, but the risks associated with diversity training have been linked to ill-designed programs. Cultural Intelligence training improves the effectiveness of diversity training by including social psychological theory and empirical research on intergroup relations into the program’s design.

6. A safe and inclusive environment

Some trainees worry they will be caught out or negatively judged for making a politically incorrect, racist, or ignorant comment.

Also, Cultural Intelligence training challenges self-identities core to self-esteem. Self-identities are rigid and resistant to change. When people feel their core belief system or identity is under attack or scrutiny they can become anxious, angry, and defensive.

Moderate anxiety is most conducive to learning: too much or too little is demotivating. The best learning outcomes occur when individuals are challenged beyond their comfort zones, but not so far that they panic.

Acknowledging up front that the content and activities in Cultural Intelligence training can be confrontational and anxiety-provoking helps to create a sense of safety. Setting ground rules for interaction can ease concerns of retaliation or of being on the receiving end of offensive statements. Emphasising the psychological and sociocultural nature of prejudice and discrimination can help by positioning negative intergroup attitudes and behaviours as a societal problem instead of a personality flaw.

The facilitator can also nurture safety by modelling respect, acceptance, honesty, personal disclosure, and introspection.

In addition, anonymous questioning can promote safety and can be phased out as group trust increases.

7. Inclusion

Cultural Intelligence training based on a broad definition of culture (rather than stereotyped groups) reinforces the complex, multifaceted, and overlapping nature of cultural identity and ensures that every trainee can relate personally to the program content.

Facilitators can foster inclusion and equality by actively encouraging all trainees to participate.

8. Managing trainee diversity

Research suggests that multicultural classrooms can be a double-edged sword: trainee diversity can be a resource for cultural learning, but it needs to be carefully managed to avoid negative group processes that can lead to conflict. Unless classroom tensions are effectively managed, negative outcomes might include emotions such as frustration, fear, confusion, and the strengthening of stereotypes and prejudices.

Ascertaining the cultural similarities and differences in the group prior to training highlights areas of potential conflict or subgroup formation. This information can help facilitators establish effective learning partnerships or multicultural networks and teams for group activities and discussions.

9. Skilled facilitators

Cultural Intelligence trainers must have expert knowledge of cultural competency, diversity and inclusion, and the Cultural Intelligence model and assessment process.

They must have experience and knowledge in training diverse groups, training across cultures, adult learning, and coaching.

And they must display high levels of Cultural Intelligence across all four competencies: CQ Drive, CQ Knowledge, CQ Strategy, and CQ Action.

10. Organisational support

The successful transfer of learning outcomes back to the job will not occur unless the wider organisational environment supports, promotes, and recognises the new knowledge, skills, and attitudes acquired in training.

Organisational support for Cultural Intelligence can be demonstrated by linking Cultural Intelligence to the organisation’s strategic objectives; emphasising Cultural Intelligence as a critical human resource competency in communications, promotion, and selection; committing resources for driving, promoting, and rewarding diversity and inclusion and Cultural Intelligence development and achievements; and the modelling of high Cultural Intelligence by senior management.

11. Accommodation for differences in learning preferences

Culture should be considered when designing training programs. The best outcomes occur when there is congruency in cultural orientation and approach.

Successful implementation of training programs globally necessitates consideration of culturally bound learning habits and thoughtful adaptation. Individualist cultures are more receptive to diversity ideals than Collectivist cultures. In national cultures with high Power Distance and Collectivism, a top-down, lecture-style approach with strong management support and an emphasis on the benefits for the group and company is most effective. Yet in cultures with low Power Distance and high Individualism better learning outcomes occur when training is participatory and focussed on personal benefits such as career advancement. The Western technique of role playing is less effective in Asian cultures—in cultures with high Uncertainty Avoidance and greater concern for face (social reputation), role play can be intimidating.

At the individual level, there are four main learning styles. Some individuals are people-orientated learners who respond best to social interaction and discussions.  Others display a preference for learning via critical reflection. Other individuals prefer lecture-based analytical learning. Others learn best by doing (for example, simulation games or role-plays). Because of the likely diversity of learning styles in any training group, training should include activities that address all four learning modes.

12. Assessment and evaluation of outcomes

There are three layers of training assessment and evaluation:

  • Cultural Intelligence competencies. The development of competencies can be assessed by comparing pre-training CQ Assessment scores to post-training scores. Assessment at the level of the group is useful for tweaking future program design. Individual-level learning outcomes feed into professional development plans.
  • Trainee evaluation of the program. Trainees should be surveyed regarding their perceptions of the effectiveness, appropriateness, enjoyment, and usefulness of the facilitator, materials, and activities. Trainees should identify which elements of the course were most useful to them, most challenging, and least relevant. They should also be given the opportunity to explain their responses. Trainees should also be invited to offer suggestions on how to improve the program. Questionnaires should use open-ended questions that encourage feedback that is as rich as possible…yet not so onerous or time-consuming that respondents are put off from completing it.
  • Return on investment. An important part of justifying training and ensuring ongoing commitment from management is demonstrating that the learning from Cultural Intelligence training has added value at the organisational level.  If the return on investment is low, attempts should be made to understand what contextual factors might have inhibited learning transfer.
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Felicity Menzies is CEO and Principal Consultant at Include-Empower.Com, a diversity and inclusion consultancy with expertise in inclusive leadership, unconscious bias, cultural intelligence and inclusion, gender equity, empowering diverse talent. Felicity is an accredited facilitator with the Cultural Intelligence Centre and the author of A World of Difference. Felicity has over 15 years of experience working with and managing diverse workforces in blue chip companies and is a Fellow of Chartered Accountants of Australia and New Zealand. Felicity also holds a Bachelor of Commerce and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology.