Recently, a client invested time and money into training all of their employees with the goal of achieving more effective communication throughout the organization.  The training was provided to nearly 1,300 employees at several facilities.  This many people in a very short span of time made the situation a little bit out of the norm but clearly doable.  What made this task challenging was that many participants came from several different cultures and countries, which meant that English was either the individual’s second, or possibly even their third language.

Diversity and communicaiton So, picture the scene…..Communication Skills training, lead by a facilitator in the English language given to a group comprised of international cultures and languages and including Cambodian, Laotian, Chinese,  Japanese, Spanish, Russian, and Hmong.  Easy training to conduct, right?  It posed some unique challenges.  One major component of this training involved using the DiSC profile.  Let’s face it, even those who are native English speakers don’t always understand all of the words and their definitions in this profile and not all English words have a direct equivalent word and meaning in other languages.  For example, the work accountability does not translate into Spanish.  The closest you can get is the word responsibility and these words are doesn’t really say the same thing.  Since translators were not provided, we had to rely on the efforts of one patient facilitator and the teamwork of the group.

To make the classroom dynamics even more challenging, some of these participants were going through an internal culture change.  The organization had recently acquired several of these locations and many of the workers had been transferred from a facility in one state to a location in another state.  This meant that many participants had not had the opportunity to establish relationships within their peer groups.  Integration was still in its infancy stages and some cultures don’t always mix well together.  The “we vs. them” mentality that often develops when new players join a team was still prevalent.  It was clear that our facilitators had some animosity to overcome.

With these obstacles, our facilitators really had only one choice…which was to involve the participants in helping each other, particularly in their native tongues.  We knew that people might not want help from a peer because it would expose their weakness with a language.  What we didn’t expect, however, was that some people who speak the same language, i.e., Cambodian, clearly had cultural barriers of their own.

One particular person, a Cambodian who was able to read and speak English well, finished her DiSC profile relatively fast.  When the facilitator asked her for help with other Cambodian speaking people; she was not only hesitant but her resistance was physically expressed in her face.  Yet, with a specific description of what the facilitator needed and purpose of her help, along with some encouragement, the participant finally agreed to help the others.  This was a big step for her and the other Cambodians.

This cooperation and assistance became very critical to the success of the program.  Without this support many of the other participants would not have been able to complete their DiSC profile and continue with the learning. The point here is that true teamwork can take place, even in very simple forms, when we are able to clearly articulate the common purpose that we share.  Finding the common ground for our people and teams with diverse circumstances can overcome all kinds of obstacles and help improve relationships within an organization to continue to foster the teamwork effort.

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About the Author
Matt Fankhauser
Matt began his career with CMOE and is a Regional Vice President. Matt has experience in management, marketing, advertising, and sales. He has developed and delivered personnel performance reviews, been involved with hiring, interviewing, and training processes for different employment positions. He has participated in market research and conducted interviewing involved with the research. He has delivered keynote presentations at various association meetings for SHRM, ASTD and others. He has facilitated groups in training sessions involved with the skill development of Coaching, Leadership, Team Building, Facilitation, and Strategic Thinking. He has also been involved with the design and development of Executive Team Retreats, organizational case studies and training materials, as well as the translation of organizational training materials.

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