The challenges of adapting to an unfamiliar culture and community, faced by expats and their accompanying family members, have been studied by social scientists since the early 1960s. Thus was born “Intercultural Communications,” a research-driven field with the practical goal of providing guidance to people who relocate across cultures to live and work. Its objective was, and still is, to enable expats to swiftly become more competent and confident while abroad. Today, this field comprises consultancies of professionals who, drawing on researchers’ findings, skillfully guide and support expats via:
· Training: When several expats and their spouses/partners can be brought together, it becomes possible to deliver group training, which usually is one full day in duration. Training often is provided before the attendees leave home on their assignment.
· Coaching: More effective than training is individual- or couple-coaching. The one-on-one (or one-on-two) relationship fosters the growth of mutual trust, allowing the expat’s unique cross-cultural adaptation challenges and goals to become the focus. The spouse or partner’s needs are equally addressed. Modes of delivery include:
1. Pre-departure and post-arrival: Before the expat departs from home, usually a half-day of coaching is delivered. Then, a few of weeks after their arrival in the host country, a second half-day (or a full day) of coaching is delivered.
2. Post-arrival only: Post-arrival coaching is highly effective because the expat (and spouse/partner) are already facing real-life adaptation difficulties, which the coach can specifically address. A full day of post-arrival coaching is an expat “best-buy.” (Some consultancies also offer coaching for children, comprising activities tailored to the children’s ages and delivered by specially trained “youth coaches.”)
Additional value accrues for expats (and their companies) when their post-arrival adaptation coaching can be continued as executive coaching (a) to support their transition into their new role and team in the unfamiliar business environment, and (b) to develop their global leadership competencies and attain other professional goals. In this format, coachee and coach meet for 1.5 to 2.0 hours every couple of weeks across several months. (The spouse does not join these sessions.)
When thinking about cross-cultural adaptation support, keep these best practices in mind:
· one-on-one coaching is more effective than group training;
· post-arrival programs are more effective than pre-departure programs;
· on-going executive coaching for global leadership development yields enduring value;
· outstanding consultancies use (a) cross-cultural trainers and coaches who are mature professionals with experience living and working globally, and (b) executive coaches who are highly experienced and have completed a coach training program accredited by the International Coach Federation.
Contributed by Cornelius Grove and Willa Hallowell, owners/partners of Grovewell LLC.