Training Different Business Cultures

In the past year I am lucky enough to have travelled a lot for work.

It has ranged from the westernmost coast of the United States to the far east of Asia, all in the name of delivering the Servicemax Admin Certification Program.

Each country brings with it a unique set of challenges. From forcing down sea urchin and salmon roe in Japan to avoid causing offense, to politely declining Reindeer topped pizza in Finland: culinary tests of fortitude are a common one.


As I have mentioned in a previous blog the ice breaker task is key. It enables me to understand the experience levels of the class attendees and help manage expectations for the week ahead. By asking ‘what are your 3 excitements for this week’ I know what areas of the course will stimulate people during the week and where to expect the most questions.

In Helsinki I was greeted with perhaps the toughest ever response to this question, whereby the very first attendee simply stood up, claimed;

“I am Finnish: we do not get excited as we don’t show any emotion”

…and then proceeded to just sit back down. I laughed and awaited his actual answer but it never came.

One by one the rest of the class simply ignored this question, seemingly happy with the precedent the first attendee had set with his answer. This meant I was missing a key piece of detail, one I am always keen to have in order to tailor my class accordingly.


Before undertaking training in Tokyo I received much advice from people who had done business there before. Having survived the notorious ‘exchange of business cards’ (the rules of which could be a blog in themselves!) I was then warned that, in some circles, questioning a teacher is deemed to be rude. Some interpret asking a question as insulting, as you may be insinuating you have not been effectively taught everything you need to know.

In these circumstances ambiguity is helpful to no one. Therefore in order to avoid a scenario where attendees did not understand something, but wouldn’t make this explicit, I had to tweak my delivery. Rather than asking the class what questions they had at the end of each module, I proceeded to ask myself the questions I most commonly experienced in my previous classes. I would then either provide the answers myself, or if I was feeling particularly cruel, would select an individual to answer.

Another common hurdle when training abroad is language. By far the biggest challenge I faced this year was delivering a class via an interpreter. The translator herself was fantastic, she mirrored my body language when explaining slides and had gone through all material ahead of schedule to pre-empt any troublesome industry terms.

However, from my side of things it was utterly exhausting. I would be midway through a sentence when suddenly I would panic, worrying ‘should I stop talking now otherwise it may be too much for my colleague to translate in one go?’. I would also spend ages deliberating whether to change the wording in the standard materials, out of fear certain terms simply would not translate correctly. Establishing a scenario where a technician needs ‘a part’ as opposed to needing ‘a convex abdominal transducer’ just seemed kinder for everyone involved.


As a man who can still remember his own training I have empathy for everyone who attends these sessions. Delivering training abroad requires even further understanding, combined with an increased level of preparation.

However, no matter how much you plan there will always be a curveball thrown your way, so flexibility and acute thinking are essential tools of the trade. Worst comes to worst don’t get flustered, just breathe deeply and whisper to yourself “I am Finnish and we don’t show any emotion”….

Marco Erzingher is a Salesforce Certified Administrator, Developer and Sales Cloud Consultant at Westbrook International


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