Global mobility of the workforce appears to be one of the most critical outcomes of globalisation. In the contemporary environment, people can work in almost every country in the world, and working in a multinational company makes it even easier for them to access these opportunities. The high stakes associated with international assignments have motivated many scholars to study personal elements and interventions that may increase the success of such transfers. Training and development of expatriates have become particularly popular topics in relation to this problem because training could promote adjustment and enhance the performance of expatriates. Specifically, cross-cultural training has been widely studied by scholars and applied in international HR practice (Kealey & Protheroe, 1996; Deshpande & Viswesvaran, 1992; Osman-Gani & Rockstuhl, 2009). Cross-cultural training is defined as the educative procedures aimed at improving intercultural learning through the development of the affective, cognitive, and behavioural competencies required for effective relations in cultural contexts that are diverse (Morris & Robie, 2001; Landis & Brislin, 1996). CCT focuses on facilitating expatriates’ adjustment to the new culture, roles, and organisational dynamics, and scholars suggest that it contributes to adaptation (Brewster, 1995; Caligiuri et al., 2001). When expatriates experience little to no adjustment issues, they become more efficient in their international assignments, leading to improved chances of success.
Nevertheless, there are some emerging issues that the research must address to ensure that CCT fulfils its promise. First of all, not all cross-cultural training is equally valid, and thus it is necessary to test various models and frameworks to develop an evidence-based training model for CCT. Secondly, it is still unclear whether or not the family of the expatriate should receive training as well. If the beneficial effects of CCT extend to family members and influence their adjustment, this could significantly influence global training and development practice. Lastly, the advancement of technology in recent years created a favourable environment for multinational virtual teams. Cross-cultural training could assist HR practitioners in supporting the work of such groups. The present literature review will review the available scholarly evidence on these emerging issues and explain the gaps evident in the literature. Following the investigation, implications for international human resource management will be explained to highlight how the information could be applied in practice.
Effectiveness of Cross-Cultural Training of Expatriate Workers
The effectiveness of cross-cultural training is a significant issue because the success of international organisations usually depends on the expatriates it employs (Gupta & Govindarajan, 2001). Therefore, the training provided to expatriates could potentially contribute to organisations’ performance and growth of companies (Tung, 1987; Black and Gregersen, 1990; Goldman, 1992). The primary outcome of interest in cross-cultural training is adjustment. Caligiuri et al. (2001) and Brewster (1995) agree that cross-cultural adaptation has an impact on how successful a global assignment is. Yet, the evidence provided by scholars on the subject of CCT effectiveness differs in terms of results.
Many authors highlighted the positive effects of cross-cultural training on expatriates’ adjustment. The literature indicates that there is a positive relationship between CCT and adjustability while cross-cultural adjustment, in turn, is positively linked to performance and has a negative link to early return rates (Deshpande & Viswesvaran, 1992; Caligiuri et al., 2001). Studies by other scholars (Kealey & Protheroe, 1996; Deshpande & Viswesvaran, 1992) have also come to the conclusion that CCT is useful as it boosts the development of skills required to complete international assignments successfully. Some scholars also reviewed the effectiveness of CCT in boosting expatriate performance. A meta-analysis by Morris and Robie (2001) found a generally positive correlation between CCT and expatriate performance, but the results were worse than in previous meta-analyses on the topic and with smaller effect sizes. Some of the more recent studies have also shown positive impacts of CCT on adjustment and performance. For instance, research conducted in Nigeria by Okpara and Kabongo (2017) showed that, although the effect size depended on the type of CCT implemented, the participants generally had higher adjustment scores following CCT than without it. A study by Chen (2015) should also be mentioned because it evaluated not only expatriates’ adjustment but also their involvement, which proved to impact performance. The study concludes that CCT was positively associated with job involvement and also supported the relationship between the participants’ cultural intelligence and their adjustment (Chen, 2015). Wang and Tran (2012) focused on different dimensions of adjustment, including general, interaction, and work adjustment, and reported post-arrival training and language training to have the most influence on these outcomes.
Nevertheless, there were also studies that failed to support the conclusions regarding the effectiveness of CCT or reported its negative influence on expatriates. Mendenhall et al. (2004) CCT literature analysis showed that the number of studies reporting neutral outcomes of CCT in behaviour, attitudes and cultural knowledge is nearly the same as of those proving its effectiveness, although research that considered adjustment specifically highlighted more positive outcomes. Morris and Robie (2001) also concluded that the results of CCT were mixed across studies, and there were no clear explanations for these variations at the time of the survey. Puck, Kittler and Wright (2008) arrived at the same conclusion in their evaluation and urged for more studies into the factors that moderate or limit the effect of CCT. In a meta-analysis by Hechanova, Beehr and Christiansen (2003), the overall impact of CCT on adjustment was negative, thus introducing more contradictions into this scholarly field. Modern research shows that this problem has not been addressed sufficiently. For instance, Moon, Choi and Jung (2012) state that research into the factors influencing CCT effectiveness in various contexts is limited. Their study shows that individual factors, including previous international experience and goal orientation, may have a significant influence on the relationship between CCT and adjustment (Moon, Choi and Jung, 2012). Variations in training also proved to be related to its effectiveness, with specific and express training having little statistically significant effect on adjustment (Moon, Choi and Jung, 2012). Another study in the same region showed a neutral influence of CCT on performance and adjustment outcomes, although the participants had positive perceptions of the intervention (Qin & Baruch, 2010). On the whole, variations in outcomes reported by studies necessitate further research evaluating the effectiveness of CCT and investigating individual and organisational factors that limit or increase it.
Family Involvement in Cross-Cultural Training
Over the years, some scholars have pointed out the need to include families in cross-cultural transitions to stimulate expatriates’ adjustment. Early studies by Black and Stephens (1989) and Caligiuri et al. (1998) highlighted the positive relationship between spousal adjustment and expatriate adjustment. Later studies have also noted that spouses and children who were able to get accustomed to the new country fast had a beneficial effect on the outcomes of international assignments (Cole 2011; Copeland 2004; Larson 2006; Takeuchi et al., 2002). Studies that focused on expatriate performance specifically also proved the relevance of family adjustment. According to Hays (1974), the family had the most significant promise when it came to improving the performance of expats, and Tung (1981) even stated that the failure of spouses to adjust posed the main challenge for companies in international assignments. McNulty (2005) also argued that the lack of spouses’ support, leading to failure in adjustment, was the leading reason for the failure of assignments and an escalation in costs of transfers. Black, Mendenhall, and Oddou (1991) confirmed this view, noting that “the expatriate may possess the necessary skills for successful international adjustment, [but] if his or her spouse does not possess the same skills, an aborted assignment may ensue because the spouse or family members cannot adjust to the new culture” (p. 295). One of the possible reasons for the impact that spouses and family members have on the expatriates’ adjustment is that they become more involved with the host culture than the employee who is primarily concerned with completing the project (Hiltrop and Janssens, 1995). Hence, when they fail to adjust to the host culture soon after moving, it pressures the expatriate into quitting the assignment early or adds to their stress, causing delays and performance errors.
Despite evidence that underlines the importance of spousal and family adjustment to the success of international assignments, there are significant gaps in the application of this knowledge in practice. On the one hand, cross-cultural training, which could stimulate adjustment, is typically only delivered to the expatriate, whereas their family is left with little to no training and support (Bhagat and Prien, 1996; Gupta, Banerjee and Gaur, 2012; Littrell and Salas, 2005; McNulty, 2012). This can contribute to practical challenges experienced by multinational companies if their workers fail assignments due to their families not being able to adjust appropriately.
On the other hand, the number of research studies that could provide a framework for the application of cross-cultural training to families of expatriates is also limited. Some authors have examined the experiences that spouses and children of expats go through in order to model their adjustment (McNulty, 2012; Rosenbusch, 2010). Teague (2015) proposed to adapt social learning theory to offer cross-cultural training for spouses to support their acculturation. Nevertheless, there is a lack of studies that test the influence of spousal or family CCT on expatriates’ adjustment and performance in international assignments. This prevents organisations from addressing this factor sufficiently, possibly leading to an increased risk of assignment failure.
Cross-Cultural Training in Virtual Teams
Another essential emerging issue in regard to CCT is its application in virtual teams. Contemporary technologies have supported growth in online businesses by allowing employees to work freely in virtual settings. As a consequence, people can now work across national borders without physically travelling. Hence, virtual teams are culturally diverse and create a new cultural environment for employees, which could pose the same challenges as expatriation (Keefe et al., 2016). In general, the research acknowledges the importance of culture in virtual teams’ work.
Past research on culture in virtual teams showed cross-cultural barriers to be a significant challenge for virtual teams that might inhibit their effectiveness. According to Keefe et al. (2016), multicultural teams often suffer from the lack of coherence in business processes and communication, leading to critical gaps that affect performance. Multicultural communication is a particularly challenging notion since cultural differences also result in varying communication and interaction styles (Duran and Popescu, 2014; Krawczyk-Bryłka, 2016). As mentioned by Vinaja (2003), language barriers can pose a significant threat to project communication by limiting the involvement of some team members or creating confusion. In addition to the identified issues, Oertig and Buergi (2006) mention cross-cultural problems such as the lack of trust, decreased teamwork, poor interpersonal relationships and conflicts.
In order to overcome these challenges and promote the success of virtual teams, it is essential for organisations to develop cross-cultural communication, cultural awareness and cultural flexibility. Training is believed to have an influence on these factors (Derven, 2016; Eom, 2009; Zakaria, 2017). Nevertheless, the application of cross-cultural training in virtual teams remains understudied, with only a small number of attempts to fill in this gap. For instance, a recent study by Presbitero and Toledano (2018) found cross-cultural training for global virtual team members to increase their levels of cultural intelligence, leading to better individual task performance and greater cohesion within the group. Other than this research, no articles were identified focusing on the outcomes of CCT in multicultural virtual teams. As explained by Brandl and Neyer (2009), scholarly literature in this field lacks both theory and empirical tests, and thus it is not possible for organisations to use CCT in order to enhance their virtual teams’ outcomes.
Gaps in the Literature
As evident from the literature review, there are some crucial gaps in research on the three selected emerging issues in cross-cultural training. First of all, past studies have shown significant variations in the results of CCT, leading to concerns regarding its effectiveness. Evaluating the efficacy of CCT is crucial to justify and guide its application in multinational organisations. One of the factors that impair past research is the variation in outcome measures. Some scholars focus on cultural adjustment as the primary variable, but not all studies distinguish between different types of adjustment. Other measures are also varied, including expatriate performance and assignment success. However, since the factors affecting the effectiveness of cross-cultural training also remain under-addressed in research, it is not possible to explain these variations comprehensively and support organisations in their decision-making regarding CCT.
Secondly, the literature review has also revealed spousal adjustment to be significant to expatriate performance and assignment success. There are plenty of research studies that confirm spousal adjustment to be critical in this process and still, the research on training for expatriate’s spouses and family members is currently lacking, which further restricts practice in the area of CCT. By studying the effect of spousal or family CCT training on expatriates’ adjustment and performance, future literature will contribute significantly to the theory and practice of CCT all over the globe.
Finally, the literature review has also identified significant deficiencies in the application of CCT in virtual teams. Based on the analysis of background material, it is evident that cross-cultural interactions are essential to the success or failure of virtual teams. Intercultural communication and interpersonal relationships have become just as critical in virtual teams as in multinational assignments involving expatriates, and developing employees’ skills and abilities in cross-cultural communication or their ability to adjust to a new cultural setting would thus be of pivotal importance. Nevertheless, very few studies focused on this topic in global training and development literature. Scholars confirm that the problem remains largely understudied, but one study showed positive results of CCT application in virtual teams. Further research on the topic could help to reveal whether CCT is indeed relevant in the context of virtual teams and develop recommendations for its application in companies.
Addressing the identified issues would have a positive influence on IHRM practice all over the globe, particularly with respect to training and development. The effectiveness of CCT is a crucial concern for organisations because training can be expensive and results in losses if the outcomes are not beneficial to employees or the organisation. Poor effectiveness of training can increase the risk of employees failing their international assignments, leading to various risks for the company (Hechanova, Beehr and Christiansen; Morris and Robie, 2001). At the same time, delivering effective, high-quality training interventions could influence the outcomes of international assignments positively, contributing to organisational performance and goals (Kealey and Protheroe, 1996; Deshpande and Viswesvaran, 1992; Okpara and Kabongo, 2017). Therefore, organisations should address the problem of effectiveness at least on the local level, by performing pre- and post-training evaluations and monitoring the results throughout the time of each assignment to decide if the training was effective. Ineffective training should be either amended based on participants’ needs or excluded from the transition plan to reduce financial losses. Employees working in cross-cultural contexts could also contribute since the problem affects their results. For example, they could engage in self-evaluations, or if the organisation does not provide CCT, they could advocate for it.
Family involvement in CCT is another essential problem addressed in the literature review. On the one hand, theoretical works suggest that involving families in training is necessary because spousal or family adjustment correlates with expatriate adjustment, which, in turn, influences their performance and outcomes of the assignment (Caligiuri et al., 1998; Cole 2011; Copeland 2004; Hays, 1974; Larson 2006; McNulty, 2005; Takeuchi et al., 2002). On the other hand, the literature lacks evidence regarding the effectiveness and design of family training. For this reason, family members typically receive very limited support, which can damage the results (Bhagat and Prien, 1996; Gupta, Banerjee and Gaur, 2012; Littrell and Salas, 2005; McNulty, 2012). To address these barriers, the organisation should test family or spousal CCT in conjunction with expatriate CCT to compare the results. Workers and their families, at the same time, could advocate for family involvement. Until the effectiveness of CCT for families and spouses has not been investigated sufficiently, workers could also encourage organisations to try this type of CCT and evaluate the results to generate support for training practice.
Lastly, the current global prevalence of virtual teams is unprecedented. Given that the composition of virtual teams is typically diverse, it is essential to acknowledge cross-cultural issues stemming from this fact, including potential conflicts and communication barriers (Duran and Popescu, 2014; Keefe et al. 2016; Krawczyk-Bryłka, 2016; Oertig and Buergi 2006). Because only one experimental study on the effectiveness of CCT in virtual teams was identified and theoretical information is also minimal, IHRM practitioners should find ways of addressing this challenge without scholarly evidence until the field is sufficiently researched. For example, organisations could apply CCT to some virtual teams and measure its effectiveness internally to evaluate the benefits. Alternatively, they could also address cross-cultural challenges individually or through other methods, not including training. These steps would help companies to develop their knowledge and practice in the area of CCT and virtual teamwork.
Overall, global training and development are essential to the contemporary context of IHRM due to emlployees’ increased global mobility. Given that virtual workplaces and multinational companies contribute to the cultural diversity of employees, cross-cultural concerns are essential to IHRM study and practice in the area. Cross-cultural training was developed as a way of supporting employees in adjusting to a new cultural environment. Despite a large number of studies on the topic, there are significant literature gaps related to the effectiveness of CCT, the involvement of family members in training, and the use of CCT in virtual teams. The fact that these areas are understudied creates some crucial implications for IHRM practices, necessitating managers to develop internal knowledge on CCT or use other methods to support cross-cultural adjustment, communication, or other factors. When the identified problems are addressed sufficiently, companies will likely benefit from the better expatriate performance and a lower risk of failure.
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