With the third-highest number of patents per population (after the U.S. and Japan), more startups than anywhere except the U.S., the second-highest concentration of high-tech companies outside Silicon Valley and R&D centers for major global corporations, Israel is a cutting-edge, key global business player. Among ubiquitous Israeli inventions are the cell phone, disk-on-key, drip irrigation, and instant messaging. Many Fortune 500 companies have operations in Israel, capitalizing on Israeli innovation, technical know-how, and Western-style business practices. In this environment, training—especially cross-cultural training—has become a crucial element in aligning work with business goals.
Imagine this: Sue, an American time management expert, attributes her consistent training success to her grounding in a well-planned, structured PowerPoint presentation. When she is sent to the Israeli site of a U.S. company, she does diligent homework, adds content slides, expands the objectives, and learns some words in Hebrew.
What she doesn't expect is attendees showing up late or engaged in lively conversations, or absent participants who reportedly are attending an urgent meeting. Even more unexpected is participants e-mailing during her presentation. Someone even challenges the wording of her carefully thought-out objectives.
After an hour of questions on every slide, loud debates, and lapses into Hebrew, Sue is only on slide 7 of 60! She calls a break.
What went wrong?
It is easy to mistakenly assume that training Israelis is like training Americans. In spite of surface similarities, there are significant differences with tremendous gaps in the ways Americans and Israelis perceive and approach learning, communication, work, and professionalism. In fact, I change my facilitation style, materials, slides, and exercises completely when training Israelis vs. Americans.
Consider the following when training Israelis:
Time: Israelis' attitude toward time is relaxed, so expect starting and ending later than official times. Give exact break lengths, and be ready to "round up" participants. Israelis are natural multi-taskers; simultaneous e-mailing is not meant as disrespect—it is considered being efficient.
Planning/Surprises: Israelis say, "Plans are a basis for change." Changes and surprises are constants in Israeli life, so be prepared for unexpected occurrences such as schedule changes or participants being called away. Flexibility and improvisation are more valued than "wasted" time planning. Israelis expect training that follows just-in-time audience needs; there are no "extra points" for covering all slides. Thus, there is no need for a training road map or detailed agenda nor much time spent on objectives/goals/disclaimers, which are seen as unimportant. Crystallize content into a few key points to keep in mind when changes occur.
Questioning: Israelis display seriousness when they begin debating various sides of an issue, and they show interest by questioning. Be prepared to be challenged; it's not meant as criticism. Rather, be worried if your Israeli audience is too quiet. Israeli training is very interactive, and group exercises are the preferred method, which means covering less material. Extra content can be incorporated into takeaway materials.
Communication style: Israelis raise voices and interrupt regularly in normal conversations. This doesn't indicate fighting or disrespect. To get their attention, be as assertive as they are.
Language: Israelis are used to studying and working in English and speak relatively well, but for most it's not their first language. Simplify materials/slides, go more slowly, and be prepared for impromptu translations and digressions into Hebrew.
Israeli audiences are sophisticated. Training is entrenched in organizations, and most Israeli employees are exposed to a wider variety of training than their American counterparts. Learning is welcomed, but to be effective, U.S. trainers need to adjust to the Israeli style of learning.
Anat Kedem is a senior associate with Global Dynamics, www.global-dynamics.com. She specializes in cross-cultural training and global teambuilding, especially between the U.S. and Israel. She can be reached at 973.927.9135 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.