I remember it well. It was summer 2015. I was to deliver the first morning of a significant 8-week leadership training programme for a group of 5 officers from a Middle East air force. They were our first international defence client and we were being tested. I was wheeled out to make a big impression. I’d been delivering leadership training for many years, so this was a doddle.
By the time they’d arrived 30 minutes late for the 9.30am kick off, made themselves some Arabic coffee, had a chat with all the staff on their way through to the training room I was starting to shred my session plan and my nails. I had discovered a very fine line between very anxious and extremely irritated.
The following 3 hours were a hilarious mix of unplanned breaks and 10-minute diversions to clarify phrases such as ‘off the top of my head…’, ‘think out of the box’ and ‘not my cup of tea…’. I recall I’d given them a handful of the content I’d originally planned, had a complete ball but was exhausted.
Lunch was announced to everyone’s delight, only for us to discover (thankfully just in time!) that the external caterer had failed to ponder that chorizo might just be made of pork…
Then it hit me. All of the challenges I had faced with my new client group that morning were simply a matter of cultural differences. Different cultures view the concept of time differently. I was not only using a different language, but local ‘jargon’ developed in the UK for centuries. And not realising that the first thing on my new students’ minds was to build trust and relationships with their new colleagues was a huge mistake.
If we were going to make a proper job of working with international customers, we needed to train our trainers. And me! We wrote a course that we fondly called TIT – Train the International Trainer – and put all of our trainers on it so they didn’t have to go through my experience. A year later and the British Army had got wind of it and sent a very experienced international instructor from the Infantry Battle School to sit in on one of our courses.
TILT (Training the International Learner and Trainee) was born and the rest is history (including our preferred name for the course). We have since trained over 1,500 elite UK military instructors and it’s now our flagship course. Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.