Q&A: Dave Heddle: “Developing multi-cultural teams is vital”

Author: PM editorial | Date: 2 Mar 2016

Coverdale’s principal consultant for Asia on experiential learning and the region’s burning issues

Dave HeddleDave Heddle has been with organisational development consultancy Coverdale for almost 20 years and has seen leadership development rise up the agenda in recent years. He spoke to People Management about current training trends, why he values experiential learning and why you should never assume that everyone is speaking the same language.
How have training requirements changed in the region since you began working here?
It’s difficult to say how much training requirements have changed, but the influence of western companies has introduced more management development topics. Leadership development appears to be quite high on the agenda now, and we have been putting together leadership modules for a few companies.
 
What are the current burning issues in the region?
Team working, project management, leadership and behavioural change (dealing with multi-cultural environments) are all hot topics at the moment. With any training given in the region, it is important that the content and delivery is culturally attuned to the particular nuances of its audience. The way we get there needs to be sensitive and respectful of each country's own culture.
 
What are the advantages of experiential learning over other teaching methods?
Taking a three-day workshop as an example, we set a series of tasks, which gradually become more complex. Each task has a time limit and is followed by a robust review of successful and not so successful practices. From this, an improvement plan is developed and applied to the next task.
 
The tasks are neutral to allow experimentation of new tools and techniques: our experience has shown that if we use work-related tasks, participants do what they have always done). After each task and review cycle there is a general session to share results, work on improvement plans, and then there is input from the coach.
 
The sequence of learning is: do or try something; review both the outcome and how the team has worked together, and then plan to repeat successes and address the not so successful things; share outcomes and improvement plans; input from coaches or consultants.
 
As we progress through the three days we gradually turn our attention to back-at-work application, making plans on the transfer of learning to the workplace.
 
What have you enjoyed most about working in the region?
As more and more western companies have a presence in China, the development of multi-cultural teams has become increasingly important. Working in this kind of environment allows skill development for not only participants but consultants as well; a great learning experience all round.
 
What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned?
The importance of not making assumptions. I was working with a Chinese colleague with a German appliance company based in Shanghai. There were 24 participants on this workshop, all Chinese except one young German graduate. Everyone on the workshop assumed this young man could speak English – he was from the west so surely he was an English speaker? We were into task two before the English-speaking Chinese participants realised he couldn’t speak English or Chinese. We overcame the challenge through the coach’s ‘pidgin’ German and drawing pictures.