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What is global fitness?

Many different terms are used for the set of personal qualities and competencies that are needed for working effectively across cultural boundaries, including in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world. They include:

  • Intercultural competence
  • Intercultural effectiveness
  • Cultural intelligence
  • Cultural capability
  • Global dexterity
  • Global competence

Here at GlobalPeople, we have coined the term Global Fitness to capture the multifaceted nature of the personal qualities and competencies needed for working effectively across cultural boundaries.

Building Global Fitness

How can people build their Global Fitness and develop the skills and qualities needed to function effectively in a globalising, VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world?

The GlobalPeople ‘Building Global Fitness’ Program identifies the steps involved. There are three main ones:

  • Global Fitness Foundations
  • Global Fitness Routines
  • Global Fitness Outcome Goals

Global Fitness Foundations

There are a number of foundational elements that are important for fostering or supporting global fitness. Three crucial ones are:

  • Motivation: Drive and commitment from all involved
  • Stretch opportunities: out-of-the-comfort zone opportunities
  • Open community: Workplace or study cultural context that is open and receptive to difference

Positive attitudes and strong motivation are always important: people need to be curious, open and interested in differences around them. In other words, they need a ‘spirit of adventure’ (The Intercultural Profiler, WorldWork). This helps them move out of their comfort zones and experience the differences that can stimulate their growth. For example, mixing with people from different backgrounds, working in teams with people who have different styles of communication, and mixing socially with people who have different interests, can not only be exciting and challenging but also an important stimulant for growth. To a greater or lesser extent, such differences can cause mental and emotional challenges and it is this disequilibrium that stimulates growth (cf. Kim 2001)1. However, it is also important for the people around to be open and receptive to difference.

Global Fitness Development Routines

The Global Fitness Foundations need to be built on through taking part in development routines. These include three important elements:

  • Mindful venturing: engaging with difference, reflecting, and stretching
  • Guided learning: noticing, understanding, and applying
  • Well-being: managing stress and maintaining health

The benefits of stretch opportunities are lost if people don’t engage with them. It is vital therefore that people seek out and take advantage of opportunities to move outside their comfort zones, venturing into unfamiliar territory.

Sometimes this can be challenging and uncomfortable. Traditionally this discomfort is known as culture shock and it is important that the stress is not so great that people withdraw. They need to maintain well-being – to understand the nature of culture shock and acquire suitable strategies for handling it. However, it is also important to remember that they should not be cushioned too much from difference, because growth requires a certain amount of stress. The stress needs to be handled through improved coping mechanisms, not simply removed.

The anthropologist Edward Hall (1976, p.46)2 has said “Most cross-cultural exploration begins with the annoyance of being lost.” This reiterates that the development of global fitness has an emotional aspect to it, but it also hints at another – the element of ‘being lost’. People are typically unsure how to behave in unfamiliar contexts, and so some learning is required. Sometimes it can be supposedly simple things like ways of greeting. Other aspects, such as adopting different turn-taking styles or levels of formality, can be even more challenging. For this, people need to be helped to observe carefully, to reflect on the differences they notice, and to have the opportunity to seek advice and explanation from someone with more insider understanding. Then they will be in a better position to make appropriate adjustments to their behaviour.

We call these three elements (mindful venturing, guided learning, and well-being) 'Development routines' to convey the notion of 'frequency' and 'regularity'. In other words, they need to become a 'normal' and 'regular' part of our lives if we are to build Global Fitness effectively.

Global Fitness Outcome Goals

The third element of the GlobalPeople Global Fitness Program is the outcome goals we want people to achieve. There are three main ones:

  • Intercultural vitality: the personal qualities needed for functioning well in global contexts, e.g. resilience, self-awareness, adaptability, self-motivation
  • Intercultural understanding: awareness of and sensitivity to own and others’ cultural values and beliefs, patterns of behaviour/ways of doing things, and systems, regulations etc.
  • Intercultural skilfulness: competence in communicating smoothly & effectively across cultures, building relations and collaborating with people from different backgrounds, leading and working ethically & effectively in global contexts.

This threefold conceptualisation is a slight adjustment of our findings from the Global People eChina -UK project. For that, we identified four main clusters of intercultural competence: personal qualities, intercultural knowledge, intercultural communication skills, and rapport management skills. More details of these, including their sub-components and illustrative examples, can be found on our eChina-UK project webpages. In our global fitness program, we’ve combined the intercultural communication skills and rapport management skills into one cluster: Intercultural skilfulness.


1 Kim, Y. Y. (2001). Becoming Intercultural. An Integrative Theory of Communication and Cross-Cultural Adaptation. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

2 Hall, E. T. (1976). Beyond Culture. New York: Doubleday.

Diagram of the 3 elements of Global Fitness Building program: Global Fitness Foundations, Global Fitness Routines, Global Fitness Outcome Goals

The Three Main Elements involved in Building Global Fitness 

Diagram of one element of the Global Fitness Program: Global Fitness Foundations. These include Motivation, Stretch Opportunities, and Open Community

Global Fitness Foundations: One of the three main elements involved in Building Global Fitness

Diagram of one element of the Global Fitness Program: Global Fitness Routines. The Routines include Mindful Venturing, Guided Learning, and Well-being

Global Fitness Training: One of the three main elements involved in Building Global Fitness

Diagram of one element of the Global Fitness Program: Global Fitness Outcome Goals. Outcome Goals include Intercultural Vitality, Intercultural Understanding, and Intercultural Skilfulness

Global Fitness Outcome Goals: The skills and qualities being developed through the Building Global Fitness program