As part of assistant professor of management Reut Livne-Tarandach’s MGMT 612: Managing Individuals and Organizations course, Oregon MBA students had an uncommon opportunity to collaborate with other graduate students across borders and oceans.
UO Lundquist College students worked with peers representing eight universities and 20 different countries. Some 300 students made up the 79 teams. Groups were assigned, with each member coming from a different country and cultural perspective. Teams indicated three countries of interest and were assigned one as the scene for their business plans.
Their task: Create a business proposal aimed at convincing investors to support the creation of a new business in that specific country, with particular attention given to creativeness, suitability to the host country culture, and potential contribution to stakeholders.
“We were four students, with four different first languages, four nationalities and ethnicities, and from four vastly different cultures tasked with creating a detailed business proposal based in a fifth country none of us had ever been to,” explained MBA candidate Adam Kantor in one of several blog posts students authored around the experience.
The seeds of the collaboration were planted about two years ago when Livne-Tarandach was assigned the course as part of her teaching load. She activated her network, including those at her alma mater, the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. Technion has coordinated cross-cultural, multi-university group learning projects for more than a decade. It more recently refined its focus to student business plans.
The project aligns well with the strategic mission of the Lundquist College and its Oregon MBA program, which includes evaluating business decisions in a global context and functioning effectively in a diverse team, Livne-Tarandach explained.
“In just four weeks, this one project packs a lot of impact,” she said. “Having these skills is really critical for working in diverse settings and managing across cultures in a global environment.”
Assigned Brazil, Lundquist College MBA candidate Kim Nguyen and team presented Esperança (“hope” in Portuguese), a maker of bio-jewelry—or jewelry made with naturally occurring material, such as seeds or shells. The nonprofit organization would teach workers the trade of eco-based jewelry making while providing social services, including workshops, healthcare, child care, and education opportunities.
Nguyen’s group selected her as team leader. Nguyen is from Vietnam and has been living in Oregon for five years. When she noticed one of her team members was also from Asia, she thought they may have similar work styles. But Nguyen was surprised to find her Hong Kong teammate approached the project from a collective standpoint seeking lots of direction and interaction, whereas she and others worked more independently. For Nguyen, some reverse culture shock set in as she recalled standards for personal and business interactions back in Vietnam and how they differ from the United States norms she now sees as typical.
A prime insight the project afforded is to not apply one’s worldview to teammates, Nguyen said. Instead, be aware of cultural differences while embracing cultural commonalities.
“I didn’t expect them to act to my cultural expectations,” she said. “I liked the leadership role because I could learn who they are and their work style and work ethic. If I’m talking, I’m more aware of cultural differences and make sure I don’t say something that makes a team member uncomfortable.”
Another Lundquist College MBA candidate, Peter Lindholm, was also tapped by his group to serve as team leader for its waste energy plant venture in Thailand.
“About half the teams had American leaders. The cultural expectation is that Americans will take charge,” he said, and in this case, he was happy to do it.
He said the group came from vastly different backgrounds, with origins in Israel, Hong Kong, and Madagascar. They took some time to get to know one another, connecting on Facebook and sharing photos of their dogs. After that, they were very business-oriented, Lindholm said.
“Short, frequent meetings tended to keep us productive and on track,” he said. “There were some mix ups, but 20-minute check-ins kept things from going off the rails. All four of us were very enthusiastic about the project, which helped.”
Each also brought unique skills to their roles. The student from Hong Kong had strong graphic design skills, whereas the student from Madagascar was a little older than the others and had the most on-the-ground business experience, Lindholm said.
He added, “I wouldn’t have minded if it went on it little longer. We had a lot of fun.”
The team gelled brilliantly and was the number one finisher in Livne-Tarandach’s class and placed in the top 5 percent overall.
For Kantor, also an American and a group leader, a potential roadblock near the end of the project turned into a leadership opportunity.
Assigned Japan, the team proposed low-cost, sustainable home building kits using the traditional Japanese architectural style called joinery. Joinery uses no nuts or bolts. Instead, the wood is hand carved and intertwined to create homes that are not just structurally sound, but are also better equipped to handle seismic activity.
Rather than being forceful and judgmental when a team member failed to meet a deadline, Kantor reached out with an open mind, inquired about the situation, and offered to support her as they worked to make the final push towards the deadline.
“Adam’s servant leadership style boosted the team members’ engagement, increased trust, and helped the team bring to completion an excellent project,” Livne-Tarandach said.
Kantor’s team also scored very high, earning the second highest grade in the class and placing in the top 5 percent of the 79 teams included in the project.
A tremendous amount of self-reflection is inherent to the project, Livne-Tarandach noted.
“It’s part of being a leader—knowing one will never gain full mastery but rather one must reflect and adjust as part of each experience,” she said.
In addition to the students’ experience, the project offered up a research opportunity as well.
During the course of the project, the professors collected data on students’ characteristics and experiences in multiple points in time, Livne-Tarandach explained. Some of the measures tracked differences on key factors related to cultural intelligence and identity.
The results show that within a period of four weeks of working in cross-cultural teams, UO MBA students showed significant increase in global identity (an individual’s sense of belonging to groups nested within a global work environment or the extent to which one feels he/she is a global person), significant increase in local identity (the sense of belonging to one’s own local-national environment), and a significant increase in cultural intelligence (a person’s capability to deal effectively with situations characterized by cultural diversity).
In this way, Livne-Tarandach noted, participation in the Technion multicultural team project delivered on the MGMT 612 course’s commitment to enhance students’ abilities to work effectively in global, culturally diverse teams.
For some fascinating student insights, please visit the blog page for the project.