Some students may dread it, and others can’t wait. But the day will come when, as professionals, they will work on teams with overseas colleagues they can’t shake hands with and may not understand.
These challenges of global teamwork will already be familiar to students who participated in Florida International University (FIU) College of Business Assistant Professor Peter Magnusson’s international marketing class, and X-Culture, a cross-borders project that puts together teams of business students from universities in countries ranging from Colombia to Sweden and as far away as Indonesia, India and Turkey. The program was begun in 2010 by Vas Taras, assistant professor of international business at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Taras soon reached out to colleagues, including FIU’s Magnusson, to help fine tune the project, and it exploded in popularity.
“It’s really quite a challenge to students to work with people around the world, coordinate schedules, and overcome cultural challenges,” said Magnusson. “When you get upset with your teammates face-to-face, it is easier to fix. When conflicts arise in a virtual and global environment, they tend to escalate; it’s harder to solve and it leads to a lot of frustration.”
In X-Culture, international teams of six or seven students put their heads together – over Skype, email and social media — to come up with marketing and development plans for challenges submitted by companies, including big names like Home Depot and Mercedes-Benz, along with regional firms such as Trasluz Casual Wear of Spain, and educational toy maker Innospark of Lithuania. For example, Italian footwear maker Pantofola d’Oro, known for its soccer shoes, wanted ideas about broadening its children’s line.
Teams were expected to follow exacting guidelines, meet deadlines and figure out how to compromise and negotiate via Internet-based communications–and the results were graded.
Students bridge cultural divides to create learning opportunities.
In late spring. as students were finishing their projects, Magnusson held a de-briefing session. Students offered up positives: Understanding different viewpoints, more creativity flowing from mixing ideas and backgrounds, and the advantage of working with people who may be more familiar with emerging economies.
“Now,” said Magnusson, “What was it really like?”
One common problem: Fluency in written English, the international language of business, was hit and miss. Finding Skype time that worked for all was a challenge. Others found that team members didn’t live up to their commitments, or took credit for the work of others.
Overall, the students said they learned to value the worth of multiple cultural viewpoints, and how to negotiate to reach a common goal. These students, Magnusson noted, will someday be employees and managers dealing with cross-cultural relations and global themes. “We are able to provide this experience to the students in a relatively safe environment.”
And, a vast majority of students raised their hands when Magnusson asked who would choose to do it again. Indeed, some X-Culture teams had so much fun that they will continue their collaborations at the yearly meetings of the Academy of International Business Southeast USA Chapter. FIU teammates won’t have far to go to connect in person with those whose wavy images they saw only via Skype. In October, the College of Business will host the meeting, to be held at the Hotel Conrad in downtown Miami. In addition, X-Culture will be offered again in Magnusson’s Spring 2015 international marketing class.