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Business Schools Collaborate Across Borders

Feb. 3, 2020

By Abigail Tisdale

stock photo of students studying with laptops

Professors April Rowsey of Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business and Jana Seijts of the Ivey Business School in London, Ontario, teamed up to offer business students of both schools a hands-on experience designed to highlight the nuances and challenges of working within cross-cultural, remote and virtual teams to accomplish a common business outcome.

Today’s trend toward global, collaborative and technology-assisted connectedness is changing the way employees work and businesses operate. To accomplish business goals, employees and managers are eyeing the skills necessary to flourish in this hyper-connected environment.

Within the scope of the project, Baylor MBA students collaborated virtually with a team of undergraduate students from the Ivey Business School. The students jointly analyzed a case developed by the Ivey Business School centered on a corporate communications issue. They then formulated feasible and compelling recommendations. Baylor students took the lead as both project and personnel managers and were required to virtually meet with the Ivey students in order to draw up case recommendations. The students presented their findings to a fictional CEO.

“Students have been collaborating in teams for years; what we’re seeing emerge in the workplace is the trending toward work that is remote, virtual and often cross-cultural,” Rowsey said.

After the project was completed, Rowsey and Seijts surveyed the Baylor and Ivey students to paint a picture of the core areas/skills in which the students were more developed ones that needed improvement. The resulting themes from the survey highlighted the students’ ability to handle unfamiliar situations, fail early and determine areas in which they still need to improve.

Headshot of April Rowsey
Headshot of April Seijts

April Rowsey

Jana Seijts

Emotional Intelligence and Leadership Go Hand-In-Hand

“In designing this project, we endeavored to create a realistic and rigorous cross-cultural team simulation,” Rowsey said. “While we succeeded in achieving that objective, another, potentially more significant, learning took place: the Baylor MBA students began to realize that their Ivey counterparts had a different incentive scale for completing the work.”

The Baylor students learned the Ivey students were essentially given a participation grade and not graded on the quality of their work which had huge implications for the Baylor leaders.

Figuring out how to lead by influence started to take center stage and emerge as a new theme for the Baylor students.

Whether it is a matrixed organizational structure, or in cross-functional teams, the reality is that most work requires employees to skillfully use influence to drive business outcomes. One of the benefits of graduate school for students who are early in their career is the ability to develop the skills to manage groups and to drive project outcomes in a more forgiving environment. Students often start graduate business programs with the expectation of learning the hard skills of data analytics and finance. While those skills are crucial to the business enterprise, employers often emphasize the need for students to have the ability to have an informed and coherent conversation from day one rather than just the hard skills that come from on-the-job training.

“Increasingly, employers are telling us one of the key indicators of a strong hire is emotional intelligence (EI) – the skill of self-awareness and strong social interaction,” Amine Quorzal, Assistant Director of the Baylor University Career Center, said. “Candidates who demonstrate high EI are generally able to handle various work situations better than those who don’t know how to deal with others or collaborate in a team setting.”

This collaboration with the Ivey Business School provided students with the opportunity to prepare for their early career years by learning to work in teams, manage, analyze and provide realistic recommendations for a business case.

“Although I've had experience working on international teams, I have little experience in leading such teams,” Corrie Penraat, Baylor MBA student, said. “This project made for an excellent hands-on application of the skills we are learning in class.”

Learning to expect the unexpected

Among the most substantial objectives for the project was developing skills for students to think on their feet while managing others under ambiguous, time sensitive and high-stake scenarios. Developing these skills can feel risky and people often shy away from these situations in the workplace.

“This was an interesting introduction into expecting the unexpected,” Collin Wood, first-semester Baylor MBA student, said. “There was a lot of ambiguity going on in each side’s expectations, and we figured out there was a sharp decline in the Ivey students’ motivation which I wasn't prepared for. While the project was too short for much of a correction in this, it was a good learning experience to take forward on monitoring your team’s morale and making sure they stay motivated to do good work despite low short-term reward.”

Working in an unfamiliar situation can bring a unique set of challenges which quite often are completely different from what the student or employee expected. Having awareness that there are unexpected challenges in the workplace allows students to begin to explore different solutions they may experience when working in a time-crunched scenario.

Improvement is a continuous journey.

Whether students came to Baylor with a breadth of leadership, virtual/international experience or little experience in any of those areas, students of all experience levels found areas to improve.

“I do still feel like I have room for growth because it is a learning experience and requires analyzing myself as well as the team” Tiaira Bester, Baylor MBA student, said.

There were a wide range of student experiences across each team, and some were unexpected.

“I was really surprised by the importance of setting clear expectations from the onset of the project with my team,” Baylor MBA student Brittany Blakey said. “For example, when video conferencing with my Ivey group, we agreed to have work deliverables completed by Sunday evening so that I could review the slide deck and provide any feedback Monday. Unfortunately, I did not receive the deck until 15 minutes before our second meeting on Monday.”

“This gave me little time to review the work done and catch minor errors or structural flaws. I realized that setting clear expectations is important when managing projects, and therefore it is important to communicate clearly at the beginning of a task without coming off as too firm or strict. While that component of the class assignment frustrated me, I was also grateful to have gained that insight about managing teams in a classroom setting before entering the real word.”

Moving Forward

Baylor’s MBA program uses every opportunity to create an environment for students to hone their leadership, communication and technical skills. Gone are the days of technical skills alone placing students in the workplace. Communication and proper managerial experience can lead to a successful career launch.

Every business outcome is dependent upon and motivated by relationships, and communication is the bridge that connects a strategy to its successful execution. To some degree, every business strategy has to incorporate relationships. Effective communication bridges the gap between the strategy and its successful execution.

Moving forward, Baylor’s MBA program plans to create more opportunities for students similar to this collaboration.

“The first iteration of any new project is often imperfect, and this project is no exception,” Rowsey said. “Feedback from the students will be incorporated into any future iterations and we may look to expand our network of partner schools to include schools and students from cultures (and time zones) much more different from the students in our program to continue to refine that cultural competence piece.”

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