How MBA Students Develop Virtual Team Skills & Prepare for the Global Workforce

Categories: Global Mindset, Global Mobility, Global Teams

Workforce globalization coupled with increasingly sophisticated technology gave birth to a new way of collaborating. People can now brainstorm together, work autonomously across time, space and physical location, and come together as often as necessary to discuss their progress. As technology continues to provide upgraded and sophisticated ways for global teams to collaborate, there is a need to adequately prepare MBA students for the ever-evolving global business world. In order for MBA students to be prepared for the reality of virtual work, virtual teaming should be explored and practiced regularly through practical experience.

The global business climate today thrives on virtual teaming. In years past, global business relied on conference calls and trips overseas to meet with team members across continents and time zones. Webs of communication now allow teams to collaborate across organizational boundaries, time, and space. Experts estimate that within a few years more than 1.3 billion people will work virtually.

The number of virtual teams in the global workplace continues to increase. Worldwide, about one in five workers telecommutes. According to a study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 66 percent of multinational organizations use virtual teams.

Evidence supports the success of virtual teams. Hewlett-Packard, for example, used virtual teams to shrink agreement costs in Argentina, saving the company $800K. The company also used virtual teams to save another $200K through faster cycle times in Korea.

Other statistics that reveal the benefits of virtual teams are as follows:

  • Productivity can increase anywhere from 10 to 43 percent with effective virtual teaming.
  • Timeliness of employee work is said to improve by up to 75 percent with virtual work.

This new setting for collaboration in MBA education prepares students to be more internationally aware and cross-culturally adept, but it requires a new — and evolving — set of standards. We will examine five pressing questions exploring how graduate schools prepare MBA students for the global workforce and how these students develop a global mindset and virtual team skills in order to be successful in the global workplace.

1. How Well Are MBA Students Prepared for Leadership on Global Teams?

Proper leadership is crucial for any team, and the same is true for global teams. Graduate schools traditionally trained MBA students to manage in-house teams and onsite corporate teams, but with the increasing number of virtual teams today, it has become necessary to also prepare students for virtual leadership.

Virtual team environments require a new dimension of leadership. Traditional concepts of group leadership should be expanded upon and modified for application in a virtual team. Specifically, leaders in virtual teams must:

  • Understand how to properly facilitate a virtual meeting
  • Accurately monitor the group’s progress over time
  • Establish trust in a diverse virtual environment
  • Learn to balance work and personal life despite constant virtual access

Virtual Team Learning in MBA Education: Harvard

Are graduate schools adequately preparing MBA students to lead global virtual teams? Let’s examine Harvard University’s advanced management course, Managing Virtual Teams.

The course focuses on a few main objectives:

  • The technical and people skills needed to create high-performance virtual teams
  • An understanding of the common problems that virtual teams face and how to manage them
  • Knowledge of the virtual tools and strategies used to create high-performance virtual teams

Students are required to participate in a virtual team. The teams compete in a series of challenges, which includes raising money for a charity. Through these challenges, students will learn to leverage talent, communicate effectively through diverse cultures, learn to appropriately navigate the online business world, and negotiate online. The goal of the challenge is for students to raise the most money while analyzing their progress along the way. The team that accumulates the most points for the challenge will receive an A for the series. For upper level management students at one of the world’s top business schools, the stakes are high.

To focus on leadership, students are asked to read, discuss and put into action what they learn about various crucial topics, such as:

  • Building trust within the virtual team
  • Managing virtual teams
  • Identify issues in teams
  • How leaders can avoid common decision-making traps
  • Applying and resisting peer influence

Former students reported that they made new discoveries about themselves working in the virtual team setting. They said the competition was challenging, citing some of the frustrations involved with virtual teams such as working through different time zones and learning to effectively manage groups of people in the virtual setting.

Courses like Managing Virtual Teams provide MBA students with hands-on experience and encourage them to troubleshoot, self-reflect and make improvements within the group. Participating in virtual teams in higher education helps prepare students for virtual team leadership in the real world.

Another part of successful leadership in global virtual teams is the recognition of what makes a team successful. There are three dimensions to high-performing virtual teams:

  • Task
  • Social
  • Technological

The social dimension is often regarded as important but hasn’t been well addressed and researched until recent years. Future global business leaders should understand that gaining a solid social foundation within a virtual team is a necessary component of a high-performing virtual team.

In a study published in the Journal of Business Economic Policy in 2015, students reported difficulty building relationships and learning to trust their teammates in a virtual team setting. Possible suggestions for the future included incorporating a team-building day or other rapport-building exercises before the start of the actual virtual project.

The study also reported that “leaders should receive extensive training in human resource management, project structure and management, and training for both high task and high people involvement including empathy, caring, feedback, and coaching/mentoring.”

2. What Are Universities Doing to Help Students Develop a Global Mindset?

Global business brings people from around the world together, and now virtual teams can make that collaboration across physical boundaries much easier. Now more than ever, a global mindset is a necessity to be successful in the global business environment. A global mindset is defined as “one that combines an openness to and awareness of diversity across cultures and markets with a propensity and ability to see common patterns across countries and markets.” The top graduate schools around the world are launching new ways to enable students to develop global mindsets that will help prepare them for global business climate.

How students develop a global mindset largely depends on the experiences they have while earning their MBA. The USC Marshall School of Business is a noteworthy example of a school actively working to offer students practical experience to develop their global mindset. As of the fall of 2015, USC Marshall offers an online MBA program that focuses on virtual teams, internet analytics, social media and entrepreneurial thinking.

“Online technologies continue to rapidly reshape our world,” says John Matsusaka, USC Marshall Online MBA academic director and holder of the Charles F. Sexton Chair in American Enterprise. “As an innovator in higher education, our new program pushes the USC Marshall MBA into the online world, allowing us to deploy new learning technologies and to reach students across the globe.”

To fully prepare students for a global mindset, universities must expose students to authentic obstacles that global teams face, including:

  • The inability of virtual teams to read non-verbal cues
  • A lack of time to foster relationships with virtual team members
  • Complications to establishing rapport with virtual teammates
  • Addressing conflict in the virtual team setting
  • Determining what time of day to meet when working across substantial time differences

Technology is evolving rapidly, and global corporations will continue to adopt the latest technologies so that their virtual teams can thrive in the global workforce.

3. How Do Business Schools Prepare Students for the Global Workforce?

The top MBA schools provide students with more than an education — they also create scenarios for the students to gain experiences that will allow them to get a feel for the global workforce. Through traditional education, mentoring, online resources, internships and virtual teaming, business schools prepare students for the global workforce. Northeastern University is one school that does an excellent job preparing its students to be top global businesspeople. The university offers an international business program — a dual degree program — that requires students to participate in a year-long co-operative work experience in a foreign country.

Students progress toward gaining international experience gradually by working in cohorts, following a professional development plan, partaking in ongoing psychometric assessments and engaging in peer mentoring to develop leadership skills.

MBA Study Abroad Resources

Northeastern University students complete a few assessments before going abroad, one of which is Aperian Global’s GlobeSmart Profile℠. This online cultural inventory helps students identify their own personal cultural work-style preferences. Students can then compare their results with the profiles of the country in which they will work and study abroad for a year and receive dynamically generated advice on how to modify their work-style to work more effectively with different cultures.

Another resource to prepare students to study abroad is the Intercultural Effectiveness Scale (IES). This assessment, developed by the Kozai Group, measures the predispositions, attitudes, and cognitive orientations associated with effective intercultural functioning.

It’s clear that Northeastern University prepares its students for the global workforce, and most other MBA programs offer students enriching and diverse experiences to adequately prepare them for the global workforce. Providing a way to collaborate across geographic locations definitely provides a vehicle for innovation in global business, but it’s not an easy task. Educational institutions must use a variety of tools and resources to help students prepare for the global business world.

4. What Learning Resources and Tools Are Available to Help Students Develop a Global Mindset and Collaborate Virtually?

There are many tools, resources and services available that couple universities with the latest technology to encourage students to develop their global mindsets. USC Marshall’s online MBA program makes use of a service called All Campus. The service helps universities expand their enrollment in online courses, leading to a richer, more diverse experience for those enrolled in the virtual classroom.

USC Marshall also utilizes both asynchronous and synchronous learning, allowing students the autonomy to work on their own time and at their own pace — but also requiring participation in a weekly group meeting.

MBA programs that prepare students for the global business world should teach them to excel across cultural boundaries by using asynchronous platforms:

  • Email. A worthy MBA program should teach students email etiquette across cultural boundaries.
  • Virtual libraries of information. Students should be comfortable accessing information from various types of online libraries.
  • Discussion boards. These tools encourage students to ask and answer questions, as well as share links and other documents. Discussion boards encourage students to hold conversations but don’t require them to be present at the same time.
  • Social networking. International business schools that recognize the role of social media in the global workplace do students a service by teaching them to use the platforms professionally.
  • Wikis and collaborate documents. These resources allow students to build upon one another’s ideas. MBA global collaboration projects using wikis and similar tools will provide students with a useful skill for working together across time and space.
  • ePortfolios. Business schools that adequately prepare students to work at a global company will instruct them on the interview process, as well as the how to prepare a portfolio. There are many tools available to create ePortfolios, such as Pathbrite and Mahara. Blogging platforms can even be used to create ePortfolios, such as WordPress and Edublogs.

Learning the dynamics involved with a virtual team is also a vital skill for MBA students preparing for the global business environment. Using the following synchronous platforms, students can work together in real time while simultaneously learning vital skills for future employment in the global sector:

  • Text-only chat. Allowing multiple users to log in and interact at the same time, chat rooms encourage real-time conversations and have been proven to have a positive effect on learning. Students can ask questions, converse about the project at hand, troubleshoot issues and even engage in casual and personal conversations.
  • Voice (telephone or voice-over IP). The best MBA programs prepare students for phone calls across cultural boundaries. Sometimes these calls will take place over regular phones and other times they take place through a computer, through the built-in microphone and speakers.
  • Video conferencing. There are many options for video conferencing as a training tool for MBA students. This technology allows students to meet face-to-face without being at the same location. This is also a vital skill to have in the global workplace.
  • Web conferencing. Web conferencing is much like video conference, but instead of focusing on video it’s centered on other real-time interactions such as polls, surveys and questionnaires. Web conferences typically use a chat feature as well.
  • Podcasts and internet radio. When a live event such as a lecture occurs and students are required to attend but aren’t able to physically do so, steaming audio can help. This tool allows students to listen to live broadcasts and access them later. Podcasts and internet radio also teach MBA students vital skills for their future as global team members.
  • Virtual worlds. A virtual world is an interactive, 3-D online community. Users can create ideas without the confines of time and space. The virtual world environment gives users a distinctive, communal space to forge relationships, learn, and share. VirBELA, a highly successful virtual world created as a competition for second-year MBA students, focused on building team skills as well testing students’ knowledge. The winner of the competition received $50 thousand in prize money. The simulation included eight teams of four, all competing in a virtual mock car manufacturing industry.

MBA schools should also utilize technology that couples opportunities for both synchronous and asynchronous learning while students participate in virtual teams. Evidence supports that there’s a direct connection between the frequency of communication required and student success in virtual individual and team performance.

This means that schools must use the proper platforms and tools to allow students to meet frequently whether they’re participating in a virtual team in higher education or enrolled in part of a distance learning MBA program. The top MBA schools make use of a framework for virtual teamwork that focuses on managing people, processes and technology.

5. Are Business Schools Doing Enough to Prepare Students for the Global Workforce?

According to a survey based upon the results of Bloomberg Business Week’s 2014 ranking of the top full-time MBA programs, students are overwhelmingly satisfied with the education they received. Some MBA students voiced concerns about some schools focusing too much on traditional aspects of MBA study like banking and consulting and not focusing enough on technology and marketing. However, top MBA schools seem to be offering more diverse and relevant courses for MBA students.

The best business schools allow students to experience real-world virtual teams in higher education. They give students the opportunity to participate in a virtual team, experience everything that comes with it and then discuss their progress, struggles and what they could have done differently.

Students must learn to communicate across cultural borders and enhance their overseas management skills while working on their MBAs. Students must become fluent in virtual communication media while preparing for the global business sector. International business and MBA schools must require students to have frequent communication within their virtual teams. Sharon M. Borowicz, Ph.D., Associate Professor and MBA Chair at Benedictine University, suggests that schools must prepare students “to be explicit about what they are thinking and to share task accomplishments.” She explains that teams in general tend to underestimate the challenges of working with one another through a virtual platform. Schools need to provide this experience to students before they’re hired at a global corporation.

While many of the top business schools innovatively and effectively prepare students for virtual teams in global business, there are many that lag behind. You may find that it’s necessary to supplement learning with the help of an industry expert.

Consider Aperian Global

After examining five pressing questions about how MBA students develop a global mindset, you’re likely convinced of the importance of cutting edge learning tools and assessment strategies. Aperian Global understands what it takes to prepare students for the global business climate. Our services for higher education revolve around cultural competency. Helping students develop a global mindset, we’ve partnered with clients in over 62 countries and can help prepare your business school, university or executive education program for excellence.

You may also be interested in GlobeSmart®, Aperian Global’s flagship online resource for gaining access to specific advice on how to conduct global business. GlobeSmart is organized into 50 topics to help you gain cultural responsiveness by:

  • Helping students develop a global mindset
  • Enhancing the success of study/intern abroad and global travel programs
  • Working more effectively with counterparts from different countries
  • Improving multicultural team collaboration and performance across boundaries

If you are a student or faculty member, be sure to take advantage of the academic discount on GlobeSmart. For just $40 a semester, students or faculty can have full access to GlobeSmart to compliment their course materials or research projects.