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:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.”
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.