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A Pioneering Course in Virtual Teamwork

I was fortunate to be asked to TA for the new core course rolled out this week that aims to train MBAs for a future in an increasingly global world of business. The three-day Global Virtual Teams course gives students tools for collaborating across time zones and cultures—as they invariably will in their careers after graduation.

My working life before business school was spent entirely with international companies. The offices would be kitted out with the newest video-conferencing tools, every desk had a phone with teleconferencing capabilities, and yet the amount spent on travel went up every year as the companies grew. We were always told how important it was to budget well, and use virtual ways of working as much as possible, and yet the rooms would often be used for meetings between colleagues in the same office rather than to communicate with offices abroad.

So why do we still spend so much money to see each other face-to-face, when we will happily Skype with family members, or FaceTime partners? Well, it’s not that easy to establish working relationships when trust is often built up by interactions in person. From my own experience, people do not get training in how to best utilize virtual tools to work with teams based in different countries and time zones. Most importantly, technology can sometimes frustrate us in a way that only a late train or a traffic jam used to!

Even though we experience more today than ever before the wonderful flexibility technology gives us to engage with those far away, we are still able to fall into bad habits when working remotely (think of the times you’ve had a teleconference but were checking your emails at the same time!). That’s why revolutionary courses such as this one are so important.

At Yale SOM, the professors have worked hard to put in place a wonderful way to practice these skills with a real project done in tandem with teammates at EGADE in Mexico and HEC Paris in France. This means that not only do we already have one of the most diverse classes in Yale SOM history, but we also have a core class that requires us to encounter the time differences we will face in the real world of work.

The learning is grounded in research about behavior in such environments, and also gives strategies in how to approach such challenges. I have especially enjoyed being able to use my French language skills in a case called “Mouse,” creating an atmosphere in the classroom to help the first-year MBA students immerse themselves in the task in hand.

Yale SOM continues to innovate and adapt in order to prepare students for not only what is already happening but also for developments that are occurring right now in the way business gets done. I wish everyone pioneering this class “bon courage!”