How my Global Team Helped Me Redefine Efficiency
Efficiency lives at the core of business. It drives our day-to-day work, our company goals, and it is how we measure improvement. Not only do we strive to be more efficient in our work lives, many of us strive to be more efficient in our personal lives – how we shop, how we exercise, how we use our smartphones – just to name a few. It is no surprise that I entered the workforce with the assumption that efficiency is everything. This assumption, however, was about to be tempered by reality.
During our first term in the MBA program, our class participated in a month-long cross cultural project. This project challenged me on many levels, but the greatest lesson was realizing that I had greatly underestimated the human costs of efficiency. In other words, in my drive to be efficient, I had steam-rolled past the critical step of building a relationship with my team. To help explain, let’s step back and look at a few concrete examples.
My group for this project consisted of four members: one each from Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, India and the United States (me). During our first online chat, I recapped the assignment for that day and decided we should dive right in. Some team members seemed to be off-topic, chatting about politics, classes, and some silly topics too. I kindly reminded everyone of our meeting goals, and pushed the agenda on our team. In the moment this seemed prudent and efficient, but in retrospect, we missed a crucial opportunity to get to know each other before the deliverables were due.
Fast-forward three weeks to crunch time: our major project is due next week. Our group meeting has gone overtime, instead of 30 minutes we are almost to two hours of online chatting! Ever concerned with our efficiency, I try to wrap-up and end the meeting within five minutes. I realize later that this was by no-means efficient, instead, it was hasty. So, I decided to write a thorough follow-up email to the group, making sure everyone was on-board with their personal deliverables and asking if they had any questions. As a matter of fact, many of them did have questions and were unclear about what had been decided!
In both of these cases, my drive for efficiency had led me to skip steps and take shortcuts, which ultimately did not pay off. Taking the extra time to get to know my team and create a trusting environment might have improved communication throughout the project. Furthermore, spending the extra few minutes to wrap-up our meeting fully might have prevented the long string of clarifying emails. I learned first-hand that efficiency in the short-run did not equate with efficiency in the long-run.
Throughout our coursework in Managing Individuals and Organizations, professor Reut Livne-Tarandach encouraged us to take as much time as needed to form strong emotional relationships fundamental to establishing a strong team. In fact, our very first assignment was to create a thorough team agreement to ensure our groups were well acquainted and had established group norms, processes, and expectations. During the term, we read articles about emotional-intelligence citing it as one of the most important factors in predicting team success. The takeaway was clear: creating a team environment where all members felt respected and understood can have real benefits. Efficiency-driven leaders may want to rush past these crucial steps, but research shows how important it is to redefine efficiency to focus on the long-term goals, even if it takes a few extra minutes.
Nonetheless, people’s time should be respected in business meetings and tangible outcomes should occur. The key then, is to strike a balance between human/social needs and the need to accomplish results. Providing a structured time during meetings for human exchanges is not a frill, it can be as fun as it is vital. Then you can get down to business.
In this MBA program, each project is an opportunity for growth. I am grateful for the new perspective I’ve gleaned from working with my global team. In the future, as either a leader or member of a team, I will slow down and acknowledge the opportunity to establish a solid team foundation, even if it takes a little extra time!
This blog captures the insights students gained following their participation in the Technion Multi-Cultural Team Project. The project represents an experiential learning platform, designed to improve students’ global management skills through work on real global environment. The TMCTP 2016 project brought together 300 students from 20 countries across the world. Each one of our MBA students was placed in one of the 79 cross cultural teams, and worked to identify business opportunities that can fit the cultural and economic context of the country of their choice. This project was first introduced to the UO MBA program by Dr. Reut Livne-Tarandach, as an integral part of the Management Individuals and Organizational (MGMT612) course she leads at the UO.