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News Stories · Communication - Team Dynamics

IMD MBAs complete interactive learning exercise with students from Yale

IMD MBA students participate in the Global Virtual Teams course for the first time to give them hands-on experience of working effectively under a tight deadline in diverse and distributed groups.
April 2023

In today’s globalized business world, collaboration across borders has become the norm for many workers. Yet forming effective teams can be challenging, especially when you have never met in person, and are navigating challenges such as differences in time zone and cultural expectations, as well as the inevitable fatigue from endless Zoom calls. 

“We are spending more and more time working in teams, yet sometimes organizing in a complex, interdependent way can be detrimental if people don’t spend time building relationships and  investing in a sense of mutual accountability,” said Ina Toegel, Professor of Leadership and Organizational Change. 

This year for the first time, IMD MBA students participated in the Global Virtual Teams exercise, which brings together MBA students from multiple schools in the Global Network for Advanced Management to work together on a negotiation project. 

As part of the experiential learning, IMD’s MBAs formed teams with students from Yale’s School of Management to work on a negotiation task. Each team member was assigned a role – CEO, product development manager, or commercial director – and had their own objectives as well as the overall objective of the team. To add an additional layer of complexity, each team member was in possession of confidential information, which they couldn’t disclose to the rest of the team but was nonetheless critical for the success of the negotiation. 

“Sharing something personal creates empathy that is typically lost during a virtual meeting”
-Juan Carrilo, an IMD MBA 2023 candidate.

The teams only had three meetings in which to bond with their fellow team members, agree on their plan of action, and perform.  

Applying Brook’s Law, adding more people to teams is known to increase complexity. For example, six people in a team will have 15 lines of communication whereas two people have only one. So to overcome this, the teams were instructed during the first meeting  to split into smaller subgroups of two people to talk about something personal. 

“Sharing something personal creates empathy that is typically lost during a virtual meeting,” explained Juan Carrillo, an IMD MBA 2023 candidate, who was assigned the role of product development manager in his team. Aged 36, Carrillo is the oldest member of IMD’s MBA Class of 2023 and bonded with his Yale counterpart, who had spent a decade in the military corps, over their similar levels of experience.  

“We did this by sharing personal stories, not just information you might find on an official site”
-Liudmila Kortikova, an IMD MBA 2023 candidate.

The MBAs were encouraged to apply some of the concepts they had learned on group dynamics and high-performance team in this practical exercise. One concept that Carrillo found useful was an idea from The Culture Map by Erin Meyer. In the book, Meyer explains that when working in teams where there are lots of different cultural backgrounds it is best to adopt a direct, straight-talking style of communication – something which is not typical for Carrillo who hails from Peru. 

For Liudmila Kortikova, another IMD MBA candidate, creating a caring environment where team members felt comfortable openly disagreeing was key to the success of the task. “We did this by sharing personal stories, not just information you might find on an official site,” said Kortikova. 

After completing the exercise Carrillo and Kortikova’s laid out the following takeaways for transforming a group of globally dispersed individuals into a high-performing team that can negotiate successfully. 

Set the ground rules from the start 

Carrillo’s team agreed clear guidelines from the start on how they were going to operate as a team. This included choosing a fixed time to meet that worked for all parties, as well as committing to reading and answering their group emails in the morning and evening to minimize the wait time caused by the time zone difference, and voluntarily agreeing on certain roles for team members, such as the notetaker. Another important decision was agreeing to keep their cameras on during the meetings to help build more empathy. 

Usually, when people share a presentation, they turn off their cameras, which significantly changes the feeling of the meeting,” said Carrillo.  “We always had our cameras on, even though one of the team members had her young sons in her office at the time. It was something that everyone on the team appreciated, and that helped a lot in connecting.” 

Don’t be afraid to repeat your point until it is understood 

Communicating virtually can be challenging because team members lack some of the non-verbal clues that are often essential for interpreting meaning. While Kortikova said she quickly bonded with her Yale counterpart, who was assuming the same role as her in the task, it was harder to get her point across in the larger group discussion where other people had competing views and aims. In such a scenario, she learned to remain calm and patiently explain the same idea again until others have taken it on board. 

Be clear about your priorities and tradeoffs 

As a product development manager in the simulation, Kortikova wanted to make sure that her team sold a new type of engine, whereas other team members were more interested in securing the contract and making a profit. This says, Kortikova, who previously worked in procurement, is typical of a real-life negotiation. “You never just have one objective; you have complicated goals. You need to communicate with people inside and outside of the organization and you should understand why the negotiation is important and prioritize your goals.” 

Ahead of the negotiation stage, Kortikova’s team discussed their ideal result, the very minimum they would want to achieve as well as the potential trade-offs, so each member was aware of the red lines ahead of the negotiation. 

While Carrillo and Kortikova are both experienced negotiators, the exercise still proved a valuable learning opportunity for how to build high-performance remote teams. For Carrillo, it also reinforced his decision to choose IMD’s MBA program where the small class size means students get to know their fellow participants very well. 

“This exercise made me realize that there are several other great MBA programs with very smart, result-oriented professionals. But one thing that stood out to me was the cohesion I had with my other IMD team members, whereas the participants from Yale didn’t know each other. The fact that we interact with each other on a daily basis definitely helped smooth the process,” he said.