Working for transversal competences

Dr.Liisa Timonen

Head of Internationalisation, ECMT+ project coordinator, Karelia University of Applied Sciences 

Still today many higher education students and graduates somewhat lack of knowledge and skills to promote businesses and result driven work motivation, employ themselves into the regions and efficiently work in all the time more and more diverse teams. The transversal competences like creativity, initiative, tenacity, teamwork, understanding of risk and responsibility and resilience are more crucial in the future working life than ever. They are said to be the keys for successful working life changing our future in a good way at the times when we are dealing with big challenges like industry 4.0 and the raise of artificial intelligence.

The need of the transversal competence development is relevant in any field of higher education – it includes much more than business or economics: the need is multi-sectoral and multi-disciplinary as the working life itself. All the higher education graduates, no matter what is their major or degree, do need these competences and their related skills. This is one of the main reasons behind our ECMT+ project where we collaboratively work to reach our goals.

To my mind, transversal competences are closely embedded into humanity and ability of encountering in one way or another. It is much more than business or profit or start-up creation, it is meeting the others equally, constructively and comprehensively. I see the transversal skills being mainly related to the intrapreneurship, which is needed everywhere. Even though entrepreneurship is considered to be a powerful driver of economic growth and job creation (see for example Entrepreneurship 2020); I think it is intrapreneurship that is seen as a key for employment and success in working life in any field. Actually, the intrapreneurship includes transversal competences and skills. Yet the definition between entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship are not solid or easy to define and making the distinctions is always a bit challenging (Lackéus 2015).

The current changes around Europe and more widely (economy, environment, demographics, consumer behaviour, IT, shared economy, robotics, crowd-sourcing, single market, and changes in societies, policy and opening of borders to name some) require new competences and therefore new ways of teaching, too. We need to support learning and also find more ways to make the learning outcomes visible for the students but also for ourselves.

For me it is crucial that the competences and skills we especially need to build are all related to humanity or at least human skills in one way or another. I would say our project is at the same time a great living lab for us to learn and develop ourselves as teachers and other professionals. We can ask ourselves, if we meet with the level of transversal competences and skills and if there would be any areas we would need to especially develop?

ECMT+ challenges us to meet with our tight timetables, big workloads elsewhere, limited project budget recourses, detailed follow-up processes and reporting – all at the same time with relatively ambitious project goals. In addition, we work in a very diverse group of experts ending up with a high number of individuals who are all great professionals in their fields. Even though most of us are highly experienced in many international arena even globally considered, too; this again calls for creativity, teamwork, tenacity, initiative and resilience. When there is a will, there is the result. I see our project as an interesting journey and believe in the end of the project we all have learned a lot!

The Joys and Challenges of Cooperation, and the Need for Patience

Greg Bond

Lecturer in Mediation and Communication at University of Applied Sciences Wildau, Germany

In a contribution to the book, Global Citizenship. Perspectives of  a World Community, Dirk Messner writes: “Research on cooperation has shown the basic mechanisms to help develop and stabilise cooperative relations: reciprocity, trust, dense networks of communication, reputation, fairness, instruments to support rule-abiding behaviours or to sanction free-rider strategies, we-identities and shared narratives.” There are a lot of ideas here, and I have been reflecting on these in relation to my own experience of international and crosscultural teamwork in the ECMT+ project and other contexts.

Firstly, the context: global citizenship is about international networking and cooperation, but not merely for economic gain. It is rather that if we see ourselves as global citizens, then because we are taking some (ideal or practical) responsibility for the state of the world and of people around the world. This is an ethical and political mindset that is on the rise. It involves cooperation for the sake of improving lives, not just for own gain. I believe that cooperation between universities around the world does contain this element too; we are creating networks that should promote understanding, acceptance of difference, and enrichment of lives. And this not just to make money. ECMT+ has a focus on entrepreneurship, which is of course also about business and financial success. But not only: we have focused many times on social entrepreneurship and responsible business. And we are also gaining lots of insight into each others’ work and worlds, and learning about and from each other. This is what international cooperation means for myself, above all other matters. Can ECMT+ be reframed a little as a project within the larger context of global citizenship, or at least European citizenship? I think yes. Definitely yes.

Returning to the recipe for cooperation. Reciprocity and trust must be givens, of course, as also dense communication networks. In our ECMT+ project we have managed much of this, but not without bumps and challenges along the way. Particularly, I think that our communication networks at times were not always reliable and dense enough – and I have heard members of our international team from different countries ask themselves why responses to their input have been low at times. It is a learning process, and we are learning. For us, this international project is work over and above our other jobs, which are busy enough. But not getting answers can demotivate too.

And sanctioning non-compliance with performance, agreements or deadlines? Well … on the one hand participation here is voluntary, so who should dare to warn and sanction? On the other, given that the project is EU funded, I think we probably should do more of that too. But I will leave that one there.

Shared narratives and we-identities. Yes, for sure. These are absolutely essential. We are working on it. But I would also take issue with this idea in just one respect: that our need for a shared narrative should not muscle out our differences. Any shared narrative needs to include respect for different ways of working and thinking, which in this project have truly surprised me, and I would like to share a few ideas on why.

I have had some experience of international project work in the past and present, including a former European consortium, and also work across continents, with team members from many different countries and continents from the USA to India, China to Australia. In these projects there have been shared goals and narratives, and we have got results. The differences in ways of working have sometimes been immense, and particularly noticeable in communication behaviours and strategies. Using email and online platforms is the norm, but their actual usage rates vary wildly and sometimes frustratingly. Levels of precision and detail in communication, project management and outputs also widely diverge. In these non-European teams I have learned to be patient, to accept and wait, to politely ask and reframe requests, and not to worry about surprises, silences, and twists in the tail. We have always got there in the end.

What has really surprised me this time has been the need for precisely the same kind of acceptance of difference within a purely European consortium. I never questioned my expectations before we began, but I am doing so now – I probably expected the teamwork and project work here to be so much easier and “efficient.” After all: we are all Europeans, aren’t we? Looking back, it has not been that different from working with partners outside Europe. For this reason I would add to Dirk Messner’s recipe for successful cooperation: patience! I am working on it.

Teamwork: Voicing and Managing Expectations

Evelyne Lefèvre Downs

Lecturer in Project Management and Coordinator International Affairs, IUT de Roanne – Université Jean Monnet

This project got me thinking a lot about the challenge of working in a team from places located all over Europe with different environments, different people, different views and expectations … nothing new for experts who are used to intercultural communication and yet, the way we are now compelled to work – that is online – is certainly adding another layer to the complexity.

I am currently working on an online module on teamwork for the project. I was wondering how I should start this module. As I started reflecting on my own experience of teamwork it struck me that the projects I have struggled the most with have been the project where the foundations I needed had not been laid. Objectives, tools, tasks had most of the time been beautifully organised and yet, the magic of teamwork did not happen. And that gave me the answer to the “How should I start this module?” The answer: with expectations.

What do we all expect from working together? What do we expect from ourselves, the others, and us as a group?

As a project coordinator I am a firm believer in team communication. This is my expectation. And sometimes, as task managers from the Western world, I feel we sacrifice the time dedicated to building relations to the benefit of performance and task management. This works well when we are involved in short-term projects. But from my experience, the more complex the project, the more diverse the team, the more distance there is between the members, the longer the project will run, the more we should invest our energy first in relationships and what we call teambuilding.

Even if it may feel like a waste of time when there is so much to do and organise, my belief is that this investment in the human part of the project is what will enable a team to flourish. Voicing these expectations and sharing them could be one of the first stepping-stones for an aspiring team.

 

Visiting Wildau

Visiting Wildau

Heikki Immonen

Principal Lecturer of Entrepreneurship at Karelia University of Applied Sciences

In March 2018 year I took participated to an intensive entrepreneurship education 2-week program at Technical University of Wildau. The event was organized by the ECMT+ project. Six students from each seven participating countries had had few months to prepare and produce rough business ideas ready for further development and testing during the intensive week. I was able to participate on the first week, during which teachers from partner universities gave lectures in the morning and student teams applied these lessons during the afternoon and evening. Because of the lessons and work done by the students, those rough business ideas sketches transformed in to a more thoroughly tested and complete business concepts.

This was my first time really experiencing Germany. My earlier experience consisted of flying from Helsinki to Munich, renting a car from the airport and driving south to Austria. Based on my 7-day stay at Wildau, I must admit that Germany felt simple and approachable. Trains are on time, streets are clean and feel safe. I think I didn’t spot any vacant commercial spaces in Wildau. (a sign of Germany’s strong economy?) Some curious cultural or practical differences also stood out: cash is everything; credit or debit cards are not often accepted in smaller shops. Shops close early and are not open during Sundays. Also, I got the sense that German organizational culture is somewhat more hierarchical compared to what I’m used to in Finnish universities. Obviously, flat and vertical structures both have their benefits. If you get too flat, it might be difficult to get coordinated collective action for any sustained period of time towards an important strategic goal. Which by the way is often the biggest issue with “creative” and “dynamic” startup teams.

Moving back to the issue of entrepreneurship education: what can we expect to get from an intensive entrepreneurship education program? According to Bae et al (2014) entrepreneurship education has no significant effect on entrepreneurial intentions, when pre-education attitude towards entrepreneurship is taken as a factor. For a group of already entrepreneurially-minded students entrepreneurship education could provide small but statistically significant boost. Intensive week as a teaching method doesn’t bring any special boost to learning outcomes. Problem-based learning and discovery-based learning improve learning, but less than average interventions (Hattie, 2008). If intensive week is seen only as a tool for promoting entrepreneurial intentions and a way to deliver entrepreneurship education, it shouldn’t be the number one choice.

What if the main benefit of an intensive week is less about the individual skill development and more about the relationships and the interactions between? We know that shared novel and exciting activities can be a significant factor in experienced relationship quality of couples (Aron et al., 2000). It is not farfetched to propose that novelty and excitement, such as the kind what you experience when you go to a foreign country to work and live together with people from different cultures, will be a good relationship builder also in non-romantical context. Thus fostering future collaboration and exchange of ideas. In fact, this exchange of ideas might the most important outcome of the intensive weeks, at least for the faculty and staff of the partnering universities. Alex Pentland and his research group at MIT have studied this so-called idea flow extensively (Pentland, 2015). Pentland defines an idea as three-part unit of knowledge: when in situation A, do B in order to get to C. When people interact and discuss, ideas flow between people. When we see others doing something in a situation similar to ours, reaching towards a goal like ours, we’re likely to imitate if this activity leads to the desired results.

With the advent of mobile devices it has become possible to study idea flow objectively. Pentland and his colleagues have discovered that idea flow is a mighty predictor of success. Intra-organizational idea flow predicts better productivity and effectiveness, while inter-organizational idea flow corrects with long-term success and innovativeness. For example the economic development of different US states is strongly correlated with the number of social ties to other states (Holzbauer et al., 2016).  It is also the increasing density of idea flow inside cities that explains the scaling of economic and innovation performance per resident in cities (Pan et al., 2013) .

So, how did I personally benefit from this idea flow in Wildau? Next are couple of ideas that stood out and certainly had an impact to my own thinking. First of these was an excellent demonstration of the “get out of the building” principle originally made famous by startup thinking pioneer Steve Blank (Blank & Dorf, 2012). As according to the “get out of the building” principle, already on the second day, students travelled to Berlin to interview and observe potential customers in hopes of discovering unsatisfied needs and other business opportunities. Students were also instructed to look for existing solution similar to the business idea they had chosen to develop further. A second trip to Berlin came later during the first week.

These excursions worked as excellent learning opportunities and as exciting relationship-building experiences (see above). For me this was maybe the best example of the “get out of the building” practice I’ve personally witnessed. It is very likely that this practice will be integrated to some educational programs we have here are Karelia UAS.

Second practice that stood out for me was the Vinn Lab, a prototyping and mockup building facility at Wildau. My personal experiences are more with “dirtier” prototyping machines such as woodcraft and metalcraft tools. Vinn Lab had a “cleaner” focus with 3D printers and simple CNC machines. What I liked especially was that together with these tools the facility had also amble room for brainstorming, dedicated computers with design software and simple building materials such as Lego bricks. It felt as if Vinn Lab was clearly organized around a specific need an innovator might have. To my estimation this need is the ability to quickly visualize business ideas as images or to produce them as simple 3D mock-ups. When a product or service idea becomes visual and physical, higher quality feedback can be gathered from outside experts and potential customers. Also, the designers themselves become aware of possible flaws and ways to improve the idea further. So-called dirtier prototyping facilities have a clearer focus on producing actual functioning prototypes. To summarize, Vinn Lab is something I feel we lack here in Joensuu.

How would I change the intensive week concept for our next implementation in 2019? Perhaps one way to improve would be to narrow the type of business models student teams can work with. If all would be working to create a physical product, it would make it easier for the teachers to design more effective learning experiences. Student teams could follow mock-up and prototype building and usability testing steps in an orderly fashion. To have even more focus, all teams could be developing a physical product to a similar kind of customer need. This would allow teachers and students alike to see performance differences between different teams and thus facilitate learning better. When everybody is working on a completely different business idea, the innovation skills might be lost in the practical details of the product or service.

Thank you team WIldau!

References

Aron, A., Norman, C. C., Aron, E. N., McKenna, C., & Heyman, R. E. (2000). Couples’ shared participation in novel and arousing activities and experienced relationship quality. Journal of personality and social psychology78(2), 273.

Blank, S., & Dorf, B. (2012). The startup owner’s manual: The step-by-step guide for building a great company. BookBaby.

Holzbauer, B. O., Szymanski, B. K., Nguyen, T., & Pentland, A. (2016, January). Social ties as predictors of economic development. In International Conference and School on Network Science (pp. 178-185). Springer, Cham.

Pan, W., Ghoshal, G., Krumme, C., Cebrian, M., & Pentland, A. (2013). Urban characteristics attributable to density-driven tie formation. Nature communications4, 1961.

Pentland, A. (2015). Social Physics: How social networks can make us smarter. Penguin.

Welcome to the ECMT+ Blog

Greg Bond, lecturer in mediation and communication at TH Wildau, Liisa Timonen, project leader at Karelia University of Applied Sciences

Entrepreneurship and Communication in Multicultural Teams

Entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship in diverse contexts in Europe – an Erasmus+ Strategic Partnership.

Welcome to the ECMT+ blog. In this blog we wish to share our experiences in this Erasmus+ Strategic Partnership between seven European universities. Contributors write about the various elements of the project, from the intensive programmes with students, to entrepreneurship and society, the pleasures and challenges of multicultural project work, to research on entrepreneurship teaching, and personal relections on our own project teamwork and learning. We invite participants in this partnership and all interested persons – trainers, researchers, coordinators, students – to share their thoughts and engage in dialogue.

Greg Bond and Liisa Timonen