02 Feb 2022
But what about students working at an SME in a country struggling financially, students solving a strategic problem for a small business in an emerging market, or a group of graduate students working as consultants for a foreign company? These students can benefit from a structured and well-assessed learning process, as well as a Field Consulting project abroad, wherein they gain international competence and become boundary-less global careerists.
Five years ago, Alba Graduate Business School launched a new international project for partner business schools that wanted to engage their graduate students with consulting projects. In 2015, Greece was still in the middle of a financial crisis and Greek SMEs struggled to survive, expand operations abroad, and innovate. US partner schools were the first to reach out with specific requests to identify Greek cases that would be the ideal learning projects for their students. Kelley School of Management, Weatherhead School of Management, Harvard Business School, and Ohio University were looking for such projects in emerging markets or countries that faced severe economic problems. These academic institutions knew that the learning impact on students would be tremendous. They knew that graduate students needed to develop a thorough understanding of the global economy. They knew students had to participate in real business challenges in diverse environments. They recognized the need for students to understand the real problems that companies face and put their effort into solving them. They wanted to push their students to provide value to the local companies by contributing promising, innovative ideas to help shape a new product, service, or customer experience. These ideas would culminate in interactions with local customers, a new creative approach to thinking and a “fresh perspective” they bring as outsiders. Although student learning was the primary objective, local companies could also gain a lot during this process.
Soon after, US partner schools, UK Business Schools, and French schools followed.
Global Consulting Field trips seemed to be much more effective than the traditional incoming field trips that included only lectures, company visits, and some cultural visits. Students had the chance to interact with diverse and different cultures on actual projects, putting learning at a higher level.
Identifying Greek companies with sound business cases wasn’t hard for a well-established business school like Alba in the Greek business community. Alba Hub for Entrepreneurship and Development had access to family businesses, start-ups, incubators, collaborative workspaces, and all kinds of SME Associations in the country. Alba conducts a significant number of executive development programs for Greek companies, and eventually, there is cumulative knowledge on training and business needs. Greek SMEs and start-ups embraced the project and felt this was a win-win procedure. They invested their time wisely to access global market research data, global best practices, fresh, innovative ideas, and different national market insights.
Alba’s Field Consulting Projects are highly professional projects that are specific and of practical use to businesses and leading companies in Greece are selected based on maximum impact, following a detailed analysis of the business needs and student team skills. The objective is to deliver a high-quality, professional consultancy report that the business can incorporate into its strategy. The projects start with the student teams initiating their engagement with client SMEs, interacting with their client remotely to deepen the consulting relationship, scope the project, complete research, and outline work to accomplish.
Clients require a personalized relationship with students before they are willing to discuss the details of their business and organization. This collaboration, in turn, enriches the learning process for the students. Alba facilitates the establishment of this relationship in cooperation with the incoming school faculty supervisor, who ensures frequent contact between students and clients, sets specific deliverables, and observes that all learning objectives are covered. Additionally, each team is closely coached. Material, deadlines, and interaction are purposefully sequenced to shepherd students through a deliberative process of action-based learning. Expectations for the quality of the client deliverable are very high.
Students should consider integral the development of a personal relationship with their clients outside of formal discussion about the project. They must quickly become comfortable with amorphous elements of client engagement. They are exposed to cultural diversity, different cultural values and norms. The emotional struggle around learning how to scope a complicated problem, identify the information that needs to be collected, and derive actionable solutions is a natural part of the project. For several months, teams work on their projects and prepare for their final trip to Athens.
The goal is for each team to finish a good percentage of their work before arrival. The remaining work requires data and perspective that can only be attained on-site with the client.  This project takes place during their visit to Greece, and they meet with the company and Alba graduate students. Alba organizes a special workshop where Alba students play the role of the local consultant to the different teams. Specifically, Alba students rotate every 30 minutes in a round table discussion and provide their consulting to the project teams. After all these learning steps, teams are ready for their final presentation to the client. Finally, students deliver their reports and present their work. The feeling they get after having developed a meaningful product/service/solution for a company is truly rewarding!
“In Greece, the culture is significantly higher context and drives a very different business culture. It was difficult to step back from my normal cadence and have more personal and contextual conversations with both the client and vendors. However, after adjusting, I found it to be very rewarding to feel a personal connection to these individuals whom I barely knew by name prior. It is a completely different train of thought that I enjoyed on a personal level.” A student from Kelley School of Business wrote.
A student at the Weatherhead School of Management shared his experience: “We got paired with some great entrepreneurs to help them with their business, this was a great learning and teaching experience for both parties, and it made this a very special and unforgettable experience.”
Global Field Consulting Trips have a great impact on the learning process. They open students’ minds and become lifetime experiences they can include in their CV and share at a job interview. Global Field Consulting Trips transform people’s worldviews. They transform people.
Blog post originally here: https://rimaone.com/global-field-consulting-trips-action-based-learning/