How to manage a big group of foreigners?
Kirjoittanut: Sille Sinor - tiimistä SYNTRE.
This essay was written by Sille Sinor, Tary Jytilä and Marcos Homar Heinonen.
How big groups of foreigners are managed and how did SYNTRE succeed in their try at it? In this essay, we go over SYNTRE’s learning journey and focus on the skills on how effectively the team was able to manage a big group of foreigners and where to improve. The learnings of it and what to avoid, as well as how to prepare for it.
When foreigners are usually hosted, cultural and language barriers occur. Those need to be handled and get used to, but how and how do they occur? By reflecting on SYNTRE’s learning journey we are able to oversee those situations and reflect on how it could have done better and why.
2.0. What is a Learning Journey and how SYNTRE’s team executed it
A Learning Journey is a 5-credit course in TAMK’s, Proakatemia, Bachelor’s Degree Programme of Entrepreneurship and Team Leadership. It is scheduled and planned to take place in the second year of studies and also in the third year of studies. To understand the course’s objectives, content, and goal source, it is best to refer to the degree’s curriculum and overview them.
2.1. Objectives of the course are:
While planning, implementing, and reflecting on the learning journey, the team will learn to:
- specify the target of the learning journey in order to lead the team toward its vision
- design how to implement the plan in practice
- operate efficiently and successfully during the learning journey
- conduct the lessons learned after the learning journey, capture the knowledge learned and put it into practice.
- What does our team enterprise need to study or learn together?
- How can we do it?
- How do we implement our learning journey?
- What will we learn?
- In case it is relevant for us to learn for example sales, marketing and customer service skills in German as well as German business culture, we may need to plan and implement a sales and marketing project or a pop-up shop in Germany including the funding of the project.
Assessment criteria, pass/fail:
- As a team member, the student is able to collaborate, plan, execute, and evaluate a joint learning journey in order to bring the team closer to its targets.
- The student is not able to participate in the planning, execution, and evaluation of the joint learning journey.
Based on what was stated in the curriculum SYNTRE team look into different variations on how to accomplish the course together. SYNTRE team is a second-year entrepreneurship students’ team in TAMK’s Proakatemia and has 16 members of the cooperative. The team decided on hosting a Swiss team Novio from the University of Applied Science and Arts Western Switzerland (HES-SO) in Tampere. Team Novio is a cooperative run by first-year business students of Team Academy Hesso. The students practice/learn in the same team academy model as SYNTRE does in Proakatemia. Novio has 14 students and the team values innovation, communication, and collaboration. In Novio’s program, they are expected to accomplish a study trip to Finland and learn about international markets and do a project in the country or by collaboration.
2.2. Goals and Perspectives for the Teams
SYNTRE and Novio agreed on a two-week-long learning journey on weeks 10 and 11 in 2023. Where Novio came to Tampere and the team members were engaging together in the same activities while also executing a project. SYNTRE’s goals for the weeks were to learn about international business, network, learn about sales, and set a plan/strategy for sales days. The responsibilities for SYNTRE were scheduling, planning, executing the plan, and planning and implementing the sales strategy during the sales days. To measure every teammate’s activity and to ensure everyone passed the course, the team agreed on tracking the time that individuals were spending on the learning journey. The goal for the time spent was 98 hours altogether, including planning, the two weeks spent together, and sales days activities.
SYNTRE focused on four themes while organizing and preparing the schedule for the visit for Novio. They were team bonding, company visits, training sessions, and project preparation. During the two weeks, SYNTRE was able to organize 3 company visits, 4 training sessions, 4-5 team bonding activities, and 4-5 project preparation sessions.
This essay focuses more on the objective of how SYNTRE was managing the teams and the hosting of Novio. The information provided above is meant to help the reader to understand the terms used in this essay as well as understand the starting points of the journey and planning. Important to state that the SYNTRE team consists of 12 different nationalities and the Novio team consistent around 3 different nationalities. Together there were 30 entrepreneur students organizing and executing the Learning Journey with around 15 different nationalities presented.
3.0. Communication is a key
Communication inside our team and between teams lacked during the learning journey. More than a problem on an individual level it was a team problem that arose during the learning journey. When many nationalities gather to do a project communication is key for everything to work. Communication amongst other things is the base for things such as productivity and efficiency to be at an optimal level. These are my observations but let’s check how key communication really is in a workplace and what are things we can all do to improve on this matter (Cooks-Campbell, 2022).
Communication is crucial in a working environment. Having good communication boosts employee morale, engagement, productivity, and satisfaction. There will also be benefits in team collaboration and cooperation. Effective workplace communication ultimately contributes to improved performance for individuals, teams, and organizations. Building good communication skills in a team is especially important for a team/project leader. An effective communicator motivates the team to get more things done by eliminating misunderstandings. Even the smallest things contribute to the bigger picture. When things are handled with style right from the start, the end result has a high chance of succeeding. (Cooks-Campbell, 2022)
There are 7 types of communication in the workplace. (Campbell, 2022) Going through different types of communication is valuable as some of them occurred during the learning journey. There are different types of communication. Depending on the situation a certain type is used. A skillful communicator knows when to use a specific type of communication to deliver a message in the best way possible.
3.1. Leadership Communication
Number one on the list is leadership communication. Leaders’ communication is one-way communication. This means that the communication goes to the team, but never gets back to the leader. Leaders frequently use communication to convince, inspire, and build loyalty. This type of communication was not a significant part of the learning journey as everyone´s word carries the same weight.
3.2. Upward communication
In upward communication, employees provide feedback to company leadership. In a traditional workplace talking to a person in a higher chain of command may be very challenging and require loads of courage. In Proakatemia thought this should not be the case as the system is based on a flat hierarchy where there is no middle management. The information goes straight from entry-level to upper management. In a learning journey, the flow of information between people from different sub-teams responsible for their own tasks requires upward communication.
Updates are a type of direct communication. Even though being very popular they often fall into not being a type of strong communication. Updates can be delivered in oral or written format. Updates work best when used to confirm information delivered beforehand. They can be a valuable resource to communicate but should not be the only way to deliver information.
Presentations are a common way to communicate. Presentations are often targeted to big audiences. The objectives are to inform, influence, and persuade. Public speaking is something many people fear as it is a direct and raw way of communicating with an audience. Presentations hold a high value for entertainment and impact. A great presentation is memorable. During our learning journey, we had communication in the form of presentations. They held a big part of our learnings which showed the impact of presentations.
Meetings are a critical part of a workplace’s communication. Meetings are among the least understood and overused forms of communication. Effective meetings promote teamwork and transmit information that would be difficult to understand in other media such as Team messages. “The best meetings are highly collaborative and leave participants feeling energized, not drained.” (Campbell, 2022) In our learning journey, we had meetings which happened most of the time in smaller groups consisting of a maximum of 8 people. Based on my reflection great meetings happen in smaller teams. Dialogue is more fluent between participants and getting to a result is much faster when done in smaller groups. Being psychologically safe in a meeting is crucial. Talking without having to hesitate brings a transparent environment where it is easy to express your view. During the learning journey, the best results were achieved during meetings that consisted of a reduced amount of people.
3.5. Customer communication
Customer communication is communication between a Business and a client. These can be written, spoken, or virtual. In the learning journey, there was this type of communication made. In the planning phase of the learning journey company visits were organized by customer communication. SYNTRE and Novio played as the clients and the visited companies were in the position of businesses making it customer communication.
3.6. Informal Interactions
Last but certainly not least on this list is informal interactions. These are casual interactions that happen daily. A simple chat or an informal WhatsApp message to a teammate is an informal interaction. In the learning journey, this type of interaction happened outside working hours in the form of get-togethers and parties. Participation was at a low level for voluntary activities during the learning journey which affected the commitment during work hours.
Swiss people are generally reserved and formal in their communication style, which reflects their emphasis on professionalism. During the learning journey, the communication lacked some fluency and participation. It was most certainly caused by the communicational differences countries have. Knowing about these differences is valuable to avoid misunderstandings.
4.0. Planning Ahead
Planning ahead is important for opportunity identification and helping potential challenges. Thinking about long-term goals and objectives helps identify opportunities and create strategies. Without planning entrepreneurs may struggle with focus and making progress towards an objective. In a learning journey, this could benefit the teams participating to see the benefits of a well-done learning journey and push for the goals when the time comes.
4.1. Identify opportunities
By thinking about long-term goals and objectives entrepreneurs can identify potential opportunities and create strategies to take the most out of them. Figuring out which types of opportunities a learning journey can give to every individual sets a goal for the learning to happen.
4.2. Setting realistic goals
Planning enables entrepreneurs to define specified, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals that are consistent with the overall business vision. This allows people to remain focused and make progress toward their goals. Goals that can’t be matched are not relevant and they should be set to an achievable level so that everyone has a chance to fill them. Making personal goals for the learning journey is valuable as you know best what is achievable.
4.3. Risk managing
Managing risks can be provided for the team by planning ahead. Identifying potential challenges is important for entrepreneurs. A learning journey concept has loads of risks. By managing possible risks beforehand, you take away from their chances of happening during the learning journey.
4.4. Improving decision-making
Planning ahead helps make better decisions and have a clearer understanding of the objectives and priorities. This makes for more effective resource allocation, task prioritization, and informed decisions. Decision-making is very important in a learning journey, and people feel when there is a lack of it. Decision-making is avoided in situations where many people depend on the outcome. That is why decisions should not be made by one person in a learning journey, but instead by many members of the team.
Planning ahead is a critical component of entrepreneurial success. By taking the time to think strategically and develop a plan for a project, entrepreneurs can increase their chances of achieving their goals and building a sustainable, thriving project. (ChatGPT, personal reflection, 2.4.2023)
5.0. Embrace cultural differences
Having a culturally diverse team should be celebrated. An international team with different regional skill sets is an asset to a company. Giving the opportunity for people to showcase their culture improves the team morale and understanding of international teammates. This learning journey involved a big cultural mixture of around 15 nationalities. It is many times forgotten when working in an international team that people’s behaviors are shaped by their cultural backgrounds. Our way of thinking is affected by the culture we are from.
5.1. Cultural Diversity in a Workplace
Although integrating several social cultures into one corporate culture might be difficult, the advantages outweigh the risks by a wide margin. Different perspectives on a problem provide a broader variety of possible solutions. In a learning journey where people from diverse cultural backgrounds meet there is great potential in dealing with problem-solving and solution-making. Increased creativity and innovation are encouraged by thinking out of the box. When people approach a problem from different angles the end result is more elaborated. Cognitive diversity means differences in perspective or style of processing information. These differences don’t depend on gender, ethnicity, or age. Before recent studies, it was thought that the more diverse a team is in terms of age, ethnicity, and gender the more creative and productive they are likely to be. After recent studies, it was discovered that this type of diversity hasn’t any correlation with a team’s performance. Regardless of differences in already mentioned characteristics, certain groups have performed exceedingly well while others have performed incredibly poorly. (Reynolds, Lewis, 2017)
5.2. Diversity in Swiss Culture
The Swiss working culture is unique and highly respected. Known for their precision, attention to detail, punctuality, and strong working ethics. Swiss are people that believe in getting work done quickly and accurately. Meetings and appointments are expected to start on time. People arrive early to avoid being late. During the learning journey, it was noticed that team Novio from Switzerland was on time for meetings and other activities. While on the other hand, our team SYNTRE was more than once in a situation where people were late. This difference in punctuality is caused by cultural differences.
Work-life balance is a tradition in Switzerland which means that time outside working hours is highly valued. Full commitment during working hours permits them to prioritize personal lives and leisure time. Observing a situation where a team from Switzerland comes to Finland to work with a multicultural team can be hard. Two weeks is not a long time to get to know a group of people in depth. Expectations of the learning journey were high. Cultural differences that challenged the learning journey were not taken into consideration enough. A thing to improve for the next time where a team of foreign people comes to do a project with us is to know about their culture. It would help us better understand why certain behaviors occur. This is not an easy task but learning about other cultures can help better understand their behaviors. (ChatGPT, personal reflection, 2.4.2023)
6.0. Assigning roles of responsibility
Before our learning journey started our colleague had been in contact with the Novio team and together organized what are the key indicators during the journey. Together they came up with a strategy of how to manage the schedule and receive the best outcome out of it. Managing an intense two-week learning period with two different teams requires careful planning and coordination to ensure smooth execution. Assigning team leaders or mentors for each group who will be responsible for guiding and supporting their respective teams throughout the learning period. Clearly communicating the roles and expectations. Overall, effective communication, organization, and coordination are key to successfully managing an intense two-week learning period with two different teams. By setting clear goals, providing resources, fostering collaboration, and monitoring progress, you can ensure a successful learning experience for both teams. In our team, we organized a hands-on group, who were responsible for different themes.
6.1. Company visits
Company visits were one of the requirements for both of the teams and the team had high expectations of them. We used feedback from the teams to ensure that the companies we are about to visit had interest and motivation for the team to join. Our aim was to show the Novio team some highly successful companies around our local area. Novio informed us that most of the team members are interested in technology and start-up-based companies.
We chose to choose two high-valued technology companies around the area which were Futurice and Gofore. Both of them have a good reputation and they are fighting against the best workplace in Finland title. Both of the company visits were warmly welcomed, and all teammates gave out good feedback from them. Some of our colleagues even got so interested in the companies that they searched for intern possibilities. Why are these technology companies so highly valued? Companies as such may have a culture that encourages and rewards innovation, providing employees with the opportunity to think creatively, experiment with new ideas, and contribute to meaningful projects. This can create a stimulating and engaging work environment. They also value work-life balance, which is very important for our new generations.
We also visited Tribe, which is known as the trendy start-up community here in Tampere. Startup incubators such as Tribe, are organizations that support early-stage companies in their development and growth by providing resources, mentoring, and networking opportunities. These centers typically offer various services and support, such as office space, access to funding, business development advice, mentorship, and networking events, to help startups succeed. Tampere is promoting its business friendliness with different organizations such as Tampere ES and Business Tampere.
Another pleasant visit was to Tampere University, Field lab ecosystem where we learned more about the new technology and how to use it. We also figured out that there could be valuable co-work between the different study lines, such as business and technology students.
6.2. Welcoming team
The second theme to organize was the welcoming and hosting of the Novio team. Welcoming and hosting international teams requires sensitivity, cultural awareness, effective communication, and attention to logistical details. With proper planning and preparation, you can create a positive and memorable experience for the international team, fostering collaboration and building lasting relationships. Our team managed to host the other team well. Communication with a big team is always difficult, and it is something to always think carefully about what the best channel would be. We used mainly Teams and WhatsApp, and we did receive some feedback that everyone was not always up to date. It might be impossible to have everyone on the same page always.
6.3. Training sessions
Training sessions such as paja’s were organized equally through syntre and Novio team members. Our main focus on the training was sales as it was the outcome of the learning journey to prepare for the upcoming sales days. We practiced sales pitches, selling strategies, email templates, and how to reach our goal which we also set up as a team.
We also had some visitors who were alumni students, alumni is a former student who has completed a program of study at a particular educational institution. These particular students started their own businesses right after graduation. One of the alumni was from a company called Heimofilms , which is a company specializes in making marketing videos for other companies. Another one is called Mind Me Solutions which offers help for companies in creating a better working culture, connecting the teams better, and bringing everyone together example on team days.
6.4. Project organizing
The fourth theme was the project sparring hours, where our main focus was to use all of our energy in creating sales techniques for the upcoming sales days. We practiced selling to each other’s, found out the pros and cons of the products, familiarised ourselves with the products, found out customer portfolios, who are the main audience is, and what are the best-selling arguments. Project planning was an important step for our team to be prepared for the upcoming sales.
6.5. Cultural experiences
The fifth team was responsible for organizing something cultural and fun so that it would not just be hard work. We decided to show the international students the traditional Finnish way to enjoy free time. We visited Rauhaniemi, which is known for its traditional Finnish sauna culture, and winter swimming, which involves taking a dip in icy water for health and recreational purposes. Rauhaniemi has a designated area for ice swimming, where individuals can take a plunge into the cold waters of Lake Näsijärvi during the winter months. Ice swimming is considered an invigorating and health-promoting activity that is believed to have various benefits, such as improving blood circulation, boosting the immune system, and providing a sense of mental well-being. After a dip in the water and a nice warm sauna, we visited a fireplace, where everyone could bake their own sausages. Another fun activity was in the famous Nokia Areena, where we could enjoy some team time and play around with virtual reality games.
6.6. Result of working in a subteams
Some of the assigned roles went well and some did not. Clearly, our project leader was disappointed in some of the roles assigned. As a leader, you may have high expectations for yourself and your team, and when things do not go as planned, it can feel discouraging. Disappointment in a leadership role may arise from various factors, such as unmet goals, unexpected setbacks, failed initiatives, or difficulties in managing team dynamics. Disappointment in a leadership position can also lead to self-doubt, frustration, and stress. It may require self-reflection, introspection, and resilience to cope with disappointment and learn from the experience. It’s important to remember that setbacks and failures are a natural part of leadership and can present valuable opportunities for growth and improvement. ( Latson, 2014)
Flexibility is the main key factor when managing a big team. Plans will change and someone will always be sick and there is nothing you could do about it. Especially in the leader role you just have to trust the process and lay back. Most of the planning and organizing have already been done, so now it is up to the teammates to act accordingly to it. Changes in times and locations will always be challenging, especially to communicate them properly to everyone in a reasonable time. Overall, the learning journey was well-timed and scheduled already two weeks prior to the actual schedule, so everyone should have reserved the time in their calendars. Overthinkers and control freak might have some problems with changes in schedules, but it might also be good for them to get used to the fact that in real life things do not always go according to and we have to be flexible.
In conclusion, the Learning journey provided valuable learning on how to organize and manage a big group’s schedules and activities. The two teams were pretty satisfied with the end result of the trip, but there were places to improve. In the communication, the teams should have been clearer on who and where they were going to communicate and when. As there were schedule changes at the last minute and different cultures have different habits and norms. For the leading positions, there should have been more clarification needed and internal communication from the small team leaders. Concreting goals, in the beginning, would have helped in the long run of the project since there was a lack of motivation on some team members’ part. Also, when managing a big group, it is natural that things fail and change, and it needs to be acceptable and prepared to react to it.
It was a good learning and will help SYNTRE team in the future, on their second learning journey.
Chat GBT was used in the making of this essay and it was mentioned in the parts where it was utilized.
Tampere University of Applied Science. Study Guide. Read 23.4.2023.
University of Applied Science and Art Western Switzerland. Homepage. Read 23.4.2023.
Novio.ta. Team company Novio Instagram page. Read 25.4.2023.
Rauhanniemen Kansankylpylä. Read on 25.4.2023. Homepage.
Alesia Latson , 2014. Read on 24.4.2023 Link :https://www.latsonleadershipgroup.com/employees-disappoint-effective-leaders-respond/
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Teams Solve Problems Faster When They’re More Cognitively Diverse, Alison Reynolds and David Lewis, 2017:
Work culture in Switzerland: Hour, rules, and tips, studying in Switzerland, 2022:
The top 5 advantages of planning ahead in your business, Forbes, Melissa Houston, 2020:
Communication is key in the workplace, Allaya Cooks-Campbell, BetterUp, 2022: