Thursday, April 1, 2010

Winning at Innovation through Cultural Diversity

On March 4th, IMD and the IMD Alumni club of Toronto, sponsored by the Consulate General of Switzerland, organised a business forum at the National Club in Toronto. IMD Professor Martha Maznevski, professor of Organisational Behaviour and International Management and MBA program director, led this highly successful and interactive session.

Business Forum Toronto

Alumni club president Brett Breman welcomed the participants and made the opening introductions. The club acts as a link between the local business community and IMD. Philippe Crevoisier, Consulate General of Switzerland then greeted the many participants from all areas of business. He talked about the strong links between Switzerland and Canada and the excellent schools located in Switzerland which are often positive criteria for Canadian businesses looking to invest in Switzerland. He also made a parallel between the cultural diversity and innovative spirit prevalent in Switzerland and in Toronto.

IMD director, Lynn Verdina-Henchoz, then warmly thanked the hosts of the evening. She also introduced Professor Martha Maznevski and the topic of the evening. Martha Maznevski’s teaching covers a broad range of organizational behaviour topics, including teams and leadership in global and virtual contexts, diversity and inclusiveness and the relationship between organizational and national culture. She has served as an advisor to organisations in North America, Europe and Asia on issues of managing people globally. She has also published numerous articles on these subjects. Her current research focuses on the dynamics of high-performing teams and networks in multinational organisations and managing people in global complexity. At the event, she presented much of her latest research on high-performing and innovative teams, with a focus on cultural diversity as a means of improving innovation.

Toronto is indeed a very culturally diverse city (“It has cultural diversity like Texas has oil”), but is this being used as a resource for high performance? In her presentation, Martha Maznevski explored the attributes of culturally diverse teams and how they can have great potential for innovation, although in many cases, they suppress the diversity to avoid problems. She also talked about Innovation and the processes used in high-performance innovation teams to reach a performance goal. Clearly cultural diversity can contribute to these innovation processes (in the divergent process of generating ideas for example), but means it is also harder in some aspects (for example in the convergent process of coming to a conclusion). Martha Maznevski then presented findings from her research (based on the Cultural Perspectives database) on some key elements that affect business culture – our relationship to our environment, the distribution of power and responsibility and accepted modes of action. This provoked some interesting discussion around country differences!

In order to make all of this more “real”, the participants were then asked to get into groups and discuss current business challenges that need an innovative solution. Martha used some of the groups’ examples to discuss ideas of how to optimize the performance of culturally diverse teams and how their differences can be used in innovation processes.

To provoke some thinking at the end of the session, Martha Maznevski talked about the disappointing results in many companies with initiatives around diversity. She believes this arises from a number of “fears” at play in an organisation that act as barriers and in fact can be driven even deeper below the surface if they are discussed directly. To address them, it may be a better idea to go around them and good innovation processes and culturally diverse teams could be a good way of doing that. If companies get cultural diversity working well for innovation, psychological safety for diversity in general will be created and overall benefits of diversity will start coming through.

The evening ended with a delightful cocktail organised by the Consulate General of Switzerland and discussions went on well into the evening. Several positive comments about the event were received in the next days: “We really enjoyed the hospitality of the entire IMD community here in Toronto and absolutely loved the red wine !” “Thank you very much for extending an invitation to attend last night’s presentation. I learned several very useful things from Martha Maznevski and met several very interesting people”, “Thank you for the invitation to attend last evening’s IMD event. The lecture was very good and the hospitality was first rate.”

No comments: