What do job swapping and an MIT Sloan elective have in common? — Roberta Pittore

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Roberta Pittore

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Roberta Pittore

From Forbes México

In today’s economy, the need for global experience and cultural awareness is greater than ever. As a result, global talent swaps are becoming more common. These short-term assignments — where two employees from the same international firm trade positions for less than a year – are predicted to increase by 49 percent in the next two years, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers report cited in The New York Times.

MIT Sloan has long supported students in gaining this type of global experience, offering a very popular elective course called Global Entrepreneurship Lab (G-Lab) for the last 15 years. It’s similar to a job swap in that it matches teams of MBA students for short-term assignments with startup companies in emerging markets. However, these are full-time second-year MBA students; they are not sent to MIT Sloan by the host company. Students’ incentive for choosing a specific host startup is often to gain hands-on experience in a new function or industry — and in a new country. The function/industry is often different from what they plan to focus on after graduation. The student groups work on an issue for the startup throughout the semester, meshing together as a team while living and working on-site for three weeks at the end of the term.

Mentoring adds another dimension to the job swap concept. Each G-Lab team is assigned a mentor from MIT. The mentors’ role is to help students see how to translate what they have learned from their previous employment and first-year coursework at MIT Sloan into something that will bring lasting value to the host company. The mentor tries to gauge the strengths and vulnerabilities of the team and guide them into becoming a cohesive unit. The mentor also steers the team toward resources and research to get them up to speed to make an impact at the company starting on day one. The companies play an additional mentoring role by matching C-level executives with the student team to provide guidance during their time onsite.

The result is an intensive and unique hands-on learning experience with several significant benefits:

Broadening perspectives

First, it gives students exposure to new functions, industries, cultures, and skills — all things that would be more challenging to gain after graduation without a job swap. No matter how flat the hierarchy or how matrixed the organization, the reality is that it’s very difficult to get exposure to and learn from people outside your narrow realm. If you’re in finance, chances are you know a lot of the finance folks, a few people in tech, a few folks in sales, and so on. The length of time you stay in that functional area compounds the problem. This is pretty obvious when you look around any corporate lunchroom and observe who is sitting together. Over the years, your perception is strongly influenced by the narrow group of people in the firm with whom you interact on a regular basis.

A mini MBA

The host company benefits from G-Lab too, as its employees are exposed to people outside their usual peer group who bring new ideas and perspectives. It’s not unusual for the host company to describe the time spent with students as a sort of mini MBA for employees.

Emotional intelligence

Another key benefit involves growth in emotional intelligence. Many studies have shown that emotional intelligence doesn’t necessarily translate into other cultures. Just because you may react appropriately in your home country, doesn’t mean it will go over well in another. Things like body language and facial gestures may differ from country to country. This matters a lot whether you’re working in another country or at your desk in the U.S. because the people sitting next to you may be from other countries. By spending time working in another country, you can expand your “cultural” emotional intelligence.

Career impact

The third benefit is career impact. While you often hear of job swappers being promoted after they return to their home country, it’s not unusual for MIT Sloan students to come back from G-Lab with new career goals. Many find new industries, functions and even countries to pursue careers in after graduation.

The bottom line is that G-Lab is an opportunity to gain the benefits of a job swap, but with the additional enrichment of mentoring and the application of classroom learning. It’s a chance for students to step outside of their comfort zones to try out new functions, industries, and cultures early on in their career. The results are often transformational.

Read the full post at Forbes México.

Roberta Pittore is faculty mentor for the Global Entrepreneurship Lab (G-Lab) and a senior lecturer in managerial communications at MIT Sloan.

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