As promised, this post will discuss some of our team's experiences working with a Chinese client, our cultural exchange session with their employees, our presentation to the CEO and CTO, and our final weekend in Beijing.
Our client has a long-standing relationship with MIT and MIT Sloan through a variety of partnerships and affiliations. For instance, MIT research fellow Michael Schrage, visited our company and presented his latest work on digital business. As a result, they are very keen to maintain these connections and leverage them to create innovative solutions in a variety of verticals. When we first arrived at our client's office in Beijing, they kindly arranged about a dozen meetings with various managers so we had an opportunity to learn more about the company. The client is very excited about being connected with MIT, so our meetings resulted in multiple initiatives upon which they wanted us to focus. It was a bit difficult to gain traction in any of these areas given the limited time on site and the language barriers so as a team we decided to regroup and decide which initiative we felt we could deliver the most value for. We put together a project plan and timeline, provided rationale for our proposal, then presented it to our senior sponsor. Fortunately he agreed with our assessment so we had the green light to move forward on our specific project. We organized daily meetings with one of the midle managers in the group we were focusing on and gained a great deal of insight.
Towards the end of the second week, our contact person organized a cultural exchange session open to the more junior employees of our sponsor company. Her goal was to open the lines of communication between us and the company's employees, to exchange our impressions of doing business in a foreign country, and answer questions about working and studying in the US. The discussion "happy hour" took place at 3pm on Wednesday and about 25 employees attended, including several English-speaking expats from the US, New Zealand, Australia, Germany, Korea, and several other countries. We had a great conversation about our observations of the company, life in Beijing/China, and spoke about our experiences as MBA students at MIT Sloan. At the end, we were very grateful to have been afforded the opportunity to speak directly with some of the junior members of the organization.
Our contact person also scheduled a farewell presentation to senior management for Friday afternoon of our second week. The purpose of this meeting was to give the CEO and CTO a comprensive update of our project goals, research to date, and preliminary recommendations. Our team prepared extensively for this meeting and put together a 25-slide deck to guide the conversation. We each presented the material we had been focusing on and received very positive feedback. One major observation from this meeting was the extreme sense of hierarchy in the company. The CEO and the CTO were in attendence and were really the two people to whom we were presenting the material. There were about five other people in the room, most of whom we had conducted multiple meetings with to gain insights about the business. During the meeting it was very clear that everyone in the room (from the client side) was deferring to the CEO and would not speak unless directly asked to do so by him. The other employees did not provide feedback or question anything we presented. Only the CEO (and to a lesser extent, the CTO) offered comments and suggestions. I have studied Hofstede's "Cultural Dimensions" several times and knew that China had a high degree of power distance, but it was striking to experience it first-hand. Generally in the US all people involved in the meeting are encouraged to speak up and offer their opinions, feedback and comments during a presentation, regardless of their title or age. It was very interesting to conduct a meeting with the opposite demeanor but I believe it spoke to the reverence the Chinese have for their elders and their leaders.
For our final weekend in Beijing, our group decided to visit the National Museum of China near Tiananmen Square followed by the Silk Street market for some bargain shopping. We all managed to bring some great gifts home for our family members at a reasonable price! We finished off the evening at our favorite new microbrewery, the Great Leap Brewing Company, deep in the Hutongs. We greatly enjoyed our last evening on site as a team and we took the opportunity to reflect back on our interactions and experiences in Beijing over some delicious local beers. We were all very happy to have made the choice to take China Lab and venture to Beijing for SIP / Spring Break. We still have a lot of hard work ahead of us to ensure we deliver a great final project, but we feel we had access to the necessary contacts and information on site. We would like to thank our client and our main points of contact within the company for being such wonderful hosts, and will encourage MIT Sloan to maintain this partnership in the future.