More and more companies are abandoning traditional organisational structures and creating cross-border teams of people who live and work thousands of miles apart.
But there’s a catch. Nancy J Adler, the S Bronfman Chair in Management at McGill University in Montreal, puts it like this: “Interconnectedness through modern technology has deluded many people. There is the false assumption that just because we can reach anyone in the world so easily through e-mail or Skype, we are therefore all the same.”
Differences in culture, workplace norms and language present very real challenges to cross-border teams. Not surprisingly, team-building is becoming an increasingly important area for global companies.
But getting people together in one place can be costly, time-consuming and — at a time when organisations are trying to reduce their carbon footprint — environmentally unfriendly. As a result, many companies are looking for creative ways to do team-building remotely.
One such idea is being featured at the Sixth International Symposium on Digital Technologies in Foreign Language Learning in Japan.
Called SkypeRead, it brings cross-border team members together in Skype group calls to do a read-through of a movie script.
“Like a lot of good team-building ideas, people tend to raise their eyebrows when they first hear about it,” said Graham Jones, the moderator, who came into team-building via astrophysics and English-language teaching.
“However, we’ve just finished a pilot study and the results are tremendous. Doing a movie read-through is a superb bonding exercise.
“It’s also a highly effective way for non-native speakers to improve their English communication skills, which is a critical thing for multinational groups that use English as a working language.”
First day at school
A read-through (also known as a table read) is one of the stages in the production of movies, TV dramas and theatre plays. The actors sit around a large table — together with directors, producers, writers and other key personnel — and read through the script.
Many actors compare the experience to the first day at school: exciting, challenging and slightly terrifying. According to Jones, it is this combination that makes it an ideal tool for team-building.
“The SkypeRead project is based on a number of principles from neuroELT, a new field that combines neuroscience and English-language teaching,” he explains.
“The first principle is that emotion drives learning — emotion plays a central role in cognitive processing. The big thing that SkypeRead does is to recreate the emotional elements of a read-through. It’s about having fun, but it’s also about leaving your comfort zone and, as a group, being under pressure.”
The pilot study involved non-native English-speakers from 18 countries, ranging from a Japanese businesswoman in the UK to an international trade student in Afghanistan.
Lucie Křenková, who took part from the Czech Republic, said: “It was a unique experience, with optimism, good mood and empathy. It was very useful for my personal progress. It helped me to think about daily routines in different ways, and realize that everywhere in the whole world are people.”
The 6th International Symposium on Digital Technologies in Foreign Language Learning is being held at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto on March 29, 2014. Graham Jones will be presenting “To infinity and beyond! Using Skype group calls to do cross-border read-throughs of movies.”