Jessica Schwengber, doctoral candidate at the Leadership Excellence Institute Zeppelin | LEIZ in an interview with Evelyn Pachta, Manager Communication and External Relations, LEIZ
What was the aim of this student research trip to Brazil?
The Transcultural Research Group aimed to obtain a detailed and practical understanding of the concept of Relational Leadership in its application to Brazil. The objective was to analyse the questions related to relational leadership following a multidisciplinary and multi-contextual approach. Working together with our partners from SAP, Brazil in the country every day offered us the best opportunity in this context.
What did you personally expect from this research trip?
My research focuses on organisational transcultural learning processes and I believe that, besides a theoretical background, which is crucial, a “reality check” is needed as well.
Thus, my personal objective was to go beyond the theory and observe organisational reality from the inside.
In fact, during my visit I was able to interview employees from different departments, thus grasping how some theoretical concepts are applied in reality. And the most interesting aspect is that some of my findings were unexpected!
I would never have been able to enhance my knowledge about organisational learning without being able to observe the “real world”.
With whom did you cooperate within the research project?
Apart from the multidisciplinary and multi-contextual aspects, the Transcultural Research Projects include Brazilian cooperation partners and universities. In our case, this was SAP Brazill and Unisinos. The aim is to bring together perspectives from different cultural backgrounds, too.
Therefore, to combine local and German expertise, teams of German and Brazilian students worked together.
How did the cooperation work between the members of this student research group?
In practice, every German student collaborated with a Brazilian one. In this way, we had the opportunity to exchange ideas and knowledge related to our topic of study.
We spent every single day in SAP with our Brazilian partners and, on the last day, we presented our initial findings in the Transcultural Research Symposium at Unisinos University.
What were your most striking impressions of Brazil?
Actually I was born in Brazil so the day-to-day reality of life in Brazil is not that new for me. However, before our trip I was sceptical; I was not sure whether such a transcultural approach would work. But after just two hours inside SAP my scepticism disappeared. In fact, from the very beginning both Brazilians and Germans were able to work together.
Sometimes we believe that we have a wide understanding of a specific topic. Once we are confronted with different points of view though our certainty begins to falter, we start questioning ourselves and start to realise that there are no absolute “correct answers”, thus in this way we broaden our horizons.
That is exactly what I observed during my stay at SAP Brazil. Both sides started the project with certainties and, after a kind of crisis due to some differences of perspective, finished their trip with different ideas.
But in the end I believe that we were able to build a transcultural bridge and thus find shared solutions. We were in a position to realise our transcultural method and thus reach our goals.
How is this research work now being continued here at Zeppelin University?
Our research trip was only the beginning of our transcultural cooperation. As one outcome of this first transcultural ‘learning journey’, the students and researchers involved will publish their results and findings in the upcoming seventh volume of our Transcultural Management series, published by Metropolis, entitled “Relational Leadership – Case Studies from Brazil”.
Furthermore, in order to continue this fruitful transcultural path, ZU will host the Transcultural Winter School from 11 to 19 November 2019. In fact, in workshop sessions, company visits and master classes, by attending the Transcultural Leadership Summit as well as by presenting the first research results at the Transcultural Research Symposium, ZU´s students and the Brazilian students will take their collaboration further.
What do you consider to be the advantage of projects like this – would you recommend this format?
We are living in a globalised and interconnected reality which has an impact on our social, professional and cultural lives, creating a new paradigm that requires new approaches.
This project followed a transcultural approach, which focuses on commonalities and on mutually beneficial relationships. With its focus on commonalities, this method allows us to go beyond “overcoming differences” and stops us considering cultures as silos - a definition that no longer fits an interconnected reality. On the other hand, the transcultural method does not ignore differences; it aims to create shared spaces by building transcultural bridges.
I really consider this transcultural method to be a strength and I would definitely recommend it for future projects.
LEIZ Communication Management
The Leadership Excellence Institute Zeppelin (LEIZ) at Zeppelin University conducts transcultural research in so-called “Transcultural Student Research Groups”. These groups are composed of student researchers who tackle one collective overarching research agenda, each of them writing a research paper on one subtopic and thus representing a distinct perspective on the overall research question. Both the participating students and their supervisors represent different departments and disciplines of Zeppelin University. In this manner, a phenomenon can be approached via different ways of thinking and with different methods, ultimately providing a multiple-perspective description of that phenomenon. One important ambition LEIZ pursues with its Transcultural Student Research Groups is bringing together young and established researchers from different cultural backgrounds. It is in this context that the LEIZ cooperates with Brazilian universities to learn from local expertise: it is only by including researchers and students from Brazil that the programme becomes truly transcultural!
The four Transcultural Research cases at a glance:
Case I: The Relations between Future Leaders and Traditional
Communities: Learnings from the Center for Sustainability Studies Programme
Case II: The Relations between Start-ups and their Stakeholders:
Learnings from Insolar
Case III: A Diverse Network of Relations as a Driver of Innovation: Learnings from SAP
Case IV: The Relations between Politics and Civil Society:
Learnings from Operation Car Wash