Community / October 3, 2011

Staff Retreat: Cultural Understanding in the Workplace


Vice Dean Hugh Courtney plays the “Five Tricks”
game that simulated culture shock.

Player-occupied tables and observers gave the impression of a competitive card tournament in the Van Munching atrium. The game was "Five Tricks" -- adapted from Barnga, a classic card simulation game on culture shock.

The activity was part of an Oct. 28 retreat to enhance the cultural quotient (CQ), or cultural intelligence of Smith School staff, who serve a student body representing 96 countries with 10 percent of its total from outside the United States.

The Office of Global Programs staged the retreat to promote CQ as a business management theory that cultural awareness is essential for productively engaging in the workplace with others from different cultural backgrounds.

In Five Tricks, verbal and written communication was prohibited. Pairs of participants experienced misunderstandings and frustration as they encountered differing sets of rules along with rotating opponents and table assignments.

"The card game really worked on me,” said Vice Dean Hugh Courtney, Professor of the Practice of Strategy. "I was elated and frustrated, but learning at the same time.”

Courtney and others shared their reactions in Frank auditorium after the exercise and discussed how negotiating through the game's rules paralleled real-world interaction among persons who have different norms and beliefs.

"The frustration and confusion felt by the players is similar to what an international student can experience while adapting to the university," said Meg Richmond, an international student advisor who helped direct the activity.

Lisa Barnard, director of the Office of Global Programs, said cultural awareness is a priority for the Smith School. “The university is increasingly admitting international students, and our leadership is moving to accommodate and facilitate this change,” she said to staff members. “The Smith School is at the forefront of this wave of change and we want you to have the tools — the cultural awareness — to contribute to both the school’s and university’s success in this respect.”

Debra Shapiro, Clarice Smith Professor of Management and Organization, echoed Barnard in addressing the gathering. “It's not about changing," she said. "It's about embracing the knowledge that different perspectives are guiding our actions."

Different perspectives also can be age- and gender-based, said Shapiro, as she outlined three aspects of a "high CQ":

  • Head (Gaining awareness of one's own culture and other cultures)
  • Body (Behaviorally adapting oneself to the multicultural environment)
  • Heart (Gaining motivation via positive multicultural experiences and outcomes)

"With cultural diversity increasing in the workplace, more understanding will bring more positive experiences," Shapiro said.

Courtney said the retreat, which closed with a potluck desert social, was an effective learning experience for Smith staff. "It was a terrific framework for thinking about cultural differences that obviously influence the behaviors we see," he said.

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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and flex MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, business master’s, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.

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