Written by Bruce J. Avolio
Starting out with a cold day in Stockholm overlooking the city!
Over our 2018 spring break, I traveled with a group of 30 TMMBAs and two TMMBA staff members, Nhi and Rachel. On this trip, we went to both Sweden and The Netherlands. Each time I do these trips, (now my 4th) I think it can’t get any better than the last one or the one before. Well, once again, my expectations were exceeded. Like the 3 other caravans of global mindset travelers I studied abroad with, this group again took the Foster Brand to new heights. In every company visit we did (and they were all amazing) our group showed why Foster is on its way to being the #1 Public Business School in the world. The questions they asked were well-informed, insightful, challenging, and in each visit, we were able to get the people we were visiting to think differently.
Also, in terms of my standard request of never leaving a TMMBA-er behind, this group was amazing in the way each of them supported one another. Unfortunately, a couple of members of our group each day got sick carrying our flu along for the trip. Yet, the group made sure everyone was taken care of….creating chicken soup for my soul!
Generally, when I travel to places where the locals speak English at a level of proficiency better than my relatives in New York City, again and again, I am amazed how the language may sound the same, but the words and the nuances can be very, very different. For example, we might think consensus is something we do when we ask everyone after a brief discussion, “do we all agree?” In Sweden, consensus has a deep cultural tap root and working to consensus is a very important part of what leaders and teams work hard at doing. We noticed this in particular, when our TMMBAer group embedded with Directors from a Municipality called Sollentuna in Stockholm. Our group became the advisors (3) to (2) Directors from Sollentuna as part of a leadership and team workshop — a colleague of mine, Stefan, was leading with the Swedish group. Stefan worked with me to take part of his workshop and to integrate our students into the experience.
It was so amazing to see how each group just jumped in and worked on real problems facing these directors and to witness the level of engagement that ensued. It was hugs all the way around the room before we left.
In debriefing this training workshop, many of our students on the bus commented on how they marveled at the Swedish leader’s focus on gaining consensus. This became a cultural trigger moment that clearly pushed the meter upwards on global mindset development.
At Spotify, my favorite app, the managers we met (several of whom were ex-pats) focused on the importance of their organization’s culture, but not like the typical corporate blah, blah, blah culture stuff. They went deep and wide into the essence of its importance to their business enterprise and its amazing success. At the end of that meeting, I made an observation that I had never seen a group of managers somehow use the word culture 3 times in one sentence when describing their organization in such an authentic way. Since their vision is to create amazing moments of music for each of us, I have to say, that meeting was music to my ears.
In Amsterdam, visiting Booking.com was a highlight for me in that they are the largest company in their industry segment that I had heard very little about. However, what impressed me about the company and team we met, beyond the board room picture presented here, was the quality of the leaders we met, and their absolute passion for helping people travel to the world’s most amazing destinations.
In this same city, we also visited ING bank, which is a very old and very successful bank. Here, we learned the aggressive campaign and research this bank has undertaken to determine how block chain will up end banking as we know it, among many other industries. We had a young intern go back in history to the first ledger and basically said that block chain is just the new version of that ledger. Just. This is an old bank that truly believes in disruption.
We also visited other great organizations in Sweden and Amsterdam like Microsoft, Telia, City of Stockholm and Palo Alto Networks. At each venue, there was a great deal of cultural food for thought and some good snacks, as well. At the City of Seattle Smart City presentation, we entered into that room thru the Blue Room, which is actually red brick, and where the Nobel Prize winners have their celebration dinner event!
In the end, these trips consistently reinforce for me how important it is to regularly get your passport stamped! I leave you with just one image from my last day in Amsterdam at its national museum. I believe Rembrandt was in this building…not Elvis!