Splash Project: Building a New MBA Community

Fabrice El Gohary

So here we are during the Welcome Week, trying to process an overwhelming amount of information and discovering our new classmates who all tend to have unsuspected backgrounds, nationalities and hobbies.

75 different nationalities are represented this year in our December class and this means a few things for all of us:

  • There is no cultural dominance within the different sections.
  • We are all confronted with new cultures and unusual ways of looking into things.
  • Despite our international exposure, deep-rooted within us, we still may have some remaining clichés about a few countries. There is a nothing wrong with that. Even the most open-minded person is still the result of his education and needs to admit that he may have a few biases towards other not-well-known cultures.

In other words, as terribly exciting as it can be, it can also lead to a huge mess of incomprehension and mental shortcuts during the first days… Trust me, we’ve all been there! INSEAD knows pretty well the challenge (as well as the benefits) of mixing such a wide range of personal backgrounds and cultures and the Splash Project provides an answer to that. Despite a very intensive one-year programme, we are all set in motion during the Welcome Week to work on a challenging and socially meaningful project.

This year, in Singapore, it was mainly about building a new cycle track circuit for socially challenged children (a project led with the help of the Splash Community and the Salvation Army).  

With three different sections and three working days, we all had our daily objectives. Starting on the first day, our main challenge was essentially to come up with some solid foundations for the other sections to take on.

Building a real track circuit from few plans on a paper seemed more complicated than we originally expected. But apart from the specificities of measuring, cutting and assembling various pieces of woods, we learned a few basic things from our local team:

  • Intercultural Communication – Politeness Vs. Effectiveness: as someone brilliantly said, we all want to be polite and avoid committing any blunder related to someone else’s personal background. But at the same time, we have a common goal to reach and we may need to be more direct sometimes to stay effective. It is all about finding a right balance between politeness and effectiveness in this multicultural environment.
  • Team Structure – Collective Leadership Vs. Central Leadership: we started with a collective leadership, splitting our team in smaller independent teams. Although a decentralised organisation can be very effective in the short term, we understood quite rapidly that we needed to set a central leadership within our local team. Even in small organisations, leaders may be needed to set the trend and keep all members united.
  • Mental Condition – Preparing Vs. Lasting: mental condition is key in this kind of assignment. The tasks are sometimes quite physical and repetitive during the day. Added to that, the tropical climate doesn’t really help. Starting with a strong mental preparation is one thing, but keeping that mental condition during the day is another challenge. We found out that having regular 5 minutes break sessions in the shade helped us to stay focused and resourceful. We may need to find a tree on campus for our future projects…
For all those lessons learned and for this opportunity to work on a Splash project, we would like to thank the Splash Community, the Salvation Army and INSEAD. We are just at the very beginning of our MBA journey, still learning from each other and progressively becoming aware of our cultural biases. This coming year will be definitively challenging, but promising as well thanks to the diversity INSEAD managed to bring.