“As outsiders, we were able to see details insiders overlooked.”

For Florence Evina-Ze, the composition of her FIELD 2 project team in itself reflects something special about her HBS experience. “I had teammates from England, Brazil, Bangladesh…Utah!” she says. Their assignment: to help a large Chinese restaurant conglomerate, Joy Cygnet, incentivize employees and improve customer satisfaction.

“In the United States,” Florence says, “the wait staff are motivated by tips. That doesn’t exist in Chinese culture.” The team spent a week interviewing employees and customers, then arrived at some “very simple ideas to make employees feel more like people and less like cogs in a wheel.” Florence suggested “tags with the employee’s name – and with the employee’s favorite dish. It’s a little thing, but it personalizes the experience for both the staff and the customer.”

Joy Cygnet liked the ideas the FIELD team developed. “A lot of the feedback we got,” says Florence, “said that as outsiders, we were able to see details insiders overlook.”

Different regions, different styles, different leaders

Florence’s experience in Chongqing challenged many of her expectations. “My grandfather and his sisters were born in China and I had old-school beliefs about the country from the 1930s and 1940s,” she says. “The FIELD project changed my outlook and opened my eyes. China isn’t one homogenous country; there are very distinct regions. You can’t create one business model and expect it to work everywhere there.”

Leadership in a variable environment requires flexibility, too. “We got along well on our team even though our personalities were different. I wait before I speak while others prefer to think out loud. We quickly found each other’s skills, strengths, and pain points and were able to use them to our team’s advantage without hurting anyone’s feelings.” While she had worked on teams before, this team experience proved different – and a lasting lesson for group leadership. “There was no official leader,” Florence says. “Instead, each of us stepped up to the plate when we knew we had something to contribute. The work always got done efficiently by dividing and conquering it.”