Lessons in Collaboration: A Unique Team-Building Course from WDI

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

People sitting at a table looking at a document and discussing it

You should make every effort to ensure that other members of the team do their part. If you’re a team leader, foster an environment in which others can express their unique perspectives.

Global Students, Mentors Lean into Practical Solutions for Business Relationship Success

Effective business training can’t be solely theoretical. For it to make an impact, the lessons need to encompass the practical matters and decisions facing tomorrow’s leaders throughout their careers — such as engaging team members, harnessing diversity, and navigating conflict.

This critical focus is at the root of a new course from the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan: a seven-week online team-building program, “Team Building for Results.” WDI’s Education team recently completed a pilot program for 91 college-aged social entrepreneurs from six countries participating in the Ford Motor Company Fund’s global College Community Challenge (Ford C3) initiative. The purpose of the WDI online team building program is to build participants’ leadership skills to make their social enterprise work more effective and impactful. The hope is that this successful pilot paves the way for future leadership training courses.

WDI’s program is a participant-centered experience that solves team-focused problems with a model that prioritizes practicality. Students from around the world come together with experienced professors and mentors to discuss topics that impact team success, including diversity, innovation, decision-making and communication. They then test and apply their knowledge through quizzes, conversations, and group projects; and ultimately leave the course with an elevated framework through which they can view and manage their own business relationships.

A Course Like No Other

“Our educational system is so theoretical, so you come out of school and have difficulty applying [these lessons],” said Timothy Azumah Azirigo, a pilot program participant from Ghana, highlighting the distinctions of the course.

When Amy Gillett, vice president of WDI’s education sector, set out to build the course, she had students like Azumah Arizrigo in mind. Gillett knew a program had to be grounded in real-world tools. If she wanted the curriculum to make a difference, the course had to provide practical skills. This priority was a divergence from much of the schooling these global students had already received, which made it all the more necessary.

Gillett also knew that collaboration would be at the crux of many of these modern business opportunities. “Teamwork is a critical skill in today’s globalized business world,” she said — and embracing diversity, setting the right goals, improving listening and communication skills, and learning how to lead a global team have become the superpowers of successful business leaders.

The program’s unique benefits weren’t lost on the participants. “This is a rare opportunity on a platter of gold… It’s worth all the time it requires,” said Peter Ikenna, of Ghana who joined the program’s first cohort. Lukman Selim, another participant, shares Ikenna’s enthusiasm and urges other students to apply. “Seize the opportunity,” he said, “to learn the secret to being a star team player.”

Global Leaders for Global Students

The program is also a lesson in practicing what you preach. Coursework is taught across borders through a diverse team of professors and mentors. Students don’t just talk about the value of collaboration, they experience it. They work with students who have vastly different cultural backgrounds than their own and are guided by leaders whose experiences are just as diverse as those of the students.

For Amira Nour Soudky Dawoud, a graduate of another WDI education program and recent mentor for this program, the situation calls for elevated empathy and kindness. “It’s the only thing that identifies our humanity,” she says, “not our names or cultures.” Dawoud, who hails from Egypt, explains that kindness makes for successful leaders and peaceful teams, which then bring the right environment for team members to shine.

The value of humility and support resonated throughout the lessons. Okulor Chimuanya Lilian, a media personality and program mentor, echoed Dawoud’s call for the students to unite. She said, “I wanted them to work together, and instead of allowing diversity to divide the team, to use it as a strength to become great.” She guided students toward connection with that goal in mind.

A Final Lesson in Collaborative Diversity

At the conclusion of the program, student groups created videos about the impacts of diversity on a team. They shared the varying attributes of their own team members and how these backgrounds shaped their collaborative efforts. They explored how cultural differences can be harnessed for deeper success, a theme that both resonated in the content of the videos and was felt through the experience of creation.

The process of this project brought just as many lessons as the final product, ripe with opportunities to either encourage or exclude team members. Dzokoto Seyram Kelvin, a mentor from Ghana, saw shining examples of inclusion. He highlighted the lesson: “You should make every effort to ensure that other members of the team do their part. If you’re a team leader, foster an environment in which others can express their unique perspectives.”

Providing space for these unique perspectives drives the course forward, and WDI sees the broad value in the program for entrepreneurs, businesses and students across the globe. The Institute is looking forward to continuing to share the program with future Ford fellows — and any other team working toward improving its communication and collaboration.

1st Place Video - Team 15

2nd Place Video - Team 14

3rd Place Video - Team 6

About WDI

At the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan, unlocking the power of business to provide lasting economic and social prosperity in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) is in our DNA. We gather the data, develop new models, test concepts and collaborate with partners to find real solutions that lead to new opportunities. This is what we mean by Solving for Business – our calling since the Institute was first founded as an independent nonprofit educational organization in 1992. We believe societies that empower individuals with the tools and skills to excel in business, in turn generate both economic growth and social freedom – or the agency necessary for people to thrive.

About Ford Motor Company Fund

As the automaker’s philanthropic arm, Ford Motor Company Fund has been supporting underserved and underrepresented communities for more than 70 years. Working with nonprofit organizations, community partners, and across the Ford network in the U.S. and around the world, Ford Fund provides resources and opportunities that advance equity and help people reach their highest potential. Since 1949, Ford Fund has invested more than $2.1billion in initiatives that ensure basic needs are met, provide access to essential services, offer tools to build new skillsets and open pathways to high quality jobs. For more information, visit or join us at @FordFund on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Media Contact:

Scott Anderson, WDI Communications Manager

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