The case method is a classic approach to interactive storytelling. Most cases involve two types of training objectives: content-related objectives deal with the topic of the case and process-related objectives deal with social competencies such as working in teams and decision-making in groups.
I use the case method as an interactive storytelling technique by asking the participants to individually review and analyze a case, discuss their analyses in small groups, and participate in a discussion involving everyone in the entire group.
The following case method activity deals with cross-cultural clashes. You can use the interactive storytelling frame of the activity to explore any training topic that involves multi-layered situations.
To explore the impact of cultural differences while working overseas
Individual participants analyze a case and answer a series of questions. Later, they form teams, discuss their answers, and arrive at consensus. Finally, the facilitator conducts a large-group discussion to encourage the teams to share their perspectives.
Maximum: Any number
Best: 10 to 30
20 to 40 minutes, depending on the number of participants and the complexity of the case.
- Harriet’s Adventures in Chennai, one copy for each participant
- Questions about Harriet’s Adventures, one copy for each participant
Become familiar with the case. Read Harriet’s Adventures in Chennai. Respond to the list of questions. Anticipate alternative answers from different participants.
Collect responses from experts. Ask two or more people who are knowledgeable about intercultural communications to respond to the list of questions. Do not be disturbed if their responses differ from each other. Actually, it is preferable that way.
Collect resources for follow up assignments. Make a list of books, novels, short stories, articles, movies, and websites with relevant information.
Distribute the case. Give a copy of the handout, Harriet's Adventures in Chennai,. Announce a 2-minute time period for the participants to review the case.
Ask the participants to reflect on the events. After 2 minutes, ask them to think about the lessons they learned from the case.
Distribute the list of questions. Ask the participants to work individually and jot down their responses. Encourage them to think of alternative responses to each question. Announce a 2-minute time limit.
Organize the participants into teams. Each team may include two to five people. Ask the team members to share their answers to each question, discuss these answers, and try to reach a consensus. Announce a 5-minute time limit.
Facilitate a discussion among all participants. Use the following process to work through each question:
- Randomly choose a participant to share his or her individual answer and the team’s consensus answer.
- Ask the participants from other teams to provide different answers to the same question.
- Invite everyone to comment on the earlier answers.
- Share the responses provided by experts. Compare them with the group’s answers.
Continue the discussion. Walk through each question, using the same procedure.
Conclude the session. Ask each participant to jot down one important lesson that he or she learned from this case analysis activity.
Assign follow-up activities. Suggest different resource materials that the participants may want to read, listen, or view.
Variations and Adjustments
Want to save trees? Instead of distributing the handout with the case, juts tell it as a story. Alternatively, make an audio recording and play it back.
Want to save time? Distribute the case and the list of questions ahead of time. Ask the participants to review the case and answer the questions before they come to the session.
Want to create your own case? Go ahead and experiment. Remember that your case could be short and simple or long and complicated. It could be presented through different media.
Harriet’s Adventures in Chennai
Harriet is a technical trainer from Santa Clara, CA. Her company sends her to Chennai, India to train her counterparts in a software engineering corporation.
Soon after getting started in Chennai, Harriet convinces the local trainers to replace traditional lectures with experiential activities and agile games. The local trainers accept her ideas and begin designing training activities and interactive lectures. They practice facilitating training activities among themselves.
During an afternoon session, Mr. Kumar, the grandfather of the founder of the corporation, visits the training group. Without checking with Harriet, he launches into a rambling speech in which he extols the trainers as gurus who should be respected and obeyed by their students.
Much to Harriet’s horror, most local trainers immediately agree with the old man. To prevent major damage, Harriet interrupts Mr. Kumar and explains that recent research has demonstrated the benefits of encouraging students to challenge the trainer’s statements. Mr. Kumar ignores Harriet and talks about the importance of humility as a critical requirement for the students to learn from their superiors. In spite of Harriet’s protests, several participants rush to agree with Mr. Kumar’s platitudes.
After Mr. Kumar leaves, Harriet confronts the group about their unwillingness to challenge inaccurate and outmoded paradigms. Her participants now agree that Harriet’s views are accurate and useful.
Two days after this incident, Harriet’s company abruptly recalls her to its California headquarters. Another trainer has replaced her.
Questions about Harriet’s Adventures
- What do you think went wrong? How would you explain your theory to Harriet?
- Do you think Harriet was recalled was a result of her disagreements with Mr. Kumar? Why do you think so?
- Which of these differences contributed the most to Harriet being recalled: gender difference, age difference, or nationality difference?
- What do you think are the reasons for the local trainers’ inconsistent behavior?
- What do you think that local trainers in India really think about Harriet? About Mr. Kumar?
- What should Harriet’s company do to ensure that her replacement has a better of satisfying the people in Chennai?
- What are the chances that local the trainers would implement Harriet’s approaches to technical training? Why do you think so?
- What things did you learn about the cultural values of people in India?