Cummins Vice President John Wall, the Company’s Chief Technical Officer, is fond of saying that engineering is a social exercise.
So it was no surprise to the Company’s top engineering leaders from around the world to see Dr. Wall on stage as part of a conference earlier this month dressed in a traditional Chinese jacket called a “Tang Zhuang.” He was beating a small drum as part of the prelude to a Chinese word game called “Taboo.”
The Company’s engineering leaders almost always schedule time during the twice yearly leadership conferences to learn more about each others’ cultures. While these bonding sessions include plenty of fun, they are considered just as important as the conference’s meetings on growth, design and strategy.
That’s because Cummins is a global company, serving customers in approximately 190 countries and territories. To harness the full power of a diverse, global workforce, people have to be able to work together, communicating freely and openly.
In an environment where employees frequently work in teams and members can be on different continents, open communication can be more difficult than it sounds. Knowing the people you work with and a little bit about their families, their interests and their cultures can make it much easier.
“It not only helps, it’s essential,” said Jim Katzenmeyer, the engineering leader on the development of the Cummins 5.0L V8 Turbo Diesel engine that will be featured in Nissan’s next generation Titan pickup truck.
This fall’s engineering leadership conference focused on China. After three days of meetings in Columbus, Ind., the 100 or so participants shared a Chinese meal and learned about Chinese culture through music, dance and games.
Haoxiang Yang, Current Product Reliability Engineer – HMLD Quality, helped organize the dinner and bonding session. He said he hoped his fellow Cummins engineers gained an appreciation for Chinese history and culture, but also some greater understanding of the current Chinese market for Cummins engines.
The evening included a skit where a young Chinese couple debated buying a Cummins engine to help the husband’s business, delaying their dream of owning their own home. While the skit included plenty of laughs, it also offered a number of insights into issues facing young families in China today, including the expense of purchasing a home, its importance to family life, and the challenges facing young entrepreneurs.
Conference participants said the bonding sessions are important for a variety of reasons.
Jim Kahlenbeck, Executive Engineer – Current Product HMLD Engineering, said he has calls nearly every week with Cummins engineers in China. Beijing is 12 or 13 hours ahead of Columbus depending on the time of year, so he said he and his colleagues in China take turns receiving the calls at night.
“It makes it a whole lot easier to call someone at home at night if you’ve developed a relationship with them, and know a little bit about their families,” he said.
Jie Duan, a Senior Controls Engineer at Cummins Technical Center in Columbus, said knowing your colleagues better can make it easier for someone who is shy or new to the Company to ask questions and share opinions.
Yang said he believes knowing your colleagues almost always adds energy to a project.
Wall said knowing your colleagues better also helps in more subtle ways.
For example, it can help someone pick up on what a colleague is thinking not just through verbal clues, but also through clues from a co-worker’s body language. That could lead to a follow up question that elicits an important insight.
Andre Goodlett, Cummins Director of Diversity Relations, says one of the keys to leveraging the full benefit of diversity is creating the kind of inclusive work environment where everyone feels comfortable to disagree in a constructive way.
“Embracing diversity in the workplace means treating each other with dignity and respect when expressing or receiving different perspectives,” he said. “It’s in competing ideas that we truly see the power of diversity.”
Hélène Cornils, Director of Engineering – Lab Operations for Cummins Emission Solutions, said it’s sometimes easy to get overwhelmed by the numbers inherent in engineering.
“Unless you get to know someone on a personal level it can be very difficult to really communicate,” she said. “You can share numbers, but interpreting those numbers and driving consensus on how to proceed is very much a social activity.”
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