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IAP active bystander workshop taping: a huge success

Sloan fellows and MBAs work together to develop videos to train future student leaders.
The students who helped create the Bystander videos.
The students who helped create the Bystander videos.

The MIT Sloan School of Management's Diversity and Community Committee has been partnering with professors Mary Rowe (MIT Ombuds Office) and Maureen Scully (University of Massachusetts, Boston, formerly at MIT Sloan) since 1997 to build a portfolio of active bystander videos and diversity teaching materials. Over this past Independent Activities Period (IAP), logistical overseers Debbie Berechman, executive director of the MBA program, and David Chotin, MBA program administrative assistant, worked with the two professors and nine dedicated students to create several more bystander videos. These videos will serve as diversity, leadership and ethics-related teaching materials in upcoming Sloan Innovation Period (SIP) workshops, as well as teaching materials elsewhere at MIT.

The entire group, which included MIT Sloan Deputy Dean JoAnne Yates, as well as other faculty and staff volunteers, worked to create a series of three-to-five-minute improvisational video vignettes with themes such as race, LGBT, gender, academic integrity, alcohol use, inclusivity/exclusion and bullying. Many of the videos were multi-faceted to provide richer teaching potential, such as “layering a situation” with power or gender dynamics.

Despite a postponement due to a snowstorm, nine students were able to make the rescheduled taping that took place over of the course of two busy and intensive days. Anton Safronov, MBA ’11; Michal Vagman, MBA ’11; Ron Lev, MBA ’11; Romero Hayman, MBA ’12; Masato Kanato, SF ’11; Han Suk (Anthony) Suh, SF ’11; Jonas Divine, MBA ’11; and Jeffrey Bazar, SF ’11, worked together to create the new videos. In return they received independent study credit for their work. More importantly, the students gained valuable hands-on training that they will not only be able to use in everyday life, but also over the course of their careers as managers and leaders. As an added bonus, the students have become fast friends who have spent a great deal of time together since the project ended.

Take one

On the first day of the workshop, students discussed the learning objectives to better understand the importance of the bystander role, and to consider what helps or hinders bystanders who might take action. They also worked to derive scenarios that teach and empower bystanders to make a difference. They watched previously taped videos to understand and discuss the desired framework for creating new ones, as scripts were not used.

Masato said, “Each actor needed to improvise dialogue, which was very interesting to me. Those dialogues well reflected the person’s personality and the cultural background. I could identify how each person’s comment had shaped the mood of the situation through the process. It was a great learning experience for me. Thanks to the experience, I will become the person who can find out who are the active bystanders on a team. I will value those people more, in order to build a better working environment when I am back to the workplace.”

Take two

On the second day, the students role-played a wide range of scenarios and acted out various potential outcomes for each situation. The professors asked the students to keep several things in mind while taping, including what has happened or been said that might benefit from their attention and intervention, in the moment or beyond? Why is creating a climate of integrity and inclusivity important? What have you done in the past (either successfully or unsuccessfully)? What is at stake in speaking up, or not?

Professor Rowe noted, “Bystanders play an especially effective role in encouraging professional behavior and constraining unacceptable behavior. I found the two days of discussion and taping enthralling. I was impressed by the breadth of diversity concerns that this generation is dealing with and the wisdom and humor of those in the taping group this year.”

Michal said she is an active bystander who easily speaks her mind and usually stands up for things she believes in. “I decided to participate in the Bystander videotaping to better understand the situations and conflicts people cope with as potential bystanders and the reasons that make them choose to either work or not. These situations were personally very clear to me and I was curious to see ‘the other side’ – what would make one not act in such situations. We are from different worlds, different cultures, and share different values and incentives. Being open to the differences and respecting them should be the culture of every workplace,” she said.

“The videotaping was intense and a lot of work, so I am tremendously grateful to all who participated in this project. Our students always rise to the occasion. This is the epitome of the MIT Sloan culture – people coming together to create, innovate, and partner,” Debbie said.

Anton said, “The awareness the workshop created around the benefit of being an active bystander will underpin my career development right from the start. Many times, especially in an international setting, it is easy to assume a role of a passive bystander due to various pressures associated with hierarchy and career growth, but what we uncovered in class and during filming were tactical approaches to being an active bystander. The concepts covered had universal applicability whether we were just beginning our careers or were at our peaks managing in diverse settings.”

“Over the two days, all the students saw the link to leadership. I think it became clear to everyone involved that bystander awareness and action was a way to create a broad sense of ownership of the culture throughout an organization, so that everyone felt charged with preserving an inclusive and ethical workplace,” said Professor Scully.

Final cut

While the videos were created for SIP seminars, there is strong likelihood that they will be applied as teaching materials in other ways both at MIT Sloan and across campus. “There are a lot of different ways that these videos might be used and they were taped to be more open-ended and encourage discussion and engagement. Hopefully all MIT Sloan students will have the opportunity to engage with this type of material at some point. It is powerful and will strengthen their awareness as future managers and leaders,” Debbie said.

One final group activity is planned — all involved hope to have a movie night with soda and popcorn to watch the videos before they are formally employed as teaching materials. 

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