King Abdullah University of Science and Technology

For the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Conbrio designed and led a project to assess the culture of the 100-person finance division led by the university’s chief financial officer.  The university, established in 2009 and with an endowment of $20 billion, is ranked among the top 20 universities in Asia and the Middle East.  It was conceived to be one of the vehicles to help modernize Saudi Arabia.  The frustration in the university’s finance division was with people and teams not working well together to get things done.  How could collaboration be improved?  Overlaying the usual issues involving teams is the Saudi culture itself which defers to men over women and allows for less engagement by Saudis versus ex-pats who have been hired in large numbers from abroad.  There’s a widespread belief that ex-pats work harder than Saudi nationals.  The assessment was conducted on four tracks.  The first was one-on-one interviews.  The second was group sessions where participants built stories around pictures depicting their sense of the current and ideal cultures. The third was voting on a set of descriptors. And the fourth was a choosing among four descriptors for both the current and ideal.  The final report painted a picture showing both positives and several areas for improvement.  It was, department leaders, conceded both accurate and comprehensive, providing a good jumping off point for them to change the culture.