The Europeanisation of Organisations - Opportunities and Challenges

Between May and July 2015, 520 representatives from educational institutions in more than 30 countries, including all of the EU Member States, participated in an online survey on the internationalisation and Europeanisation of their organisations. The focus was on the opportunities and challenges that processes of Europeanisation and internationalisation entail. The results of this Europe-wide survey are available in the form of a short report.

The five most important benefits and the five greatest challenges identified by the survey are introduced below.

Opportunity Nr. 1: Developing New Skills

The results of the survey clearly confirm that processes of Europeanisation in an organisation contribute to the development of new skills. This holds true both for the staff of educational organisations and for the learners trained by these organisations. Europeanisation activities generally broaden the scope of thinking for the staff involved. Their skills are enriched through both formal learning measures such as workshops or seminars, traineeships or even job shadowing, as well as through informal learning situations such as participation in consortia, conferences and events or through travelling abroad.

Even those staff who do not directly participate in these international activities seem to benefit to a certain extent from the commitment of their colleagues. Overall, a positive effect can be detected on the entire organisation. Alongside this, the opportunity for gaining experience abroad acts as a significant motivator for staff in an organisation. In this regard, it is great to see the EU financing more and more opportunities for international exchange. Interested learners, for example apprentices in SMEs, should use this opportunity to develop their characters and their skills (for example language skills), thereby increasing their opportunities and employability.

Opportunity Nr. 2: Gaining Access to New Knowledge

Organisations gain access to new knowledge through their international networking activities. European cooperation gives organisations – not just educational organisations – the opportunity to learn from other organisations abroad, compare their services with others across Europe, exchange ideas and thus increase their ability to innovate. Organisations generally develop faster and become more competitive as a result. They are continuously improving and consciously deciding to measure themselves against the best organisations in their sector in order to take on a leading role themselves.

Opportunity Nr. 3: Gaining Access to New Sources of Funding

Europeanisation offers organisations access to new sources of funding. In many countries, it is not only the education sector that is primarily dependent on regional and national funding. Due to international activities, organisations can increasingly use supranational or transnational sources of funding, for example the EU’s funding programmes , to partially finance their international partnerships or the development of new products or services.

Using these additional forms of funding minimises their financial risks. However, funding should never be seen as an end in itself, but always as a means to an end. The Europeanisation of an organisation is initially an investment in itself, but external sources of funding can make a significant contribution to reducing the organisation’s own investment costs.

Opportunity Nr. 4: Enhancing an Organisation’s Reputation

Two thirds of respondents said that international activities have a positive effect on an organisation’s reputation. This is true in two respects: transnational activities generally enhance the organisation’s standing with important stakeholders such as customers, suppliers, partners or sponsors. These stakeholders develop a greater appreciation for the organisation and greater trust in its quality and reliability.

In addition to this, Europeanisation can increase staff loyalty and make the organisation much more attractive as an employer. If an organisation makes the Europeanisation of its products or services a central goal, this will usually increase the motivation of many of those involved.

Opportunity Nr. 5: Gaining Access to New Markets and Developing New Products and Services

Europeanisation or internationalisation strategies grant access to new markets and the development of new products and services for these markets. This applies just as much to the education sector as any other highly competitive economic sector. As demand for products and services has become increasingly international, supply ought to follow this trend. It is important in this context that new competitors, especially innovative start-ups, define an international market presence as their declared goal, usually from the outset. In this competitive situation, the Europeanisation of the product range – often combined with rapid digitalisation – represents an opportunity for long-established organisations to ensure that their current success also extends into the future.

Challenge Nr. 1: Searching for Reliable Partners for International Cooperation

The 520 participants in the online survey rated the search for reliable partners for international cooperation as the greatest challenge. Organisations who have no international work experience find it comparatively more difficult to find reliable partners abroad. They cannot point to any international experience and are therefore not (yet) as attractive for others involved in the European working environment.

Yet even experienced organisations repeatedly find that reliability, for example in European project consortia, is a difficult factor to calculate. This is just one reason why knowledge of risk management is an important foundation for European work. However, don’t let these challenges stop you from implementing your Europeanisation strategy. Choose your partners carefully! As a rule, personal, specialised European networks develop quickly once the first steps have been taken.

Challenge Nr. 2: Professional Project Management

International work usually takes place in the form of projects – at least until regular offers or processes emerge. This is why organisations are faced with the challenge of establishing adequate project management with appropriate tools or adapting existing project management tools to the needs of their international work during their Europeanisation.

You should ideally not differentiate between national and international projects in your organisation. Instead, introduce a universal method as a standard when implementing any project. You can then adapt the method and tools to the requirements of the respective project. Ensure that all employees in your organisation are familiar with your internal project management standard and use the method and tools.

The transition to international work is more complex for some organisations than for others, since they may not have previously worked in a project-oriented manner. Many educational institutions, for example, provide their offers solely within their regular operations. As part of your international work, you will gradually professionalise your project management practice, especially if you decide to carry out more complex international projects.

Challenge Nr. 3: Making Strategic Decisions Based on Your Organisation’s Culture and Organisation’s Internal Values and Beliefs

A process of Europeanisation should always be derived from a clear strategic decision and take into account your specific organisational culture, as well as your internal values and beliefs. Before making a strategic decision to work internationally, you should systematically analyse the opportunities and possibilities, as well as the challenges and risks for the organisation.

The initial decision to work beyond your national borders will involve significant changes within an organisation. These changes will affect various areas of your organisation. Once the strategic decision has been made, and if it is based on sound reasoning, it will become an essential guideline for all subsequent international activities.

An organisation usually takes an important step when it says goodbye to random Europeanisation activities. It is not uncommon for opportunities to work internationally to be seized without adequately examining them in the light of the organisation’s strategic goals or vision and mission. This can take place, for example, when organisations are offered a partnership in EU-funded project consortia.

You always reach an important milestone when everyone involved – i.e., your team and those on a management level – supports the (new) transnational goals of your organisation and shares your (new) European vision. Achieving this acceptance within the team can take some time. Before your international goals become part of your organisation’s DNA, an intensive discussion and communication process is often required. For example, it is no easy task to establish a foreign language such as English as an additional working language within an organisation.

Challenge Nr. 4: Good Financial Management and a Solid Financial Foundation

Becoming international carries an opportunity, but also a risk. Only those with good financial management and solid financial foundations will be able to master the challenges associated with Europeanisation. As was outlined above, a process of Europeanisation represents an investment at first. It usually takes some time for this investment to pay off, especially if an organisation is at the very beginning of this process.

You will, for example, have additional expenses linked to your staff, such as further training or new hires. You should also bear in mind that not every European collaboration or project will be successful. Staff working in finance should being by familiarising themselves with the specific requirements of international business transactions. It is also important to ensure good internal cooperation between management and your finance team in order to plan ahead for the financial impact of international activities.

Challenge Nr. 5: Finding the Right Staff

The right staff are certainly a key element for the success of European work. Recruiting competent employees and developing the skills of the existing team are key challenges in a process of Europeanisation.

Language skills are one of the most important prerequisites for international success, often knowledge of the English language in particular. You should be able to use the foreign language in complex contexts, including knowing relevant technical vocabulary, being able to give presentations in it, or manage crises and risks in it. Incorrect use of specialist vocabulary, for example, whether in writing or orally, can unintentionally lead to your organisation’s representatives not being taken seriously in a professional context. This in turn will have an impact on your organisation’s reputation.

Summary : Recognising Opportunities and Proactively Tackling Challenges

It is important that both those at the management level of an organisation and the team members are aware of the challenges and opportunities of Europeanisation or internationalisation. If the result of a pro and con analysis is in favour of moving towards Europe, then a decision should be made to implement this path with clearly defined steps.

A first step on the journey towards Europeanisation will be to review and, if necessary, adapt your vision, mission and general organisational strategy. In addition to this, it is advisable to start the organisation’s internal process of development in those areas that already provide a good foundation for the organisation’s new international agenda. It is particularly advisable for small and medium-sized organisations (SMOs) such as clubs, associations or foundations, but also for SMEs, to approach a process of Europeanisation one step at a time so that it is manageable alongside day-to-day operations. upgrade2europe provides you with all the necessary analysis instruments and tools for these processes. You can also find 10 practical tips that will support you directly in your process of Europeanisation here.

Useful Links and Further Information

We would be delighted if the opportunities and challenges discussed here help you to decide to what extent moving towards Europe makes sense for your organisation.

You can find further helpful articles and tips about these five opportunities and five challenges in this upgrade2europe learning tool, in our learning videos and in our upgrade2europe handbook. The handbook provides you with 15 tools that you can use to proactively tackle the opportunities and challenges of a process of Europeanisation. The best place to start is with the upgrade2europe self-assessment tool , where you can check online to what extent your organisation is well positioned for Europe. As a result of this self-analysis, you will receive a comprehensive individual evaluation with hints and tips on where you can best get started with your organisational development.