Tag: Leadership

Veep, collaborative leadership and the MBA

**Warning.  This blog contains spoilers.  Read on if you’re okay with that. **


Artwork by Jin Kim

There’s no shortage of stuff to remind us that collaboration matters.  Being a good ‘team player’ is shorthand for the qualities needed to work with other human beings and get things done.  But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.  Mix up a bunch of people with different skills, experiences, and objectives; chuck in conflicting priorities and time pressures, and what do you get?  It’s the reason shows like The Apprentice are so compelling.  Collaboration is rarely about caring and sharing.  The fact is, proper collaboration – and leadership – is tough.

Politics is a brilliant case in point.  But let’s spare ourselves from partisan ranting and instead, focus on a perfect example of collaborative leadership gone wrong: the finale of Veep.  After seven seasons, former president Selina Meyer (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) has a shot at a second term in the Oval Office.  What stands between her and returning to the White House?  Her fellow party nominees.  The 2020 national convention is at a deadlock.  None of four candidates have the 2368 majority needed to get the party’s nomination.  The only way to get on the ticket is to cut a deal with another candidate.  They need to sort it out swiftly, or face another four years with President Montez at the helm, and their party pushed to the margins.  It’s a classic opportunity for collaborative leadership.  By working with the other three, Selina can minimise power struggles and increase the odds of a successful outcome for her party. 

Obviously, that’s not what happens.  Selina rejects the ‘simple solution’ of asking her opponent – and personal nemesis – Kemi Talbot (Toks Olagundoye), to be her running mate.  Instead, she makes a bunch of explosive choices which get progressively more divisive and dubious.  Tom James (Hugh Laurie) enters the race as a fifth candidate at the last minute, and Selina quickly rips him from the running by persuading his chief of staff to accuse him of sexual harassment in return for a top job in her White House administration.  She promises to ease fracking legislation in New York state to get the governor onside, and outlaw gay marriage to get Buddy Calhoun (one of the three remaining threats played by Matt Oberg) to back her and step aside.  She makes Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons) – described as ‘an unstable piece of human scaffolding’ and a ‘sentient enema’ – her running-mate, to the complete disgust of her campaign strategist and Jonah’s own campaign manager Amy (Anna Chlumsky), who basically begs her not to put such a vindictive narcissist anywhere near power.  And to put some awful icing on this dicey political cake, Selina shops her personal aide Gary (Tony Hale) to the FBI, has him jailed for the misdeeds of her dodgy ex-husband to make allegations of financial impropriety go away, and has it happen WHILE SHE’S ONSTAGE ACCEPTING THE PARTY NOMINATION.


Collaboration in action: consultancy week in Vietnam

I’m not even going to try and pitch this as a morality tale where good triumphs over the most Machiavellian political operators, and bad behaviour gets punished in the end.  The fact is, Selina wins – though the top spot is pretty lonely as she’s kicked all the support from under her on the way up.  No, the point is  there’s never been more of case for collaborative leadership in 2019.  Partnerships and collaborations – especially between sectors – are vital for creating change, and creating social and economic value.  However, collaboration is HARD.  There’s no guarantee it’ll succeed, and no formula for doing it well. 

Jennie Albone (Modular Executive MBA, 2019)

Over the last two years, my Cass MBA colleagues and I have combined full-time work with intensive study.  Our achievements are a combo of results from individual assignments and group tasks.  When we graduate in July, we aren’t just celebrating our own successes; we’re recognising that we worked together to make this outcome possible.  From co-writing essays, to working with Vietnam’s first unicorn tech company on a consultancy project, group work and collaboration was a staple of the course.  You’ll be pleased to hear my experience in no way resembles the brutal hard knocks doled out by President Meyer.  Instead, I had the chance to work with a cohort who bought diverse talent, experience and views to everything we did.  Sure, there were times when it would’ve felt easier if we’d thought a bit less divergently and just got on with it.  But diversity is massively important.  Working with people who approach problems from a completely different place helps you to check your assumptions, reveal your blind spots, and reach a better result.  It’s taught me how to recognise and value the skills others bring even more, which is something I’ll take with me to the next stage of my career.  So, does that mean a Cass MBA the answer to all of our leadership challenges?  Well, no – nothing is that simple.  But opportunities to hone our personal collaboration skills matter.  And for many of us, the MBA’s been an intensive chance to reflect on our approach. 

For an interesting primer on the four areas that make for an effective collaborative leader, try this.  

Find out more about opportunities to study an MBA in London or Dubai and continue your leadership journey here.

Jennifer Albone
Modular Executive MBA (2019)

 

 

 

Diversity, Inclusion and Leadership at Cass

Nina and her cohort

My MBA experience is coming to an end. I am about to graduate this summer. Reflecting back, I can only say that my experience was mad – good and bad and crazy and intense and really like a roller-coaster. But I wouldn’t have changed it for anything, it was exactly how an Executive MBA is supposed to be. Except, my class had a higher proportion of men to women. Let’s talk about diversity and inclusion for a minute.

I am a proud recipient of the Women in Business Award by Cass. A few of my cohort members are. My school is extremely supportive of female leadership starting from a female dean, female board members and offering many scholarship opportunities to women applying to various programs. As with many schools, during the application process we are given an opportunity to apply for a multitude of scholarships, and us women have an opportunity to go for the diversity awards. Like in many boardrooms, business schools seem to struggle to entice working women to join the classroom part-time on top of their full time careers as professionals, and most likely even fuller time careers as mothers and wives. Therefore, many business schools will offer various awards to supports future female leaders and our prospect achievements in our individual fields. What a tremendous opportunity for us, but are we discriminating men? Who cares, you are thinking, women have been discriminated for years, it is our time to rise and shine!

#CassWomen

Hey, I don’t disagree. Give me an opportunity to shine and I’ll take it, nobody can stand in my way. Except, I don’t see the world with ‘men vs women’ eyes. I see an opportunity to grow personally and professionally, perhaps competing against other people, but their gender doesn’t bother me. I see an opportunity to shine, not because I am a woman, but because I have a unique perspective, and unique experience and knowledge that I bring to the table. That is what others should see too. Those that are incapable of seeing past my gender are not worthy of my time, and certainly organisations that recruit me because I am a woman and they ‘lack female leadership’ are not the places I would fit in. Not because I don’t bring a female touch to anything I do, trust me, I am emotional and I don’t hide those emotions, but that is also my choice. These are not the places for me, mostly because they care that I am a woman, and don’t care that I am an experienced professional. That is where I want equality.

I recently read an article in which a personality scientist states that if you are a woman and you popularly ‘lean-in’ you will become a dysfunctional leader. This scientist further states that most people have little insight into their leadership talents, and those that believe that are the best leaders are in fact the most incompetent leaders lacking self-awareness. Statistically, those leaders are most likely to be men – whether women have chosen a different path, chose to stay at home or were just not interested in leading, we are still working in a male dominated business environment. So if we are to lean in, and mimic the behaviours of these dysfunctional leaders, won’t we become dysfunctional as well? That is not my goal. My goal as female leader is to be humble but also to utilise my strengths: communication, passion, endurance, emotional intelligence, empathy, the ability to listen and connect, and the ability to think about my bigger picture, but also to think about the picture of the people I touch and bring on the path with me.

Nina Kerkez (Modular Executive MBA, 2019)

Malala Yousafzai, a young Pakistani education advocate, who at the age of 17 became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize, is a true inspiration in leadership for me. She has overcome adversity, she is standing up to her rivals and she is overcoming diversity, whilst fighting for girls to pick up the books and pens, and get the education that they deserve. There are many things we could all learn from Malala, but as I talk about diversity and inclusion, in words of this wonderful woman it is important for us to remember: “Dear brothers and sisters, I am not against anyone… There was a time when women social activist asked men to stand up for their rights. But, this time, we will do it for ourselves. I am not telling men to step away from speaking for women’s rights rather I am focusing on the women to be independent to fight for themselves.”

So, in my view, my MBA class was extremely diverse containing people of all genders, many races and nationalities, and many professional backgrounds. It consisted of a group of 38 amazing individuals, each and every one of us unique in our own way. We have learned from each other and built relationships that will last us a lifetime. Perhaps, I am finding it harder than I thought to be at the end of this journey. But those connections built in the two years of classroom activity, travel and, let’s face it, pub activity together, give me the feeling that this is not quite the end.

Post-study drinks

You will NEVER think the same way again

‘Tis the season of winter warmers, twinkly lights and Strategic Leadership on Cass Business School’s Executive MBA (EMBA) programme.

As I sat in a coffee shop, sipping my Choca-mocha-glitter latte ― the trendy hot drink this season ― with my fluorescent highlighter to hand, I began to read the case study for my next class with Professor Novelli.

The cold Cola war

Reflecting on last week’s case study, there was more to the Pepsi and Coca Cola war than I’d first thought.  The analysis, the controversies – it  astounded my brain cells! Most importantly, it undermined my conviction that there was a difference in taste between the two drinks – a bubble-bursting moment! Oh, how I was learning new things at every moment on this EMBA!

As my mince pie was served, I pondered what had compelled me to spend nearly £10 on a fancy-pants latte and mince pie. Was it the experience of sitting in a cosy chair, of having a place to read? The quick customer service? Or the brand?

As I continued sipping away at this costly warmth, I noticed this coffee shop had a new layout. The counter was now split into two sections. Now there was a Click-and-Collect service for coffee― how millennial! I was reminded of Dr. Kocabasoglu-Hillmer’s Operations Management class. Responding to consumer trends is key to business and this coffee shop had clearly adapted to changing market trends. Customers no longer tolerate waiting in long queues, so now they just download an app, place their orders, pay online, walk in and collect: ingenious!

I was intrigued, also, by how they forecast their inventory. They were selling many Christmas delights, so what effect did these new additions have on the supply chain? How did they source their coffee beans? Was the company sustainable for the next 10 years? What was their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) policies? All these questions were buzzing around, so I Googled whilst munching the mince pie.

Later, as Michael Bublé greatest hits came to an end, I took my final sip and concluded my reading of the case study. I prepared to go to class, looking forward to seeing my cohort.

Coolest cohort

At present, we are forming friendships, enjoy debating in class, and the plurality of characters and characters and backgrounds is stimulating. Everyone has their own idiosyncrasies: whether it’s the chocolate rice cake connoisseur, the skateboarding CEO, the passionate Greek or the cyclists with their love of sushi and pension funds. We learn from each other’s interests, heritage and worldviews. An MBA is not easy; sometimes you can feel overwhelmed. But with mutual support and such a wealth of viewpoints, hardly any challenge feels truly insurmountable.

In Professor Novelli’s class, as I waited for my lecture to begin, I reflected that a few months into the MBA. It was evident that my studies were already paying-off. After taking my place in that coffee shop, I realised that my entire outlook on the world had now changed.

Nushma Malik
Executive MBA (2020)

Ready, set…GO! The Cass MBA commences

Two months ago, I had the scariest dream I have had in years. I had started the Cass Full-time MBA and it was time to pick groups for our first group assignment.  And like the infamous PE (or gym) class nightmare, I was the last to be picked.

I woke up shaking. Halloween had nothing on this dream. Happily, I can tell you that this dream did not come true!

In fact, it’s been quite the opposite.

Learning how to learn

Here we are at the end of our first month and it’s been a pretty intense period.

For most of us, it has been five to ten years since we last stepped into a classroom. So even though we’re familiar with the rigours of work we’re a bit out of practice when it comes to lessons and homework.

To help with our learning, we had a session in our first week on how to speed read and how to improve our memory. For our studies, we worked on mind maps, linking each branch to the one before, adding quick pictures in to help.

We have been given lots of advice on how to economise our time over the coming year, so we can fit in lectures; networking events; careers research and preparation; and of course reading and assignments.

Some of this means a bit of multi-tasking and everyone has different ways of using their time as efficiently as possible. It is early days, so I am still trying things out to see what works best for me, but so far, the gym and the train have been definite winners.

When I grow up, I want to be a leader … and a follower

Another big focus has been teamwork. After brainstorming the differences between managers and leaders, between strong teams and weak, we were given a challenge to put what we had said into practice.

These are all the things we had listed as important qualities of effective teams:

  • Buying in to a common goal;
  • Mutual respect and trust;
  • Communication;
  • Listening;
  • Support;
  • And, if possible, fun!

Our challenge was hands on: building a construction out of newspaper, tape and six coffee cups. Never have so many adults been so eager and competitive to get a ping-pong ball from one corner of a table to the other as slowly as possible.

(I am happy to say we managed it in the slowest time of 9.59 seconds–well done team!)

Now we’re starting our first Strategy team projects, so it’s time to put these skills into practice!

Starting off with a bang

As part of our careers induction, we have done a lot of work on ourselves and our presentation skills. Much of it was about confidence, identifying our strengths and weaknesses and understanding the audience we are presenting to.

Of course, we had to resist the temptation during a presentation to look down at your notes for a prompt, just to remind yourself what your name is.

We were given the task to start the presentation and introduce ourselves with a bang – cue writer’s block!  There were a lot of nerves in the room, but once one of us had presented, then another, then another, it became clear that it wasn’t so scary.

It didn’t matter if we lost our train of thoughts, our groups would be supportive and the higher the fear hurdle, the louder the applause.

We are now a couple of weeks into block one and my nightmare from months ago never came true.

In its place are the friendliest cohort I could have hoped  to be working and studying with. We had a great barbecue and are enjoying getting to know each other.

We all know the coming year is going to be hard work, but we have been given every tool to achieve the best we can. Now it’s time to use them.

Rhiannon Ludlow
Full-time MBA (2019)

Chat with Rhiannon on Unibuddy to find out more about the course.

 

Corporate culture, personal branding and authenticity – What the right MBA can teach you

Corporate culture, personal branding and authenticity are just a few of the many buzz words you’re likely to hear if you’re seeking a career change or new role, and, words you’ll never be able to un-hear if you’re doing an MBA. Personally though, I found these concepts often too abstract and hard to grasp.

What does it mean to be “authentic”? It’s not the same as not lying, apparently, and also doesn’t mean you should just be an ass because you’re being honest. And what is your personal brand? It’s what you want to be known for. Easy to say. But when asked what it is for them, most of my fellow students would come up with answers such as being trustworthy, a team player or being authentic (back to that again!). Don’t we all want to be that (or at least appear to be that)? Do we all want to be the same then?

Throughout my MBA experience, I’ve been preoccupied with this and tried to make sense of what any of these things mean. Recently, I’ve turned to look at Cass Business School itself for answers. After all, shouldn’t a business school that is teaching us to become better leaders, be a role model for such things?

I started to think about what makes Cass special. What is it that makes it different from all other schools. Sionade, our Associate Dean, will tell you about the “explorer mindset” Cass tries to instill in its students; Paolo, our newly appointed Course Director will tell you about learning from Professors who are at the forefront of their research; and the latest FT European Business School ranking backs this all, with a ranking 11 positions higher than previously to 15th.

But if you asked me what makes Cass unique, my answer would be completely different. What I have experienced in my three months here is a culture of inclusion that fosters a family-like sense of community, care and dedication.

Perhaps it’s the size of our cohort that makes it possible. Saying our faculty is accessible would be an understatement. There’s a sense that each of us is known to our Professors. I remember in my third year as an undergraduate, walking into a programming class and being told by the Professor each week, “Sorry, this room is booked for a class.” At Cass, we are encouraged to be known by our Professors right from day one with our big name cards on display. Half of the class learning relies on interaction and our Professors listen to us as well as push back when it’s needed. There’s banter with Professors on Twitter. Sometimes it would just be funny comments and yet other times, it would be a full-blown discussion over corporate strategy to be continued offline.

On the day I came to Cass for my interview, I had prepared several pages of notes, thought about the right things to say and the right things to ask. The interview itself ended up being a much less formal experience than I had anticipated and if anything, one of the most stimulating and fun conversations I had in a long while (fellow students confirmed having a similarly pleasant experience with other members of the faculty in their interview process).

But when it was done and dusted, my mind was all ready to leave. That’s when the Admissions Officer stopped at the  sixth floor MBA office and introduced me to Tony.

Tony is our MBA Course Officer. Tony is important. I know that now.

But frankly, when I was there on interview day, I was rather confused as to why I was being introduced to this person and how this interaction was relevant. Wasn’t he some sort of admin person? Now, four months into my MBA, I recognise the importance of Tony.

Tony knows it all. Tony fixes problems. Tony is your man for absolutely everything. Ask any Cass MBA student and they’ll tell you Tony is amazing. Because he is.

When you say “goes above and beyond,” you should have a picture of Tony next to it. He may send around the silliest pictures of our group endeavours or most important updates about exams. He is there for us. There to share the fun but has your back when you need it. Ok, you might say, that’s just Tony. That’s how he is. And I’d argue, yes, it’s definitely a personal trait but it’s also the Cass culture that seeps through every level of the university.

When early in the MBA year, an email came around asking for students to volunteer to write for the Cass MBA blog, I seized the opportunity. I saw it as a way to engage more with Cass members, to reflect on my own experiences and to expand on my passion for writing.

When I signed up, I knew I’d be writing a blog, send it for proof-reading and someone at the other end would do whatever needs to be done before it can be put up in the public domain. In theory, it could have been a very faceless interaction. Just wanting to put a face to a name and to have a better sense of expectations, I asked the person on the other end, Khus, our Marketing Manager, to a quick coffee. He happily agreed and ended up having so many questions about my MBA experience, asking me what my thoughts were on the individual courses, my cohort and my Professors. He cared.

In my ten years of Professional experience, I’ve come across plenty of marketing people and none of them were particularly bad nor did I ever think that they did an inadequate job. But they were all marketing people who remained in their marketing domain without any visible real passion for the product itself. I know that Khus cares about Cass and us.

At some point, I sent a piece that was over 2,000 words. I thought I’d get some feedback on it via email, some changes maybe. Instead, Khus set up an early morning meeting with me to discuss the piece in more detail and handed me a printed version with line by line edits by Khus and team member Mai, respecting all my ideas, only improving the language and structure. I never expected this level of engagement. It’s even deeper than the interaction I had with some of my editors when I was a reporter and I’m loving it.

When looking at companies to work for, we’re often told to talk with people there to see whether the culture they are trying to portray is truly the culture they are living. Come to Cass and you’ll see the culture of dedication is not only lived by the faculty but is reflected through all other teams that support this institution. When I look at my next job, I’d love to see this sort of culture and I know that it is one of the things I will take away from my MBA. A good culture can exist and be lived through the entire company.

Working your way down from corporate culture, personal branding comes next. There’s no one better to teach you about that than Paolo Aversa.

Paolo has personal branding down to a tee. By the end of term one at the latest, you will know what Paolo stands for, what he’s passionate about and what he wants from you. Whether you like his style or not, you’ll learn to respect it because you can see that he’s all in 100 percent, all the time. He’s passionate about Formula 1, strategy and teaching strategy.

When you sign up to his course and login to the course page, you’ll discover a Spotify playlist students can contribute to and a filmography of strategy-related movies. He’ll encourage you to get engaged with him on Twitter, talking about the lectures, talking about strategy, talking about anything to get us all involved beyond just the classroom hours.

Some of it may seem silly to you. You may even think all you want from your Professor is to teach you strategy and nothing else and it might just not be your kind of thing. But there’s something about Paolo’s energy, coming at you every day that you won’t be able to deny. What’s driving him is his deep-rooted desire to make Cass better. And you’ll find it in so many of the Cass faculty. They have their own individual style, unique to them and yet fitting the Cass family, whether that’s Laura Empson, the face of professional women in finance or Arthur Kraft, the most laid back accounting guy.

And what makes it really work is their authenticity. I don’t always think Paolo is right. We do have our fair share of confrontations but at the end of it, I still respect him because I know he comes from a place of personal conviction. That’s a trait that’s visible in so many at Cass. I saw Sionade in an interview on YouTube for the very first time when I was deciding about applying. She struck me as very kind and open. Marianne, our Dean, is always buzzing with energy when you see her walking down the corridor, always a smile on her face looking straight at you.

Everyone must have some sort of a welcome dinner at the start of the MBA with some speeches and there’s nothing special about that. What was special about both Sionade and Marianne, was that I felt like they were opening up their heart to us. The vision they shared with us about Cass and our future came from a place of love and hope. When you love something, you are authentic.

I often get asked by friends who are intrigued by MBA courses, what we actually learn from it and what the classes are about. I sometimes have a hard time telling them the full story. I could list all the courses I did in Block 1 and 2 and it wouldn’t even reflect half of where my learning comes from. Teaching and learning in an MBA goes way beyond what you learn in the classroom. It comes from the institution as a whole and from everything everyone shares with you each day.

Experiencing concepts such as culture, personal branding and authenticity is another part of the learning that will never be found in any of my textbooks. I didn’t actually look too far for my MBA and rather got lucky to have ended up in the midst of all these dedicated people who are teaching me so much. If you look for an MBA, look out for that.

Don’t just check league tables but rather look at the people and think about whether you could learn more from them over reading books. Look at whether they are the people you want to tell your family and friends about. If you’re lucky enough, they’ll become people you want to stand up for and defend in front of others because you know they’ll do the same for you. They will be a second family you’ll invite to your Christmas party. Learning what a good company can feel like; therein lies a lot of the value I see in my MBA.

 

Full-time MBA (2018)

Can an MBA teach a lone wolf new teamwork tricks?

From the moment you walk into Cass as an MBA student, barely having exchanged a few platitudes and making the utmost effort remembering everyone’s name, you’re thrown into a team and before you know it, someone’s already shouting because you need to make a decision NOW before you all die on an alien planet. And then you die anyway. Have I lost you already? Welcome to induction week at Cass.

When I researched my MBA, I realised very quickly that teamwork would be a major aspect of it. Personally, I dreaded the thought of it. Throughout my professional life, I never had any problems working in teams but rather than real teamwork or collaboration, what I had mostly experienced were lone wolves that happened to sit next to each other, occasionally covering someone’s work during holidays.

Equally, in my personal life, my preference of working alone is well reflected in my hobbies: I write fiction, play classical piano and run marathons. There are ways to incorporate others in all of these activities but I have never actively chosen to do so.

When I applied for my MBA, I made the conscious decision to address this weakness of mine. However I didn’t realise just how much teamwork would be required.

At Cass, not only do you have a team of eight you work with for all projects in the first two blocks (including an integration week after each block which is an entire week of just your team and your project), there’s a team for your Strategy Project, a team for your leadership training at Sandhurst, a new team for blocks three and four, various teams you’ll be in for your electives and probably other teams I don’t even know about yet.

In summary: there are a lot of teams and A LOT of teamwork is involved.

So why is there such an emphasis on teamwork and collaboration?

According to the Graduate Management Admission Council’s Corporate Recruiters Survey Report 2017, 4 out of the top 5 skills employers wanted from new hires could be grouped in communications skills , while teamwork skills such as adaptability, valuing others’ opinions, ability to follow a leader and cross-cultural sensitivity were all to be found in the top 10.
GMAC makes two observations:

  • Changes in today’s workplace occur faster and on a more global scale. To be successful, employers need business leaders who are solid team players and good managers: people who can both follow and lead, who can work with those from different cultures, who can quickly adapt to change, manage strategy and innovation, and make decisions.
  • Though employers place increased emphasis on teamwork and managerial skills this year, they still rank communication as an essential skill to have mastered (Graduate Management Admission Council, 2017).

This year, Cass Full-time MBA class is comprised of 73 students, 29 nationalities with no single region represented by more than 20 per cent. Students coming from so many industries, even the biggest group of finance professionals only makes up 23 per cent. It makes sense then to experiment and hone teamwork and communications skills in the uniquely diverse setting of this MBA.

As one fellow classmate put it: “It’s the crucial part of an MBA to learn how to lead a team and prepare ourselves to use the same skills to lead people once we step out of the classroom. We need to understand our leadership style and make a conscious effort to readily change it based on different scenarios.”

So that’s the thought then. Learning by doing. Work in teams and polish your teamwork and communications skills. But how exactly does it work in practice? Does throwing a bunch of people into one room, calling it a team and making them do stuff really teach you anything?

Now that our first block is over, I took some time to reflect on my experience working with my team for eight weeks. I was also interested in how others perceived the experience and asked my cohort to participate in a quick survey.

Although we’ve been together for just two months, our team already developed a strong sense of identity and looking at others, we often said we were lucky with the mix of people. I for one, had gone into this with a healthy level of scepticism and defensiveness, so I am quite surprised to find myself in this rather happy position.

I wondered whether this was luck or whether at the end of the day, pretty much any group could be happy and perform to a level that made them believe they were better off than others. Asking my cohort, 70 percent of respondents said they felt lucky with the mix of people while 16 percent considered themselves unlucky but thought they still made the best out of the situation. Yes, people who sign up to an MBA are a particular subset of society already and perhaps there are not that many things to clash on but I still find this to be a respectable result.

 

Using Tuckman’s framework of Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing (Tuckman, 1965), I then asked my cohort to identify where they saw themselves in the team development process. The majority saw themselves either in the norming or performing stage; promising after just two months.  Of course, not everyone had gotten past the storming phase with one respondent considering themselves “floundering like a fish out of water.”

More significantly, the majority had gone through some difficulties to get to where they were now. That’s to be expected and a healthy stage in team development to get to the other side. Someone mentioned “avoiding confrontation” as a problem and I can see how that would suppress the growth of a team which may be a reason for some (38 percent) picking out groupthink as a problem. Many commented on these conflicts as minor and I would probably count myself in this camp too.

However, some voiced larger concerns over individuals dominating the team and taking over the discussions, warning that it stifled progress by causing the team to be stuck in minute arguments. Clearly some frustrations built up in some teams.

Given the demographic mix of our cohort, some of this is unavoidable but it did make me sad and made me reassess my own behaviour, looking for ways I could possibly make someone in my own team enjoy the experience more. After all, I already was someone who was benefitting from this. As one student said, “to work together you need to honestly care about each other’s opinion. Don’t formulate pre-conceived ideas. Sometimes genius comes from unexpected places.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

However, what was more surprising to me however was that 62 percent of respondents thought they were victims of free-riding (assuming they weren’t talking about themselves). The optimist in me wants to believe that this high percentage is rather a sign of miscommunication and a proof that teams may not have reached the norming or performing stage just yet. MBA students have made a lot of sacrifices for this experience, so why would you be here just to free-ride and upset the rest of your team, when you’d at least spend another two months working with?

An issue that often comes up is the differences in motivations and aims which may be a cause of what others perceive as free-riding. As one respondent put it: “Some want to get a distinction, others would rather save time and effort for networking and professional development.” In our team, we quickly developed very direct and honest communication which would usually be led by someone asking something along the lines of: “How do you feel about this? What do you personally want out of this? Are you OK with what we’re doing?”

Overall, as a team, we do have similar motivations and our work during integration week was rewarded with a grade we were all satisfied with. We could have done better, no doubt. But I believe no one regretted the outcome. In an MBA setting, motivations are much clearer and easier to discuss. Once we get into the real world again, individual motivations can be much more complex and may not necessarily be shared. You can’t just ask “what do you want out of this?” and expect a straight-forward answer. I’m not under the illusion that these few weeks of working through conflict have provided me with all the answers. Still, it has definitely raised my awareness around these issues and I will think more about individual motivations before making any assumptions about others based on what I want.

If you’d ask me today how I felt about working with a completely new yet-to-be-disclosed group in blocks three and four, I’d tell you that I still dread the thought. I am however in a minority. The majority (73 percent) in my survey are excited to work with a new group of people in blocks three and four. The reason I don’t look forward to it though is a different one than at the start of my MBA.

“What has truly changed in the two months, is that I am comfortable telling people in my team when something doesn’t really motivate me or when I know someone else is better for the task.”

What has truly changed in the two months, is that I am comfortable telling people in my team when something doesn’t really motivate me or when I know someone else is better for the task. Equally, I’ve learnt to trust every individual’s performance and let them lead when it makes sense. For example, when you end up in a baking contest (yes, that happens in an MBA) and one person in your team tells you they’ve baked their own wedding cake. Then you can happily let go and just do what they tell you to. I am one of those who felt very lucky about their first team and , I can’t imagine it to be better or even just as good next time around.

Having said that, I approached my team for the Sandhurst leadership training last week with the same hesitations and was very positively surprised how much I enjoyed the experience working with this completely different set of people. In fact, several people in the survey commented on how good their Sandhurst teams were. Perhaps it was the different types of tasks that provided us with the right kind of stimulus after five weeks of academic study.

I am honest in saying that the outdoor tasks were an absolute nightmare for me. There were several occasions where I seriously thought about leaving this all behind and just head back to London and have a couple of quiet days off. I was paying for the pleasure of this torture.

What made me stay however was my Sandhurst team, who readily accepted the fact that this wasn’t my cup of tea and still recognised the effort I was putting into it. We don’t all get pleasure out of the same activities and knowing when someone is struggling, recognising it and acknowledging the effort they are making can go a long way. I truly appreciated everyone’s kind words that kept me going until the end. If I would have given up halfway through, I would have never known the sense of accomplishment I felt when I reached the end and for that I’m truly grateful to my team and a particular someone who told me how disappointed they’d be if I left.

 

“We don’t all get pleasure out of the same activities and knowing when someone is struggling, recognising it and acknowledging the effort they are making can go a long way.”

Sandhurt Team 8

That leads me to the final question of my survey: has all the teamwork you’re exposed to at Cass changed the way you feel about it?

Thirty-eight percent of respondents saw no change in the way they felt about team work of which 14 percent disliked teamwork to begin with. One respondent commented, “team work at Cass has reinforced my anecdotal rule that 30 percent of the team are good performers, 30 percent try but lack technical skills and 40 percent are substantially sub-par in skills and attitude.”

Two months of teamwork can’t convert everyone. What was encouraging however was that 57 percent of respondents said they saw more of the merits of teamwork than they had previously, and felt comfortable doing more of it.

As one student said “I have come to the realisation that working effectively in a team is perhaps more important than being individually brilliant for doing most jobs.” I’m certainly one of those who see teamwork in a more positive light. While I still dread working in a new team and having to face new personalities, I am likely to be more open and understanding to it than I ever was before. If that’s the result of just two months, I’m optimistic that while I may never be a teamwork-loving person, I will be confident to embrace any teamwork environment that comes my way in the future and be able to recognise the merits of it.

 

I’d like to conclude with a comment from one of my survey respondents that beautifully sums up the MBA teamwork experience:

“The biggest surprise for me was how often we actually operated as a team – where the total output of our work was better than what we (probably) could have done individually. I’ve yet to feel like I could have done better on my own (maybe the same, but certainly not better). We’re somewhere between storming and norming now – we see our flaws clearly but haven’t yet managed to overcome them. But we have a good group, and we all have each other’s backs. I’m nervous for my next groups – I feel like I’ve been blessed this time around!” (Anonymous,  Cass Full-time MBA, 2017).

Full-time MBA (2018)

 

References:

Graduate Management Admission Council (2017) Corporate Recruiters Survey Report 2017. Available at: https://www.gmac.com/market-intelligence-and-research/gmac-surveys/corporate-recruiters-survey.aspx (Accessed: Nov 5, 2017).

Nilsson, P. and Moules, J. (2017) ‘What employers want from MBA graduates — and what they don’t’, Financial Times, Aug 31, 2017.

Tuckman, B.W. (1965) ‘Developmental sequence in small groups’, Psychological bulletin, 63(6), pp. 384-399. doi: 10.1037/h0022100.

A few volcanic takeaways to the business world

It was an absolute joy to climb Snæfellsjökull, a 700,000-year-old stratovolcano with a glacier covering its summit. The mountain is one of the most famous sites of Iceland, primarily due to the novel Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1864) by Jules Verne, in which the protagonists find the entrance to a passage leading to the centre of the earth on Snæfellsjökull.

I would like to share a few points with you that I learned in this leadership expedition, organised by the Full-Time MBA Programme team.

1.    Leadership and followership go hand in hand. On the glacier, we were tied together and had to move in a row. I trusted the teammate in front of me (leader) and followed his footsteps. However, I watched carefully and chose a slightly different path just in case he did not take the right step. I also led and warned the one behind me (follower) about the potential dangers.

2.    The rope that connected us together was sometimes pulled by the leader and sometimes by the follower. There is a virtual rope that connects the team members in the business environment as well. Therefore, either the whole team succeed or fail. This highlights the role of each individual’s teamwork. We reached the summit as the first team and our secret was that we neither went too fast nor too slowly but at a steady pace.

3.    The last few hundred meters to the summit were the most challenging ones. It resembled the end of a business project that looked so close, though in reality, needed patience, hard work and mental toughness.

4.    Finally, in each climb we forget the pain but the joy of reaching the summit stays in our minds. This is the true feeling of success!

Video of us at the top:

To Lead And To Follow

A good experience is guaranteed when you’re told to arrive wearing robust clothing suitable for outdoor activities and wet weather. A memorable one is certain when you’re told that suits and cocktail dresses will also be required.

After several months of classes and city life, heading out to Sandhurst for the Professional Development Programme was certainly a welcome change. The primary goals were to develop an understanding of leadership and followership and to advance our insight into team behaviour and individual contribution. Applying oneself and interacting with the cohort in a different setting, with a unique set of challenges and experiences, provided another forum for valuable experiences and insight.

img_3939I’ve spent a lot of time outdoors over the years, primarily sailing and camping, and was wondering how well prepared the team would be. Keep in mind that I’d only seen the rest of the cohort dressed for city life and networking events. However, when I showed up at Waterloo Station they were well prepared with outdoor gear and hiking boots. Most people had backpacks and small luggage, my bag was actually one of the largest, so I felt that we were off to a good start. We caught the train, dropped off our luggage at the hotel and headed directly to the campus to get started.

The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst is rich in history. You can feel it even before you arrive and all the more so once you pass through the gates, gaze at the buildings and explore the mix of forests and manicured grounds. The staff from The Inspirational Development Group introduced themselves and put us directly to work. Our first task was complex construction and problem solving, with specific parameters and time frames. My team managed to complete the task with only seconds to spare.

We would do many tasks over the next few days taking turns to both lead and follow. There is much to be said for taking on the responsibility of being in charge, but there is certainly a lot to be learned from taking a step back, being an effective team player and working for the benefit of the group. This is certainly a valuable lesson for a driven and accomplished group of young professionals to absorb, and it is guaranteed to last when learnt carrying a stretcher through a maze whilst blindfolded, building devices to transport water canisters or trusting others to pass you through netting. I don’t think I’ll ever forget watching one member of the class run up a hill with a heavy dummy on his back whilst surrounded by blue smoke.

img_3749Similarly, taking on purely verbal team based challenges can provide a great deal of insight into how one can be more convincing and informative. Meeting in a room lined with leather furniture, a marble fireplace and a myriad of donations from graduates, my team and I were tasked with rating the gear necessary to survive in the wilds of Canada. Growing up I spent most of my summers going on canoe trips in the parks of Ontario, Quebec and the boundary waters with the US. It gets cold at night even in August. In this challenge it was late fall. Who knew what a hard time I would have convincing others of the importance of fire and an axe? Many of them had been camping but not in such a remote or chilly setting. Then again, a great deal depends on how I say it. This was probably my key takeaway from the week, and one that I would reflect on with my team when discussing afterwards.

img_3929

The benefit of the programme was highly apparent on the train ride back to Waterloo. We had been fortunate enough to see an iconic site where few will go. Whilst worn out from the past few days, you could hear the cohort discussing plans for the next module. Stepping out of the typical academic zone and being forced to challenge one’s conceptions had already provided highly beneficial insight on how to lead a team. Over the course of the year, there is undoubtedly more to follow.

 

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