The Importance of Teamwork

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When I decided to put my music business on hold and to take a year out of life and return to college at UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School, I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the raw intensity of what was to come. Even after 15 years of intense work in the Hollywood entertainment industry, MBA life often seems to be an exercise in survival training for business more than academic learning. Part of me feels that this is the point of it all. From the beginning, the high pressure environment has created a strong bond between the Full-Time MBA students. We realise that supporting each other is the cornerstone of our fast evolving class culture, and this family attitude increases the chance of us making it through the year relatively unscathed!

Teams, teams and more teams

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From the start, teamwork has been a huge part of our MBA experience. We work in assigned teams, in self-selected pairs, and as individuals. We also share ideas as a class on a regular basis. The thing about assigned teams, as you can well imagine, is that there’s no choosing who you get. At the start of Semester One, I think a lot of us collectively held our breath before meeting our teams after hearing all the rumors about teams being customized to create minor conflict to challenge us. I feel I have been very lucky. I have four teammates from different backgrounds, countries and cultures who support each other and have been there for each other every step of the way. It has been a great support to me personally.

I’ve actually been discovering a lot of hidden things about teamwork that will benefit me for many years to come. So many of us are being reminded that there is a lot more to it than simply having a meeting and then going our separate ways to work on tasks. For example:

  1. What are our individual and collective strengths?
  2. How can we learn from and with each other?
  3. How do we engage with each other?
  4. How can we align our goals or expectations?

Virtual Teamwork at Smurfit

Recently, we were hit with a new challenge – working in virtual teams across the various Executive MBA and Full-Time MBA classes. The task seemed simple: collaborate through virtual communication and make a video about the experience. In reality, it proved to be an engaging challenge. Trying to agree on simple things such as an online platform or when everyone is free is apparently harder to do with teammates you don’t know or see!

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We tested the virtual team experience in a “safe psychological environment” (a phrase heard a lot in our class) and had a lot of fun doing it. When two of us attended Global Network Week in Yale’s School of Management for example, we took the time to organise a Skype call from Yale with our teammates back in Ireland to give us an authentic international Global Virtual Team experience.

Our final video project revolved around interviews with fellow Global Network Week students and our own team discussing our experiences.

The MBA Leadership Development Programme

There is a growing awareness among many of us, that developing our ability to work with and lead a team of diverse individuals is a far more significant part of our growth as future business leaders than simply getting the top grade in an MBA exam. It’s proving to be an interesting psychological transition. The ego wants to be selfish and to focus on what is best for the self, yet we see time and time again that the collective delivers better decisions and outcomes.

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The Leadership Development Programme (LDP) focuses on the skills necessary to help us. It IS all worth it. This voyage of self-discovery feeds our emotional growth, and our capacity to be more productive both individually and collectively. At the end of the day, we unquestionably need to understand who we are, before we can lead others in the future. To help us understand our psychological preferences and our emotional strengths and weaknesses, we have done a barrage of personality tests such as an ESCI 360 Peer Review and a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test based on C. Jung and I. Briggs Myers type theory.

Honestly, it sometimes feels like we are doing a new test every second week!

Moving Forward

So what is next for me? I think most of all, I simply look forward to continuing on this voyage of self discovery and enjoying the remainder of my MBA experience.

Ciaran Hope ~ Full-Time MBA

 

MBA Entrepreneurship Club – Version 1

L-R - Sumit Chopra, Justin Keatinge, Conor Mc Mahon
L-R – Sumit Chopra, Justin Keatinge, Conor Mc Mahon

On Monday evening, the Entrepreneurship Club were lucky enough to have Justin Keatinge of Version 1 as our guest speaker. In short, Version 1 are an IT services company with €75m in revenue and Justin is the current CEO. Justin and his co-founder John Mullen established the company from home in 1996, took on their first employee and moved into an actual office in 1998. They have never looked back since, now employing over 700 people in Ireland and the UK.

Not being an IT person or all that technologically savvy, I had reservations over my interest levels prior to the event, just another tech guy speaking tech guff I thought. To my surprise, the theme of the presentation focussed on the values and principles the organisation holds sacrosanct, the growth strategy of the company and the balance required for a company to achieve such growth.

Justin began the presentation by engaging with the attendees and asking us to tell him what we hoped to get out of the night. He wrote down each of the topics we were interested in and promised to address all as best he could. I felt that this was an interesting approach, instead of rattling off a pre-rehearsed presentation, he actually cared about meeting our expectations and addressing our interests.

Version 1 have six core values which they live and die by. For the most part they are standard enough, ones you would hope to see in all medium to large organisations; honesty and integrity, excellence, drive, blah, blah, blah. What sets Version 1 apart is the fact that they really, truly believe in these values. They recruit based on them and assess employee performance against the values on a quarterly basis. Never before have I heard of a company assessing against these quarterly, they consume so many resources and costs that companies generally are not willing to dedicate. Investing in quarterly reviews shows the commitment that Version 1 have to its values. One value which I hadn’t seen in any other company was ‘No Ego’. I would think Justin scores highly in this section of his own review every quarter, he appears devoid of an ego which is an admirable quality in someone who has achieved so much.

All in all, it was an excellent night and provided valuable food for thought. Feedback from attendees ranged from ‘excellent’, ‘the best presentation of the year’, ‘thoroughly engaging’ to ‘very long’. I guess you can’t please everyone all of the time, eh Sid?

Conor Mc Mahon ~ Full-Time MBA

The Monte Carlo Simulation, Chicago Real Estate, Modelling Competitions and Creating Sensitivities

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The title covers some of the topics covered in today’s Excel session with Aidan Corbett of Kubicle, and while it wasn’t as exotic as the title sounds, it was another of the practical classes that deliver “real world” practical learning and know-how, as part of the MBA Leadership Development Programme. The challenge with Excel training in the full-time MBA class is that there’s a huge gap in terms of competencies in the class. Some of the class have come from quantitative backgrounds with high levels of expertise in Excel, while others like me, need all the practice that we can get.

Today’s session was a deep-dive into financial modelling and construction of the different elements that make up the models. We were challenged to advise a real-estate investor on his proposed purchase of an apartment in Chicago, along with the construction of a model to base our recommendations on. Besides giving us the practical steps on how to build the model, Aidan explained the processes and steps that make the model flexible and robust. Most importantly however, Aidan explained how this type of exercise feeds into the decision-making process, especially when it comes to advising clients while working in management consultancy.

I spoke to some of my classmates after the session, and despite the big gap in competencies when it comes to proficiency in Excel, it was clear that everyone got something out of the class.

Des Warner ~ Full-Time MBA

How will you measure your MBA experience

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Prof. Robert Kaplan

You hear a lot about measurement when you sign up to do an MBA. ‘You get what you measure’ and we’ve been learning how to measure performance, variations from expected outcomes, and the strategies we can use to plan and then measure a company’s success.

I was lucky enough to be in attendance at a special two day conference by Prof. Robert Kaplan, Baker Foundation Professor at Harvard Business School, when he was in Ireland earlier this year.

Not only is Prof. Kaplan a widely acclaimed academic rock-star, and adored guru of MBAs everywhere, but in person he is truly an inspiration. At 74 years of age he is bright eyes, tan skin and lean physique. He exercises daily, clearly looks after himself, and still loves to travel.

His mind is sharp and inquiring; he asked lots of questions, was happy to chat and was evidently interested in understanding what was going on in Ireland, the challenges we face and what we are doing about it.

He remains passionate, interested and excited by his academic work. And he he’s not nearly done yet; there is so much more to learn and understand he says. That to me was inspiring.

Meeting him got me thinking about how we get to be like that. What’s the secret of the successful septa- and octo-genarians whose energy levels could put many half their age to shame? Michael Smurfit; UCD Smurfit Business School founder, Rupert Murdock and Warren Buffet are all still very engaged in their respective fields in their 70s and 80s.

As I edge further into year two of the MBA, I can’t help but wonder if the decisions we make now and in the months ahead will shape what we’ll be like when we reach that life stage.

If we’re lucky, given increasing life expectancy and extending ages of retirement, most of us will have at least 30, and maybe 40, years of career ahead of us post-MBA. Chances are you’ll only do an MBA once and so surely this is one of the best opportunities we get to reflect on and plan what we want those 30 or 40 years to be like.

In addition to the academic learning we are steeped in, this is the other part of the MBA experience. That we are actively encouraged to think about who we are, how to be the best version of ourselves and how to bring out the best in others. This applies not just in our careers but in all parts life.

If you need a framework (yes, we talk a lot about those on the MBA) for further examination of this you could do worse than read Clayton Christensen’s ‘How Will You Measure Your Life’. Another Harvard stalwart, we can learn a lot from Christensen’s reflections on his life post-MBA and the direction his classmates, and later his students, have taken over the course of their lives. The book is based on a final session he conducted with his Harvard MBAs each year and, while aspects of his personal values may not be to everyone’s liking, there are some really interesting observations and theories in this book that I think most MBA students will appreciate.

Christensen reminded me that you chose the life you want. You work hard at it and you need to measure it regularly to identify any deviations from the plan. But also that in reappraising your progress you may find that deviating from the course may be where the most exciting opportunities lie. Whatever happens, the MBA is providing us with the tools we will need to put in place strategies and action plans that will serve us well for the journey.

Kirsten Connolly

Weekend year 2

The MBA: A Year of Transformation

The MBA programme has finally come to an end.  My one-year roller coaster experience has ended faster than I had imagined.

When I bid farewell to Orla, Michael and Yvonne in the MBA programme office before heading to Dublin airport, I found myself stuck by a simple question asked by Yvonne,  “How do you feel right now?”. I had a strange feeling that I never had before. I felt glad yet sad, relieved yet nervous. I am so glad and relieved that I have endured this demanding programme (not to mention the intensive 6-week capstone project that has just ended at Microsoft). At the same time, I was sad as I was about to leave Ireland and all the lovely people I met here very soon. I also felt a little nervous since the end of the MBA programme means the beginning of the real career challenges ahead, given the expectations of prospective employers for MBA graduates.

When reflecting upon the year I spent in Smurfit, I found that the past year was a truly rewarding one in terms of personal growth and knowledge gained. Other than the nice combination of the business knowledge that I have gained, I have developed a deeper self-awareness through the Leadership Development Programme (LDP). I have also learned a lot by working with classmates with different backgrounds, experiences and personalities.

On the other hand, the opportunities to gain international exposure were tremendous in Smurfit. In October last year, I studied for a week at Yale School of Management as part of the Global Network of Advanced Management (GNAM) programme. Earlier this year, our class went to China for a week as part of the “Doing Business in Emerging Markets” module. And now, I am heading to Malibu, California for a semester long MBA exchange programme in Graziadio School of Business and Management, Pepperdine University, before I officially complete my MBA programme.

Going forward, I am cautiously optimistic about my future. As mentioned by my mentor, an MBA degree will not magically transform a person to what he or she wants to be. Indeed, I have to be realistic of what to expect in the near future and try very hard to pursue every opportunities that are presented to me.

However, I believe there are reasons to be optimistic about the future. After a year of immersion, I believe I am different from what I was a year ago.

The transformation has just begun.

Sai Mun Leo

Full-time class 2013-14, currently on exchange at Pepperdine University in US.

MBA Mentoring Programme 2014

Katharine Slattery, Director of Peer Mentoring Resources

This year Katharine Slattery, the Director of Peer Mentoring Resources was delighted to be involved in co-ordinating the inaugural MBA Mentoring Programme in conjunction with the MBA Careers Manager. Through this mentoring programme, the full-time MBA students were given the opportunity to meet with professionals who have completed the MBA and have the benefit of hindsight and experience in making the often-challenging transition to ‘real-world’ industry and entrepreneurship. Thirty-five MBA alumni volunteered to take on the role of a mentor for a full-time MBA student and mentors were matched with mentees who had common career interests and/or professional backgrounds. Mentors and mentees met initially in March, with further meetings taking place up until the end of the programme in July. Mentees were encouraged to set specific goals for the process, and both parties completed online reports after each mentoring meeting.

Formal feedback has been gathered from all participants, and some very positive reports on the programme from both mentees and mentors has been received including the following: ‘This is a truly excellent process…It is incredibly reassuring to know that there is somebody there, with your best interest in mind, to offer advice and support on a range of topics, but in particular on career progression.’ ‘I feel it offers a valuable source of support in negotiating the next step in my career. The mentor can provide advice or just act as a sounding board and understands the situation well.’ ‘My mentee has a positive outlook and has embraced the process and I think both of us have enjoyed the dialogue.’ Katherine really enjoyed working with MBA staff, students and alumni on this programme and would like to express her thanks to those involved for the energy, commitment and time that they have given to it.

Katharine Slattery is the Director of Peer Mentoring Resources, who provide consultancy, training and resources for organisations and businesses who wish to provide further support for their students or staff through the framework of a mentoring programme.

Coaching on the UCD Smurfit MBA.

The feedback has been excellent once again this year.

We offer all of our MBAs personalised one to one coaching from the very best Business Executive Coaches and it is entirely free to all of ourparticipants.  The programme fits into the personalised Leadership Development Programme (LDP) and goes from strength to strength every year.  Some stats from the latest survey:

– It got a 95% rating in terms of its effectiveness as part of LDP.

– 93% will recommend as unmissable for next year’s participants

– 63% will continue to seek coaching post MBA at their own expense.

– hot topics this year were Career Transition, Leadership Development, Managing upwards and Personal Confidence building.


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Use your UCD Smurfit MBA to pursue that dream.

Ciara O’Brien (weekend eMBA 2014), founder of iSave, recently joined UCC’s start-up accelerator Ignite.

My advice to new MBAs is to really make the most of every resource that’s available to you within the MBA system. While there’s lots to learn from your core modules and lecturers, don’t forget to look outside the curriculum to find other opportunities. Two years is quite a short time frame to achieve big things!

My only regret from the MBA is that I didn’t seek out those opportunities even sooner.  Starting the course is such an overwhelming experience – learning to deal with the teams, assignments and exams.

In year 2, once I kick-started my start-up idea, the various MBA structures were a huge asset. Michael McDonnell brought me the UCD Student Innovation Fund (which we subsequently won!), Brian Marrinan connected me with MasterCard’s start-up accelerator which was invaluable and Bruce Martin, entrepreneurship lecturer, supported me to refine iSave’s value proposition even though I wasn’t in his class!

This has all been key to our success in winning seed funding, acceptance to the Ignite programme and now a potential spot at The Summit’s APLHA programme for start-ups.

So whatever your goal: take the knock-backs in your stride, seek out people who believe in your idea and can help and don’t waste any of the resources that are available to you. If you have an idea you want to pursue this is probably the best time in your life to do it. It’ll all be over before you know it!

Ciara O’Brien, EMBA 2014 and Founder of iSave.

Get (Back) Into the Groove

So the second semester has begun and classmates are generally looking and feeling relaxed after a one-month break (possibly the longest period of time any of us will have off for a long time to come). While the second semester brings a lighter course load for some of us compared to the first, most of us are using any spare time to network and find a suitable job for after the MBA. The mandatory courses for this term seem to have a more quantitative slant than those we studied last term but we also have two option modules so everyone has something to feel positive about. In terms of looking forward, the class is already talking about the upcoming trip to China in March, where, being from an Irish school, we plan to strike a balance between hard work and good fun!

One major change this term is that we all have new teams (the classmates with whom you do many of your academic assignments). Most people had really positive experiences with their first semester teams, but classmates are nevertheless happy to experiment with working with new people.  After one semester of Smurfit’s excellent Leadership and Development Programme we are all feeling well equipped to deal with whatever the new year throws at us!


Conal Campbell

FTMBA 2014

Ireland

“I’m a Red-Blue Peacock-Dolphin”

Not many people would understand what the title above means, but to any UCD MBA student, it conveys insight into my qualities as a group member and a leader.

Our Wednesdays have been packed with psychometric tests and learning resources, through the Leadership Development and Careers Programmes, intended to guide us through our pursuits of new roles and new industries as we develop into leaders post-MBA.

Other blog entries have discussed the activities of the first week, when we discovered a little about how we function in groups, and animals and colours were assigned to our individual qualities. Inevitably, my results provided me the least endearing animal possible: the Peacock.

During a more recent Wednesday, we explored the Strength Deployment Inventory (SDI). This tool encouraged us to think about our motivational system, our behaviour, our strengths, and the ways in which we respond to conflict in a team setting. As Wednesdays go, given the introspective nature of the tasks and the need to discuss others’ strengths/weaknesses, this was the most emotionally exhausting.

From SDI, the most interesting insight I gained into leadership was the fact that “assertive” (red) leaders are not necessarily the most effective: that at times “altruistic” (blue), or “analytic” (green) will lead to better results. I’m also glad to have had the chance to actively learn from my group mates’ experience of working with me; an opportunity I have never before had in the workplace. So with pride, I announce that I am a Red-Blue Peacock-Dolphin.


Niall Ó Muiré

FT MBA 2014

Ireland