As We Grow … as a Team

In early summer 2017, the Full Time MBA class and first year EMBA class travelled to Reykjavik, Iceland for Smurfit’s first MBA International Consulting Project.

We (Lorcan, Louis, Niall & Peter) teamed up with As We Grow, an indigenous design company specialising in the design of children’s (and, as we later found out, women’s) clothing – a sector none of us had any experience in. We were originally tasked with the rather broad scope of re-designing their business plan and growing their international online sales to ISK 100 million within 3 years. (To date, their sales streams had been heavily focused on wholesale and distribution.)

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We soon realised that they had more basic and fundamental problems to address and reasoned that the main issues we could assist with were:

  • optimisation of their online presence
  • clarification of their differentiating factor
  • selection of new markets to target

After further discussions with the company, we agreed that selecting new markets to target wasn’t a priority so we dropped this point of business from the project but agreed to prioritise the whole area of brand awareness instead.

We soon learned that what customers like about As We Grow was:

  • The simplicity of the garments
  • Classic designs
  • The concept of its production
  • That they are made in Iceland

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We provided the client with a presentation comprising real, practical recommendations that we felt addressed:

  • Development and improvement of their digital sales strategy
  • Optimisation of their branding
  • Optimisation of their website
  • Correction of some operational issues
  • Improved communication of their story

One of our key learnings was that relevant industry experience or knowledge can be very valuable. One of us had two contacts operating in this industry and we set up relevant communication channels. While we may not have agreed with or used their advice verbatim, it expeditiously put us on the right path and saved us a considerable amount of time. It was also interesting that these two contacts had very differing views of the online arena, and our learning from this was that companies can have different views on the exact same market; it simply depends on their goals, priorities and, ultimately, company strategy.

Two rounds of study groups and learnings from our Global Virtual Team were great preparation for the team-working dynamic of the trip. For Year 2 of the MBA, we feel that our team-working skills are much improved by the experience and this will be a real benefit when dealing with more study groups and more GVTs over the remainder of the course.

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All in all, we found the Iceland trip enjoyable, eye-opening and a great experience from start to finish. While it’s not untrue to say that Iceland is expensive, this is but a fleeting observation because the real value derived from this trip was the richness of the Icelandic culture, the beauty of its scenery, and the bonding of an MBA class – the class… of 2018.

Niall Gallagher, Executive MBA 2016-2018

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

 

Foundation Week & the start of the MBA

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When I embarked on my Smurfit MBA journey, I said I will start a blog. I didn’t expect the workload to be so high though.

Three weeks later I am posting my first blog entry. I am still very excited to share my experience with you, and I hope you are still interested in reading it. I promise writing more often and on time in the future.

Foundation week.

The foundation week is a pre-programme part of the MBA to get everyone to know each other, and get everyone “up and running”, as they say.

It definitely involved a lot of running! From Monday to Friday we spent all day from 8.00 to 18.00-19.00 at the school. The week was so intense and beneficial in terms of learning that at the end of it, it was hard to realize that the programme itself had not even started. I felt I already learned so much! It would be easier to describe the week day by day.

Monday

Monday was a “getting to know each other day” with programme directors and staff greeting us, several lecturers giving introduction to specific fields, as well as a bit of talk on leadership and the year to come.

I was positively surprised by the quality of lecturers and by the experience of my fellow classmates. I obviously knew Smurfit is one of the top schools, but the quality of lecturing turned out to be beyond any expectations! Also I was happy to get to know my classmates. People in this programme are probably a bit older and more experienced compared to many other MBAs. It seems that the average experience among full time cohort is about 8-10 years, while among the Executives about 10-12. I was very happy to be among people older than me, even though at first felt a little bit weird, recognizing I am one of the youngest and less experienced in the class.

Tuesday

Tuesday was Financial Reporting all the day. Boring, you might say, right? Yes, not the most exciting subject on Earth, I agree! That is why our class was amazed that our professor Niamh Brennan managed to keep our attention for the whole day! Truly fascinating, and it adds to my previous comment about the quality of lecturers.

Wednesday

Team building activities. Many people have certain stereotypes regarding outside team building activities. People would picture running around, doing crazy stuff with no purpose, falling on their backs and hoping their team mates would catch them.

This workshop was very similar and very different. We did a lot of outside activities: we solved puzzles, did physical exercise, and even walked around with our eyes blindfolded trying to form a certain figure. However, a very distinct feature of this particular workshop was that it served a purpose of understanding, how teams operate. The facilitator gathered us together after every activity, and we debriefed what happened. The lessons adaptable to real life would be evident afterwards.

For example, we were given a task in groups of 4 and 20 minutes to plan, how we tackle it. Then 5 minutes into the exercise we were approached and told that the task had been changed, and we will have to perform it with other 2 groups of 4. We would spend the remaining 15 minutes still in the same group of 4, planning the task. When the time to perform comes, we would not perform well enough, of course.

Why is it so? Because we were blind to see that 5 minutes into the task our group has changed, and instead of planning in a group of 4, we should be planning in a group of 12. Now think how often you experience at your job that two departments (say sales and marketing) are doing something on their own? This funny experience in an outdoor game was a good illustration of how groups of people fail to see what are the boundaries of the team.

Friday

Thursday was a business simulation that I will not go into details about just to save your reading time. One distinct feature about that day was that it was my birthday, which I celebrated by getting a 2 for 4.25 EUR salad deal from Marks and Spencer.

Friday was another day full of highlights. First we had a workshop on listening and personality types (Myers Briggs). I think it might be because of the background of trainers in psychology, but they delivered the best workshop on listening and personality types I have ever seen (out of at least 3). The personality types was a more interesting part. They explained what it means, how it affects the working preferences, as well as sources of stress for various types. We didn’t do the test, but they explained each component and two extremes so well that my self-assessment completely corresponded to the results of the test I took later.

After lunch we had a presentation skills workshop. Again, when you have attended several poorly delivered presentation skills workshops, there is not much to expect. However, this one was brilliant! I did a lot of debating during my undergrads, and speaking in public is never an issue for me. I learned loads of useful tips and information from the workshop. It was not only the information, but also real time interaction, practicing, and coaching that turned the knowledge into practice. Now that we also had a second workshop in week 2 of studies, I see that not only me, but every single person in the class massively improved their presentation skills.

Cheers Smurfit for the fun and beneficial week! Thumbs up for the quality! We ended the week with a visit to a local pub, as Irish traditions require.

First weeks of studies

I am now in my third week of studies, and I will not lie, if I say I have mixed feelings about it. The quality is outstanding and beyond any expectation! People in class, lecturers, learning environment, and leadership workshops contribute massively to my development. I feel like an empty book shelf, gradually being filled with new skills and knowledge. I will write separate entries on the class, subjects/lecturers, and the leadership development part of the programme. The downside to this is that I find myself studying literally for 12-14 hours on most days. “Gotta run and keep going” I suppose! At least I know that all the effort put into studies will benefit my development.

I think it is enough of reading for the first entry. In the future, I promise to write shorter articles. I plan to write on several topics: (i) why I chose Smurfit; (ii) about the class, lecturers/subjects, and other components of the programme, so that people considering MBA in the future are better informed about Smurfit; (iii) about scholarship opportunities here and at other institutions, and why you don’t necessarily need to pay 100K+ for a degree.

Cheers for now!

Nikita Pusnakovs ~ Full-Time MBA

Check out Nikita’s Blog ‘MBA In Ireland’ here

UCD Smurfit MBA Foundation Week

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When I joined the military 10 years ago, we had to complete an induction week. The week was designed to give us a ‘soft landing’ into the organisation and dismay any anxiety or fear. Now, ten years later I have completed a similar week as part of the EMBA Programme in UCD Michael Smurfit Business School and the induction week seemed to have quite a different objective; a hard landing!

If I was to walk away from the Programme now, the week, as a standalone undertaking, would have been worth attending. Although ‘life-changing’ may be a little dramatic, it certainly challenged me, questioned some of my long-standing beliefs, taught me several practical life-skills and allowed me to meet some truly interesting people.

The Why Marketing Lecture with Prof Damien Mc Loughlin
The Why Marketing Lecture with Prof Damien Mc Loughlin

Although I have attended college before, UCD Michael Smurfit feels different when you arrive. The campus feels modern and all the staff (and fellow students) are particularly friendly. After arriving we received our ‘welcome pack’ and then sat through a series of presentations. The faculty introduced themselves and very soon the message was clear; hard work was the name of the game and there would be no hiding from it. The straight forwardness was refreshing; we all knew where we stood.

Tuesday involved a day-long team building exercise. I found myself at the edge of my comfort-zone before the end of the day, leading the class in the final challenge. I had been determined not to risk exposing myself to a position like this so early on but here I was. In the military, standing out early in a course of training is usually a bad thing. I expected that leading a group of natural leaders like those who might enroll in an MBA Programme, would lead to a ‘too many chiefs’ situation. Surprisingly there were no counter-ideas or subversive actions after I voiced my plan. Each individual acknowledged the action required to achieve the teams objective and played their part diligently. I have never experienced a team of this size come together and operate with such efficiency, in such a short time.

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The rest of the week saw us meet our study groups, complete a day-long business simulation, practice our presentation skills and learn about our personality styles and those of others. I left on Friday, looking forward to seeing my new classmates again and in particular working with my new study group.

No one could say they weren’t challenged, no one could say they didn’t learn something new and it’s pretty clear what lies ahead: hard work, the development of great friendships and the opportunity to overcome huge challenges.

To quote Gordon B. Hinckley – “Without hard work, nothing grows but weeds”.

Gearóid O’Briain ~ Executive MBA, Year 1

There Is No ONE Answer…

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My class and I are now nearly half way through Semester 1, Year 2 of the Executive MBA. The respite of mid-term is upon us as we take a breather before the run in of the last few weeks of the semester.

As I reflect on the progress we have made to date, one key learning sticks in my mind. Subjects such as Leading the Innovative Enterprise, Performance Driven Marketing, Strategy (corporate and competitive), Business and Society and Organisational Behaviour have taught me one thing: There is no One Answer.

My background is a technical one – a degree in chemistry and a number of years of experience in manufacturing pharmaceuticals. In those environments, technical problems, investigations and experiments have a root cause, a numerical answer or a concise conclusion. The subjects already mentioned have required some reprogramming of my brain.

As I read case studies and analysed the information, I came to a conclusion. I entered class with my notes in hand confident I had found the right “one” answer.

“Honda’s strategy was sound no luck involved – well planned and executed.”

“Developing a customer relationship by pretending to have a keen interest in thorough bred bulls – no ethical dilemma here, this is fair game in the sales world”

“Flat organisational structures – ideological, can’t work in practice”

As I waited in anticipation, throughout the lecture, for the various professors and doctors to validate my rock solid conclusions I was often disappointed. Why are they not giving us the answer?

As my brain adjusted to this new environment, I realised that me finding that one correct answer was futile. What is important however is the discussion, the insights of fellow classmates, my study group members and the theory outlined in articles and course text books. Eventually I stopped worrying about finding the right answer and more about incorporating the appropriate learning to strengthen my analysis and reasoning.

Michael Collins ~ Executive MBA

Every Little Helps

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Barilla pasta and a large Coke, delivered on a Honda while reading Stephen King, before deciding between Nintendo Wii or PlayStation! Who knew the EMBA would be so much fun? On the other side of life, no more Netflix, Champion’s League, weekly five aside or Saturday morning lie in. Although the benefits of the experience curve should see weekly 5 aside reintroduced before long. After 6 weeks now, a good routine and an addiction to Costa coffee have taken hold. I think the secret lies in getting a good start to the week and taking advantage of whatever few free moments arise in the day to think through the weekly case work. Like Tesco, every little helps. Although Financial Reporting class suggests Tesco used a little extra help.

I begin to wonder what I actually did with my free time before September, probably not as much as I should! Joking aside, I have been impressed not just by the quality of the class learning experience but also by the balance in module delivery. Personally, I look forward to CS on a Friday afternoon, the class has changed how I look at the most basic everyday products and now I look around at cans of coke and 7 Up and wonder who really extracts the value from their existence. Life was so simple before!

The first few weeks are a shock to the system but slowly you find your feet. The team based nature of assignments helps you to realise everyone is in the same boat and before long you establish some momentum. It’s hard to believe we’re just at the half way point of Semester 1 or as I like to think of it as one eighth of the way through the entire program. Week 7 sees delivery of two of the main group assignments and I’m looking forward to our well-deserved break week. Unfortunately, I am still awaiting that Satori moment but I have had a few others, regret, fear and dreaming about IFRS but all that has dissipated now. Overall, the experience is different to what I expected but I am very, very happy with it so far. The focus on team work adds a lot of value, before beginning, I naively thought I’d mastered time management, I know now I hadn’t. Hopefully with some of the big assignments out of the way, we’ll get some time to think about the exams, that long Christmas break and maybe even a holiday in January.

So far so good.

Terence Dunne ~ Executive MBA Year 1

Facing My Fears

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Team 7

I have two fears, spiders and heights! When filling out our team charter during the foundation week we were asked for our fears, some had a fear of failure, some death or illness and other quite profound and meaningful fears. Please excuse my scepticism as a medic, but most of those things are inevitable so they were not top of my list. What did make the sceptic doctor’s list was spiders and heights.

To help our group hit the road running we decided to do a team bonding activity. Well done to Daire for the suggestion! I had imagined a few drinks but being that two of us live a considerable distance from Dublin that was not the easiest to organise. So out to Extreme Sports in Santry with us for a sky climb. Sorry, what… a SKY CLIMB??? Can you imagine the horror on my face when I heard! I had thought of every excuse under the sun to cancel but I couldn’t! One of my team members remembered my fear and the group kindly offered to change the activity, but there was no way I could lose face! I knew deep down it was an irrational fear but it was a very real one, but I simply could not back down.

Total Horror!
Total Horror!

So shaking one Wednesday afternoon, I began the drive from the Midlands to Santry! I got there a little early, just to try to prepare myself, (punctuality is not a strength of mine!), but that did little to relay my fears. As i stood looking up at this course almost twenty meters high a sense of nausea overtook me.

We each got strapped into the harness and began the climb up the tower, I had an impending sense of doom! Something akin to what the prisoners on the green mile might feel! I realised I had another fear, I wasn’t ready to die! My team mates were fantastic about it, they quickly realised that this was no ordinary fear but a real earth shattering, freeze on the spot kind of fear! What made the climb a even worse was the fact that there was two levels! I was weak at the knees, praying for a hurricane to land but my prayers were not answered!

Our instructor was amazing and helped me every step of the way, literally every step because as soon as he let go of my hand I froze! But what really made the difference was the kind words of support and encouragement I was getting from my team mates, they really wanted me to finish and really didn’t want to let them down.

Elegance and Agility from Findan and Laura
Elegance and Agility from Findan and Laura

I am proud to say that I completed the course, not in the most stylish of manners, I was like a sack of potatoes compared to Laura’s gymnastic type manoeuvres. But between the team fighting for me and sheer determination I came out the other side, with a slightly less fear of heights and a new group of friends!

This is how I envisage the EMBA to work out, we all will have our moments when we need that little extra bit of help and encouragement from others, but together we will all get each other to the finish line!

Christine Kiernan, Laura Tunney, Daire Nolan, Findan Cox ~ Executive MBA, Team 7

Teamwork – The Importance of Resolution

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I’m one month into the Full-Time MBA experience and my mindset has shifted drastically from what I thought going into this experience. I came in thinking about the grades I wanted to get and courses I wanted to take. I knew that team work would be important but I didn’t give much consideration as to how important it would be and the drastic impact it is having on my overall experience.We spend time in our groups talking about recent classes, discussing cases, talking about the news, project work and brainstorming. Now that is a lot of different types of discussions and takes place for each of our six classes; we spend an astronomical amount of time together. A large part of this programme is teamwork: deliveries you have as a group and learning from your team members sometimes more so from the textbooks and classes you have.onemonth

The Smurfit MBA Programme is structured in such a way that allows you to form deep bonds quicker than you normally would with a work colleague or new friend. This is particularly true with your specific work team (5-6 people) which you deliver each group project with in each of your courses. In addition to the deeper connections, this environment also allows for hard discussions and conflict to arise rapidly; the challenge is to work through and resolve these issues. Resolution is necessary not just because you have multiple deliverables to still get together to try to sweep issues under the rug, it is because these relationships are important for this year, after this year is over and for the rest of your life and career.

The MBA Programme Office Team do a tremendous job in providing tools to facilitate team work, better understanding yourself and others. We are learning more about ourselves through programmes which give information on: your personality, strengths, work outlook, communication style, coaching and opportunity for reflection. We are also learning more about how to work in a team: team dynamics, personal and work sharing opportunities and dedicated time devoted to team development.

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Yesterday, my group was submitting a second strategy paper (hard to believe we have already delivered two assignments!) and reflecting on how much we have learned in this short time from our first paper to our second paper. One of the best experiences so far is the opportunity to work with a great group of people, learn from each other, challenge each other and ultimately grow together and separately. I am happy to say my main focus is no longer on the grades but on the learning and developing I’m getting as I go through this programme, which I’ll take with me long after this year is over.

Carley Wasechek ~ Full-Time MBA