And so we’ve all arrived back safe and sound from our international study trip. About thirty five members of the full-time class went to Brazil with the balance opting for China.
The trip turned out to be a fabulous experience. We learned a lot about the Brazilian economy and society. Of course, there was an onus on the travelling group to take a holistic approach to sampling Brazilian culture. This sampling of the culture ranged from sipping caipirinhas on Ipanema to some of the group attending a local football game. These extra-curricular activities could be viewed as burning the candle at both ends but we would like to look on it as making the most of the trip.
The other group seemed to have just as interesting a time although based upon the photographs of their trip we seemed to get the better weather – hats and coats for them, shorts and flip-flops for us!! One of the more unexpected benefits of the trip has been the manner in which it allowed us to get to know each other even better. This is especially true for those of the people who were not part of the same study group up until now.
What I would like to understand is how the students of MBA programmes with classes of more than 250 manage to get to know each other. With that many in a class, it must be difficult to get to know everyone’s name! Within Smurfit, the class is less than fifty so everyone knows each other a lot better. This makes for a great atmosphere and a more rounded experience.
It’s the Friday of the fifth week of term 3 and as I wind up catching some sleep, the thoughts of the months gone by flash through my head. From my first day at Smurfit until today, there is a significant difference at the way I look at a situation in work scenario. Earlier, it was just limited to my team, my project and to my personal excellence. MBA has helped me develop a holistic view of the business arena. The curriculum design at Smurfit helped us in slowly but steadily developing this view.
The first term was focussed on building the foundation. It focussed on understanding the firm, introduction to general management, Financial Reporting and Operations. All this was very beneficial in bringing everyone from diverse backgrounds, to the same page. As mentioned in my previous blogs, the range of experience in the class is very impressive and term 1 gave us a chance to get familiar with it. Being the first term on the course, it all seemed like a mad rush and I was left wondering will I ever get to know people around! But the group assignments, class discussions and get-togethers all helped in binding us all together.
Then came term 2! I thought I was better prepared to handle this term, with my experience of term 1 to support me, but I was wrong. This term had a different approach. It focussed on looking into the market. Modules like business economics, marketing, financial markets and valuations broadened our perspective to look at the industry and how the firm fits in the industry. Not to mention the unending submissions and presentations!
After the speedy semester 1 (though I think the entire MBA course is pretty fast paced!), came the welcome winter break. Having known each other very well, spending time together was always much fun. The day exams ended, we all went out to celebrate. We exchanged Christmas presents, courtesy the Secret Santa game! It was a much needed break and we all made the most of the opportunity.
Semester 2 began in January and this time the focus of the modules was on building strategies. We also had a range of options to choose from, depending on our personal areas of interest. Corporate Finance, Negotiation Dynamics, Global Strategic Management, Strategy for Human Resources, all these modules take us a step further. We are not only learning the strategies but now are expected to apply them to situations.
Later in the course we shall be a part of a company project which will test our acquired skills in the real world scenario. I am hoping that will be a very enriching experience, especially for people wanting to switch industries. This is the last week of formal lectures for Semester 2 before we face the exams! The thought of the upcoming study trip to Brazil keeps coming to my head but I know I need to focus on studies for the next 2 weeks! And the Leitrim weekend trip after the spring break. Ok, I better focus! ;)
In our second term on the MBA, we had a Leadership class. This class concentrates on what makes a good leader. We learned about the different aspects of leadership and also thought about what would happen if some of those elements were missing, i.e. what would that do for the leader’s influence over people?
It was a very discursive class, and everyone had a point of view based on previous experience with bosses or with managing and leading people. Hearing all of the different points of view was a learning experience in itself.
One day, however, we arrived in and our lecturer, Ian Walsh, had set up about 25 sheets of A4 paper on the ground in the shape of a cross. He then asked us to volunteer for an experiment. Half the class could take part and the other half could remain sitting and take notes.
Not one to pass up the opportunity to escape note taking, I made my way towards the centre of the room. We were told to stand on a piece of paper, creating a cross out of four lines of six people, all facing the centre (empty) square.
The objective was to switch places with the opposing team, but only by following certain rules. These rules stated that one could only move past a person whom they are facing, and then only if there is a free square behind that other person. They are similar to the rules involved in the marble game of solitaire, but without removing “taken” pieces from the board.
Ian then told us that we had only 15 minutes to get the job done and we were then left to our own devices. The first thing that happened was that people started trying stuff out, as a 24-person group. This, rather quickly, descended into chaos because nothing that was tried was working. Splinter groups formed and began trying to solve the problem.
Off to one side, I decided to have a go at solving the problem, or at least working out an algorithm that I thought would work. I worked one out and then decided to run it past Donal, one of the other engineers in the class. He said that he’d come up with the same idea, so I was very sure of the solution after that. I managed to get my own team to line back up, along with the opposing team. I then proceeded to run the solution.
As it started to work, the din began to settle down and people got back into their positions when they realised what was going on. As the solution unfolded, the engineering/problem solving side of me began to feel elated. After I had swapped my team with the opposing team, I got to work on the two remaining teams. There were calls to stand on the desk, so I did, getting a better overview of the situation.
hile it felt very weird at first, standing on a desk giving people instructions, it started to feel a lot more natural when I realised that my classmates were trusting me to act in their interests. Organising the two groups felt great from a problem-solving perspective as well as a leadership one.
When I had finished, Ian asked me to do it again, but this time without saying any words. It was very surreal, but I managed to do it all again by pointing and gesturing at my classmates. It really boosted my own confidence to be leading people and bringing them with me towards an end goal.
The exercise really drove home the camaraderie and team-oriented nature of our class. There were no squabbling egos or attempts to wrest power. It was a clear situation of “working for the good of the team” when a trusted colleague has shown the way.
Unfortunately, we took 17 minutes to complete the task, which goes to show why some wiggle room should always be built into the critical path of any project.
Our second semester for the Year 1 EMBA, kicked off on Friday 14th January with a half day session on Strength Deployment Inventory (SDI) facilitated by Barry Delaney of PWC. To prepare, we had all been asked to fill in a detailed questionnaire which probed our motivations in different scenarios especially when under pressure. Understanding your motivation and that of others is a key skill in team working. Modifying your behaviour to achieve a successful outcome especially in situations of conflict is a sign of an effective team.
The session gave us direct feedback about ourselves and an opportunity to reflect on this. I had the benefit of working with SDI 18 months previously, so I was up to speed with the main concepts and I was particularly interested in seeing if my own motivations have changed. Of course they haven’t!
The objective of the session was to think about our Semester 1 Study Teams in these terms and to apply the lessons learned to the formation of our Semester 2 Study Teams which was done through a series of exercises. There were a few funny moments when the “assertive-directives” disagreed with the “altruistic-nurturing” group over some ethical points but at least they listened.
There is no doubt that the most important unit in the MBA is your work group or Study Team. I already valued SDI as a useful tool and this enjoyable and well run session has reinforced it. What I have taken away is some specific and practical help to work with my group members in such a way that we get the best out of each other. As we roll into the long semester ahead we will certainly by relying on each other!
I was very nervous as I walked into the main hall of the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School. There was a group of standing around near the door, chatting. It didn’t look like a close-knit group, so I walked towards them. One was talking about the life he’d just left in Bermuda.
“Aw, it was paradise”
“Heh, no. It’s about a mile wide and very violent.”
The group turned out to be a mix of Full-Time and Executive MBAs, all male. There was even a comment of “sausage-fest” just before the first female student arrived which put us out of our misery.
Given Ireland’s small size, the odds were in favour that I’d know at least one person on the MBA. Sure enough, in walked Ruairí, a classmate of mine from Oatlands College, where I had attended secondary school. We’d gotten along well in school and we had a lot to catch up on. But, while it felt good to see a familiar face amongst 40 or so strangers, it was not necessary. The dynamics of the class are such that close bonds formed very quickly. Within the first week, friendships had formed, and everyone was doing their best to help others with accommodation information, travel, or simply advice on where to get a good pint of Guinness.
All in all, I would have to say that these are some of the nicest people that I have ever met. I immediately felt comfortable and at ease with them, and I’ve made both new friends and great contacts for the future. The sheer wealth of knowledge held by my classmates is mind-boggling, and it’s always a pleasure to tap it. There’s a real feeling of camaraderie and of being a team. We help each other out with projects and study, running tutorials or bouncing ideas off one another.
And a team is what you need on this course. There is a lot of learning in a short space of time. It’s doable but intense. It is also highly interesting and at least one lecturer had to curtail our numerous questions about the economy in order to cover the actual course material. The lecturers themselves are experts in their field, and not only academic but also practical having worked in the real world thus gaining credibility with a class of students that has many years of experience.
To summarise, doing this MBA is turning out to be the best decision that I could have made. I wouldn’t change that for the world.