Case study competitions, as they are conducted in UCD, are a unique experiment into the intellectual, emotional and interpersonal resilience of the MBA student. A written case study of roughly 20 pages (including exhibits) is provided to teams of four or five, which then have four hours to read, analyse and discuss content, and then draw conclusions and recommendations to be presented to a judging panel.
This is a pressure cooker environment, where learnings of team dynamics fly out the window, to be replaced by raised voices, hair pulling and frayed nerves.
The team to which I belong won the Full-Time MBA case study competition. Our next task was to compete against the winning teams from the Mid-Week and Weekend Executive MBA classes. This was an especially daunting prospect, as we had followed the success of Jim, Steve, Shaun and Peter at the Molson and Yale competitions.
By contrast, team FTMBA had two preparatory meetings in Lazy Days, a café over the road from Smurfit. Both of which descended into blind speculation on the type of case to come up, mystification of our opponents and making plans for the pub afterwards.
Despite all odds, our unpolished approach to the competition paid dividends. Team FTMBA emerged victorious: according to the judges, the strength of our argument and narrative compensated for a shaky structure.
Our success takes us to the MBAAI Case Study Competition, to be hosted in Smurfit on 21st June. This will pit us against successful teams from other MBA courses throughout Ireland. Our team will need more formal preparation to succeed here. Unfortunately for Lazy Days, our team preparatory meetings will need to be in the focussed environment of a syndicate room.
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.
In applying for the Full Time MBA at UCD I was informed that there would be a considerable amount of group work throughout the course. I was nonetheless unprepared for the extent to which individual success is dependent on group success. As groups, we sink or swim.
Add to this the fact that that the typical MBA student is seeking to enhance their leadership skills. How does a group function with 5 leaders? The term “herding cats” comes to mind.
I suspect that my group will be informally refining our team charter until its final days. There is a need for constant re-balancing of personal vs. group ambition, of time management and of the division of responsibilities.
Without such a dialogue, our chances of MBA survival and intact friendships match those of a snowball in hell.
There appears to be a slow realisation descending on my cohort of full-time MBA colleagues that we are at the start of a truly demanding year.
The foundation week was an enjoyable and exhausting “getting to know you” with our new colleagues and lecturers. The following week of lectures comprised mostly of introductory talks from lecturers on what was to come. Course outlines were presented with a dazzling array of group and individual assignments. So dazzling that it was easy to lose perspective. It was like an out-of-body experience.
And suddenly, at the start of week two, we were suddenly re-animated and putting out fires. Impending group assignment deadlines are being re-discovered and re-appraised (“Oh yeah, I forgot about that presentation”). Some are already regretting not getting small tasks out of the way when they could; or not having that first group meeting sooner. And the time management learning curve is steep (“why did we just use 6 hours preparing a 7 minute presentation for 5% of the overall grade!?).
All this said; behind the stress and the panic; there is a collective confidence that we will get through the coming year all-right. No student on this course has reached this point in their career without proving his or her mettle in the professional arena. It is a refreshing change from my undergrad days that no one wastes time by focussing on the scariness of the task at hand, but pulls up their sleeves and starts working.