One of the most generous gifts you can give yourself in a lifetime is a good friend. And one of the most generous gifts an MBA experience can give you is a great learning team.
For the last six months, my learning team has prepared readings and cases together to get ready for classes. We collectively finished and submitted graded assignments for classes in Finance, Accounting, Communications and Ethics. We prepared for exams together. In the tempest that is the MBA program, my learning teammates have often been my lifeboats when I was floundering in uncharted waters.
Darden seems to have some secret sauce that it uses to combine the learning teams. I can see that the other learning teams in my cohort are substantial collections of talent too. Each of these other learning teams is a diverse microcosm of ability, experience and education.
Officially, my learning team was christened “LT 4”. But we have forged our own identity. Ashu, Chris, Hunter, Kristen, Peter and Vardhan are the “Forces of Nature”. The symbol we gave ourselves is a volcano in full eruption. Our motto is “Changing the world”. Yes, it’s bold, audacious even.
Collectively, my learning team is a brain trust. Our backgrounds are in finance, medicine, law, IT and engineering. When you consider that every one on my learning team already has an advanced certificate or degree, you will start to appreciate the sheer mental talent of my teammates.
Yet, each member of the Forces of Nature brings a wonderful personality to the team. Kristen is our organizer; she is both our number one quant and our beloved social butterfly. Ashu is quick-witted, super energetic and full of solutions for solving the most complex of problems. Hunter is the seasoned, witty manager, who calmly solves complex management problems. As a surgeon, Chris is always studying 3 chapters ahead, so she is totally calm when the next topic brings the rest of us a learning calamity. Vardhan, with his PhD, methodically analyzes each problem, often extracting a “eureka” insight that wows us all.
With this mélange of talent, I found the learning team to be an environment where “real world” learning happens for me. In the core courses that we are taking now, we are able to draw on everyone’s experiences to enrich our discussions on the materials we are studying. For example, several of our cases involved medical businesses, and our doctor gave our team particular insight into some of the issues in that field we would not otherwise have known. At other times, we studied international businesses, and the members of our team who we born outside of the US were able to help us see the problems from a new vantage point.
As we have worked together, it has become apparent that we often have vastly different ways of seeing a problem and defining the steps that need to be taken to resolve it. Yet, when each person has applied their unique insights to the problem, it still amazes me that we can still come to a solution that works remarkably well. A solution I would not have thought of without my learning team.
As I write this, a crossroads is at hand. As a learning team, we are almost at the end of our formal journey. The Darden learning team secret sauce is about to be re-tossed. We will all get new learning teams later this month, after a week-long Leadership Residency while On Grounds at Darden. We are all naturally tentative about what each of our future learning teams will be like. Yet, seeing how well my current team managed to work together and to learn so much from each other, I feel fairly confident that my next learning team will be an energizing, powerful experience that will likewise propel me to better, real-life learning.
As I close this post, I prepare to bid farewell to my current learning team. As is their nature, their parting gifts were the invaluable comments and contributions to this post. Six months ago, these people were relative strangers to me. Today I know that we six Forces of Nature have formed a close bond, a network-within-a-network, a friendship-for-life even.
Peter Vanderloo is an in-house lawyer at a well-known tech company in the first year of the Executive MBA program at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. His previous posts at Poets&Quants for Execs: