Working In Groups — The Quintessential Pearl Experience of the EMBA

LindsayOysters are gushy and honestly a little scary. Their insides quiver, and the promise of finding a pearl—a long shot.

And so the saying “the world is your oyster,” has always been, quite frankly, irritating to me. I mean on the off-chance you find a pearl, you then have to go find another one. One pearl earring never did anyone any good.

But somehow at Wharton SF,  I have had such good fortune, enough to make pearl necklaces for all twenty-seven women in the class. And the genesis of this luck? Working in groups.

Groups. Group projects. Freddy Krueger. Nightmarish memories of sleepless nights spent shouldering the work of an elusive team. We all know that feeling. Not me. Not at Wharton SF.

In my last posting, I mentioned my study team that school administrators matched me with almost a year ago when I first started the program.  To look at us on the first day, there was nothing out of the ordinary: an accountant, a consultant, two engineers, and two “others:” an educator and a journalist. Big whoop.

It was like the start to a sketch that writers at Saturday Night Live started to compose, but then balled up and threw on the floor, opting instead to revisit the Church Lady. I mean who doesn’t love Dana Carvey.

All teams at Wharton SF have names. Mine: “The Coco Palmers.” Name to be explained to readers who pay us a visit on campus.

The Coco Palmers have the kind of kismat that Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan only know, combined with a man running down the beach to Chariots of Fire. But shake your images of an embrace atop the Space Needle in Seattle or an inspirational race captured in slo-mo.  Replace it with laughing in a very small study team room. Add a strong foundation of hard work, and pillars representing a combination of skills, that well, creates mad productivity and love.

It’s the kind of admiration that grows over time. It’s the kind of team work that sparkles during the easy times but more so, during the tough ones. We’ve won competitions together. Got our butts kicked a little. Either way it has been fun and we have all gotten smarter and become more nimble thinkers. A group is a group, but a team, well, that’s what we are. And it’s those real life tests make the best teams stronger. The Coco Palmers learned that last week.

But getting gushy really isn’t the point of all of this. I mean anyone who wants to get their MBA has been in a group at work.  And if you are a smart person who wants to go to Wharton, well, you think: Groups. Why Bother? I’ll just do all of the work. Nobody can get the task done like I can.

Not so at Wharton you silly, silly know- it- all. And for the most part, all of us are know-it-alls. Just come to one of our lectures. Brilliant professors are grilled press-conference style. Hats off to our faculty who are so incredible—they actually know it all and can adeptly subdue the crowd.

But there is a larger, aggressive and intellectual curious team here. It’s ninety-nine strong almost one year into the program.

It’s an ecosystem of smart that is intoxicating. We are the bomb and the rhythm of excitement is palpable.  It’s like being at club, hearing your favorite song and having that distinct feeling that you are

That excitement is not generated by a great music producer –though, we have one in our class. No it’s created by ideas, possibility and the feeling that you can take what you know, learn more and apply it. You can stay great. You can take everything and start over.

I walk outside my study team room and am embraced by the team work everywhere. One student from Cirque de Soleil teaches engineers how to have stage presence. An investment banker turned real estate guru, let me call him repeatedly, during his workday and late at night to ask questions about how I can make my finance case better. My marketing professor is meeting with me next week to talk about a product I’m launching. I sat last night in the office of a Wharton Grad from ’06, brainstorming new ventures.

I have to pinch myself. I’m a journalist. A cynic. But what takes altruism and makes it tangible is that you can take this teamwork back into the real world.

And nothing is more tangible than a door. Last weekend the Coco Palmers closed the door and offered our teammate who told us he’s taking a leave of absence from Wharton to bring his non-profit to greater heights—all the help in the world.

All of us are crazy busy. We’ve got an engineer that travels for a consulting gig while building his  start-up. A consultant who never leaves work before 10 pm. An accountant who faces a mountain of new work as her company reorganizes. Another engineer at a demanding Fortune 500 company with countless direct reports. It’s scary when a TV producer might be the least busy.

So we told our educator no. We’d write the papers, put the models together. He could focus on work and we’d carry him.

But he said no too. That he’d be back later. He’s got seven years to finish this degree.

After he’d left, The Coco Palmers decided that we’d make sure he graduated. We are one heck of a team: The kind that doesn’t forget and has a meaninful commitment to our group and individual success, no matter the timeline.

Forget the pearls. This kind of experience is a gem.

Lindsay Stewart is an MBA for Executives student at Wharton | San Francisco and a special projects producer for KPIX- TV. She graduated from UC-Berkeley with a BA in English in 2002 and has worked in the TV business ever since. Her previous posts on P&QforExecs:

A Third Of The Way Into Wharton’s San Francisco EMBA Program

Why I’m Getting An Executive MBA At Wharton

An Apt Metaphor: Letting The Goat Into Your House


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