Michigan Ross MBAs Share the Insights They Learned About Teamwork on Day 2 of Business School
By The 2019 Business + Impact Challenge Winning Team
Just one day after arriving on campus, the most diverse class of Michigan Ross Full-Time MBA students ever were faced with an ambitious business challenge presented by Amazon and the Sanger Leadership Center. This year’s Business + Impact Challenge asked students to develop innovative ways Amazon could use its resources to create ethical and profitable impact for those living on less than $2 a day in India.
Students came up with 20 wide-ranging ideas, which were narrowed down to just five for a final-round pitch competition featuring judges from Amazon and Michigan Ross faculty members.
An important function of the Business + Impact Challenge is not just to find a winning idea, but also to expose MBAs to important lessons about their leadership skills and team dynamics. We checked in with a few members from the winning team, Section Five, to learn how they set their team up for success from the start.
How did your team organize initially to work together?
Varitant Goyal: The first couple of things we discussed were our past professional experiences and team dynamics according to the Michigan Model of Leadership. This, added with our individual interests, helped us divide work and move forward with generating ideas and brainstorming.
After the brainstorming, we split up into sub-teams, and a couple of us acted as project managers to help bring everyone together at regular intervals. The ownership shown by each team member and the regular intra-team discussion and feedback sessions helped us deliver the perfect solution in time.
Tell us about how it was to work with Amazon. What did you learn about working alongside their company or what was a good takeaway from your mentor?
Jane: The biggest takeaway from working with Amazon is their emphasis on the customer. I think ultimately our team won not because we had the most original idea, but because we were able to simplify the concept. We sometimes got carried away with thinking of grand ideas or getting too into the details, but our mentor’s encouragement to put the customer at the center helped focus our business model and directly explain to the judges how our idea was viable, profitable, and impactful.
Can you tell us about one of the best moments your team had together?
Ash Easwar: Our team could feel the tension in the air as soon as the challenge started. After splitting into groups, we began working together and quickly realized that even though this was a stressful activity, collaborating felt so natural. I believe our best moment happened at the end of the first night when we debriefed, looked around the room, and saw each other as equal contributors, but more importantly, teammates.
What did you find most challenging during this experience?
Jane Xie: We had all just met each other, and within a few hours had to determine the best ways for us to work together and how to get all 20 people to contribute. That was a challenge, but our team was able to work through it by not only figuring out peoples’ strengths, but also picking our battles and knowing when to compromise.
What is one surprising insight you learned about yourself during the challenge?
Heidi Graves: At the start, I questioned how I would contribute to the team when I did not come from a formal business background. Since our strategy centered on addressing issues for Base of the Pyramid farmers, I was able to contribute my unique lens working in international agricultural development to help shape our approach. I learned through this experience that all of my teammates, myself included, all bring a new perspective and toolkit of skills to the table.
What did you learn about your fellow classmates after participating in the challenge?
Vari: I learned that my fellow classmates were leaders in their field of work and carried an innate ability to quickly understand business and social problems and devise solutions for them.
This was the first time I worked in a team with wide diversity across nationalities, gender, language, and professional experience; and they are some of the most collaborative and friendly people I have ever met. Everyone was ready to share with and learn from one another.
Moving forward into your MBA, what leadership skill areas will you continue to work on and how?
Nidhi Gupta: I would focus on building my collaborative skills. In order to achieve that, I will start being more conscious about my other team members’ energy levels and will touch base with them at regular intervals to understand how they feel about the process. In addition to this, I will be cognizant of the participation of my team members and invite participation from the relatively quieter people of the group (without making them feel on the spot) during larger group discussions.
As you know, Business + Impact is an integral part of Ross. We seek to build a better world through business. In which ways do you plan to create impact while at Ross, in your current role, and beyond?
Jane: One of the main takeaways from this challenge is that there doesn’t have to be a trade-off between impact and profit. At Ross, I want to continue learning about and advocating for the triple-bottom-line so that we can all drive positive impact, regardless of our various career paths. For my own career, I hope to work in the food industry and encourage the company I work for to lead the industry in tackling issues like food justice and sustainability, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it makes business sense.