It’s graduation season once again. Almost everyone has either sat in a graduation audience or has earned the privilege to be a graduate of some institution somewhere be it high school or college, frequently both. Every ceremony has the requisite program that everyone picks up, so they have something to read while waiting, containing the names of those who will receive honorary degrees, what students will be giving speeches and which students have earned honors.
Imagine my surprise when after completing my MBA in Entrepreneurship at Babson College I found out that I graduated cum laude by way of a ho-hum announcement to go pick up my honors tassel. And while the individual recognition was nice I couldn’t help but think about all the teams I worked on over the course of my two years in the program who made those honors possible.
The Babson MBA program, much like the business world in general, requires teamwork in order to succeed. And like the workplace in general, you don’t get to choose your teammates most of the time. A little background on the program I completed might be helpful. Because of travel requirements for work I had postponed starting my MBA for several years before I discovered Babson’s Fast Track program. It’s a 24-month blended learning program combining two days (Fridays and Saturdays) of on-campus classes about every six weeks with online assignments, discussion boards and online classes the rest of the time. In addition the program kicks off with a residency week on campus so you get to know your classmates with classes all day and most nights. On average students spend about 20-25 hours a week studying in order to be succesful the program. Of course averages vary – some weeks I was able to get everything done in 10 hours and other weeks 40 hours just weren’t enough.
Unlike full-time students, most Fast Track students balance a full work schedule of 50+ hour weeks and try to have some semblance a personal life all while completing an MBA in roughly the same period of time as most full-time programs. I was no different than most of my classmates even with my travel schedule for work which kept me on the road about 100 nights a year and becoming a father six months into the program. (Out of our cohort of 88 people – over 25 people became parents during the program). Needless to say coffee became my constant companion in an effort to overcome lack of sleep and my flights were spent reading cases and textbooks not catching up on the latest movies.
For the first 16 months of the program you are on assigned teams put together by the Babson administrators. Each team has five or six students striving for a mix of experience and backgrounds. While each of us individually had different goals for our time at Babson successful teams quickly learned how to work together effectively because the alternative was just plain painful. But just as important was learning the importance of the concept of “The Good Enough versus The Perfect”.
Of course everything we submitted could have been better, given more time and resources, but our efforts must have been good enough as evidenced by our results. For example out of the six people on my second team two of us earned cum laude, two of us earned magna cum laude and one teammate earned summa cum laude. Not a bad group of guys to be working with most days.
Of course balancing family life, work life and school life meant striving for the perfect but accepting that sometimes good enough was all you could do because the choice was either read another book to your daughter or re-edit a paper for a 4th time. I usually chose to read the bedtime story to my daughter. Other times though you sacrificed family time and really went flat out trying to knock it out of the park and concentrating all non-work hours on school. I remember one marathon group meeting where three of us met in a conference room with teammates in India, the UK and NY all thanks to the magic of Skype and Go To Meeting. We actually worked through the night and into the next day but we nailed the assigned earning full marks.
Quite often I’d walk in the door, kiss my wife and daughter hello and spend a few minutes decompressing before putting my daughter to bed. After which I’d wolf down a dinner of some sort before retreating to my upstairs office for four or five hours to work away on yet another valuation assignment or doing a ratio analysis comparing companies. Or maybe I had a two-hour team meeting while we crafted a solution to an operations issue. Pretty standard stuff but it was almost always part of a team. Not that we didn’t have lots and lots of individual assignments due throughout the program, but it was the team assignments where I learned the most.
I learned all the lessons MBA programs are supposed to teach you. Depending on others, accepting that while you wouldn’t have done something that way - it still works, delegating tasks, assessing the strengths and weaknesses of your team in order to build upon those strengths and to address the weaknesses; not to mention all the usual accounting, marketing, operations, strategy, statistics and management.
Babson’s focus on entrepreneurship continues to pay dividends because we did some of everything while developing skills and uncovering talents that had lain fallow for most of our careers. Looking back I’ll treasure my friendships with teammates and fellow students far more than my cum laude honors but I have to admit it felt pretty good to be recognized for my efforts even if they were part of a team effort. -t