By Ashleigh Dueker and Anirban Gupta
Term two of the MBA program was about to begin, the New Year had been ushered in, and everyone was excited to be back at school. We kicked off the new term with a strategy module. The Lancaster MBA’s strategy teaching is rated as among the best in the world.
We were split into teams of five for the two-week long program, spread over 24 hours.
We kicked off with a one-hour lecture introducing us to the basic principles of strategic management. We learned about a wide range of tools and ideas that cut across many sectors, and we were then given a choice of case studies to apply them to. We then had to present and defend our assessments to a panel of three experienced professional strategists — our professors — as well as the rest of the class.
This general schedule was repeated for the next five days, with each day of lessons and assessments building on the previous. It was nearly as intense as Jack Bauer in the TV series 24.
The panel of professors turned the classroom into a boardroom, where each and every statement was questioned and challenged. The sessions were intense, but then again a company boardroom meeting is not for the faint-hearted, either.
Even the professors themselves had differences in opinion, which added to the challenging dynamic of the classroom — everyone saw things from a different perspective — which is probably one of the most valuable things we learned during this module.
Due to the vast wealth of experiences, backgrounds, cultures and personalities, no one person saw a problem in the same way. Our class was comprised of 22 different nationalities from every continent, leading regularly to diverse cultural and experiential approaches to the same situation, and different solutions; there was never a perfect answer.
Diversity in opinion ranged from initially selecting which company to analyse (those from Asia preferred large international Asian companies to study whereas students from the US and Mexico were unfamiliar with those companies and preferred western organisations) to determining the final strategy recommendation.
The final strategy decision was difficult for many groups because different strategies would work more successfully in certain countries than others (international media streaming companies succeed differently in the UK than they do in China, for example), so deciding on the top strategies for an international firm to implement was a lengthy process.
The work pressure, coupled with team members’ different perspectives, resulted in some intense discussions, resembling real-life consultancy projects. However, this taught us an important skill which no classroom lecture can — the art of actively listening to each member of the team to develop a shared vision, to move forward together.
This development was essential for the second week of the module. By now we were expected to develop and present our final strategic recommendation for our assigned companies. Due to the short timescales and large volume of work, teams were working around the clock in order to produce the most sound and reasoned analysis and recommendations. In these moments the textbooks proved to be just as useful as a pillow for a power nap.
Regardless of the quality of work presented, no team walked out of their presentation to the “board” unscathed. But that was the beauty of the entire course: to be challenged; to learn how to grow exponentially fast; to always challenge the status quo; to see different perspectives and options, and to reconcile these into the strongest few recommendations instead of many mediocre ones.
We learned from the individuals within our team and the critiques of our work, as well as from our peers and their presentations.
By the end, we were all exhausted but thrilled to have learned so much and to present the best quality work we were capable of.
The writers are studying for MBAs at Lancaster University Management School