In December 2017, we represented the University of Sydney Business School in the AGSM case competition. We were up against 11 international teams representing MBA schools from Australia, Mumbai, Singapore, Beijing, Hong Kong, New Zealand, and Seoul.
We competed as a team under intense time pressure and a competitive league table in four case rounds. We had 150 minutes to analyse a business case, create a strategy with implementation and costings, build a slide deck, and deliver an eight minute presentation to an industry expert panel. Even though the conditions were designed to build stress we had a huge amount of fun. We were very successful as a team despite the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) nature of the competition.
After the dust settled we decided as a coaching exercise to reflect on our experience. We have sought to capture and distil our collective thoughts on those key factors we found shaped the outcome due to their influence on boundaries, time and process.
Our team hadn’t worked together before as we joined the MBA in different cohorts. Yet, very quickly we coalesced as a team. We attribute strong team culture partly to shared values that comes with the intentional cohort mix and diversity across age, gender, and experience, that underpins the University of Sydney MBA. We were willing to be ourselves, to laugh a lot, and be grateful for the experience, no matter what stress we were facing.
Sure, the team wanted to win, but we knew this was not our first motivation. Instead, the team agreed we were there to learn and winning was a bonus. This growth mindset alleviated our fear of failure and allowed us to make monumental improvements with each case-study. When we did stumble along the way, our desire to keep learning and growing kept us grounded and focussed, and enabled us to bounce right back from any challenges.
The impact of our intention became apparent after we acted on feedback from one of the judges to use more in-depth data to support our arguments. For the next round Tony made it his personal mission to compile and deliver powerful data as a part of our presentation, which ultimately allowed us to take our presentation to the next level.
In this particular instance, Tony’s willingness to learn and his eagerness to act on the feedback, took our team to the finals.
Actively listening to and genuinely acting on feedback enabled relationship building. A willingness to adapt, gave the team the ability to play to identified and uncovered strengths of individuals team members that we will remember in our professional lives.
Liana proved to be our most engaging and compelling presenter, so we had her kick-off our later presentations. We discovered Tony’s active listening skills made him highly effective at clarifying post presentation questions for the team. Matt proved adept at tying the team’s case arguments together. James provided different frameworks to help clarify the team’s thinking.
Our foundation of mutual respect combined with no egos meant the best idea won. This was valuable because we quickly recognised when to cut-and-run from a dead-end.
Without being able to observe the presentations of other teams, it was difficult for us to gauge how we were performing in comparison.
During case preparation time our coach James wasn’t allowed to be present. Our assumption in each round was that there was always something for us to improve upon, which meant we were continually taking on feedback from all sources: the judges post presentation, our coach in-between rounds, and each other throughout the competition. Seeing the immediate and positive impact of this feedback increased our confidence in what we were able to achieve as a team with such intense time pressure.
In summary, a heightened awareness of what was going on around us throughout the case competition meant we were more attuned to noticing what was happening ‘inside, outside and over time’. We reconfigured our line-up, re-assigned responsibilities, anticipated changes in the competitive landscape, adapted to changes in presentation environment, and refined our performance through feedback and coaching.
We didn’t win. We came second and were the top ranked Australian university. We learned and we had a lot of laughs.