Baking to learn strategy
Blink and you’ll miss it. That’s Block One – finished! I am still asking myself: “Where did the time go?”. We all put in a lot of hard work studying, but it is not only about the academics, there have been many skills to learn along the way, and the Cass Full-time MBA has a few unexpected ways of teaching those skills to us …
1. The Great Cass MBA Bake Off
For our Strategy module, we step outside the classroom for a baking competition. Yes, you read that correctly. We have been given all the ingredients, now it’s up to us to put them together and make something from them.
This is the general idea at least. In practice, we are given too many of some ingredients, too few of others, and no recipe. We can seek advice from others, including a professional (though we would need to sacrifice some ingredients in exchange), and we can try to find additional ingredients and barter with the other teams.
An hour is a very long time to prepare a cake batter usually, but it feels much shorter when you do not know how to do it. So, this is where the skills come in, assessing what we need to do and how we can go about solving it.
- Various ingredients, including lots of raisins;
- Some vague memories of watching the Great British Bake Off – Cake Week;
- Even more vague memories of watching family members bake cakes;
- Seven people determined to bake the best cake Cass has ever seen.
I think it was the last asset that made the biggest difference. However, using all of these we worked out what type of cake we thought we could bake, what ingredients we didn’t need, what ingredients we did need and how to acquire the missing ingredients. There was just one thing missing – we weren’t 100% sure how much we needed of each ingredient, though we were sure it needed to be precise.
A key skill in teamwork is identifying expertise, and if you don’t have it within the team, seeking it out. We worked out the most valuable question we could ask, gathered up our spare ingredients to pay with, and spoke to the baking professional. Her guidance on quantities was the final piece of the puzzle. The team rallied together, furiously mixing ingredients, and writing out baking and decorating instructions.
I don’t know if Paul Hollywood would have given us a handshake, but happily our vision for a spiced fruit cake worked in the eyes of the judges.
2. Integration Week
We have been given all the ingredients, now it’s up to us to put them together and make something from them.
Hold on … I think I’ve heard that before … it sounds so familiar. And it is. Except that instead of flour, sugar and raisins, we had Strategy, Accounting and Organisational Behaviour. The team is given a consulting-style question on Monday and have to present the solution on Friday, using the knowledge learnt in the modules in Block One. So, by the time the details have all been confirmed, we have three and a half days to identify the problems (there is never just one!), come up with options, pick one option as the ideal solution, explain how to implement it and its effects, and present.
The techniques to successfully complete this challenge were not so different from the Great Cass MBA Bake Off. We had already picked our team coordinator (we choose a different team member for each project), and in the course of our research it quickly became clear which topic each team member would specialise in.
We came up with a plan, always making sure we were answering the key questions, challenging each other the whole time, so that when we presented, we could be confident and know that we could answer almost any question asked by our professors because we had asked it of ourselves.
After Integration Week we all need a bit of fresh air and activity, which was ideal as we were off to The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst for three days. We were put into new teams and given new challenges, focusing on teamwork and leadership.
Understanding where the skills of our team lie was crucial during every challenge. Some of the challenges were practical, hands-on challenges, so it was the team members with good hand-eye coordination and balance, or strength and speed, who led us successfully completing all the challenges. Some of the challenges were problem-solving, so our team members who could riddle out a puzzle led the way there.
But then of course there were the challenges that involved both the mental and the physical. On our last day we had a race, a bit like a mini-assault course. It poured with rain the whole time, but I have to say, the rain made it all the more enjoyable! The challenges round the course required us first to work out how to do it (cue puzzle team members) and then actually do it (cue hands-on team members).
One of the challenges was moving a ‘Tower of Hanoi’ – simply put, you have a tower of pots on top of each other, getting smaller as it goes up, and you need to move the tower from one spot to another. However, there are only three spots you can place a pot, you can only move one pot at a time, and a big pot cannot go on top of a small pot. A member of our team had seen this puzzle before, so with their guidance on what to move where and when, the other members formed a tag-team, sprinting in and out moving the pots one by one, so as soon as one person got back, the next person was off! The whole team pulling together.
I think the ‘Before and After’ photos for our time at Sandhurst speak for themselves. In the ‘After’ photo, we may be muddy, soaking and exhausted, but we are wearing smiles even bigger than the ones in the ‘Before’ photo. I expect this transformation will not be unique to Sandhurst during our MBA.
Full-time MBA (2019)