Sunday, December 11, 2011


I wrapped up my last case competition for the year yesterday and got a pretty respectable, albeit unfulfilling, finalist placement. The case was fun, the time period (it was an overnighter)was OK, but the thing that got me to pause and reflect was on my team.

In everything I do at school, I try very hard to build a team of people whom I haven't worked with before. I know a lot of people will only work with their friends. Others will only work with people of the how to put this gently... nationality or racial background. I actually prefer not to work with some of my friends - one fellow used to state that he did all the work for a previous group, which for some people might have been cool but I want to learn; another has proven himself to be more flaky when it comes to group work as he's putting all his attention on recruiting. Not only does it get me out of my comfort zone every once in a while, but it helps me identify the people that I do very well with and the people I don't.

I found one of those people that I don't.

I've been pondering on this for a little while now. In our first Organizational Behavior class, we were told about the benefits of putting a very diverse group of people together, but there had to be some attributes that were constant*. In addition, having a "devil's advocate" in a group allows for a much better analysis and workproduct. I usually take up the role of devil's advocate; it's somewhat in my nature. I try to temper it by being equally judicious in my praise of my teammates.

However, it was my constant challenging of this particular teammate's (let's call this person Alpha) work that caused tension. Alpha clearly was not used to working in a collaborative environment that myself and another teammate was pushing for, and therefore ventured out on his/her own and produced slides in the deck that (to me) made no sense and was somewhat different and contrary to what we were trying to say as a team.So I did challenge when we finally reviewed the slides after submission and asked for an explanation, and got curt, angry responses back - like Alpha was getting defensive that I would be criticising his/her slides.

I'm not saying there was anything wrong with what happened; it was just poignant that such a disparity existed between the individualist nature of this particular teammate and the general desires of two others (I wasn't sure about the third) to work collectively.

It was even more ironic that it was an Organizational Behavior case competition.

Even more interesting was the downside. Because I felt that my contributions were being immediately dismissed and that Alpha had tried to dominate the entire deck, I didn't feel as attached to the presentation as I would normally. It wasn't mine, per se.  So I didn't take any ownership of it. What was more incredible: I get extremely nervous when I get up to speak in situations where the outcome of my speech is very important to me - such as the GBA election speech, presentations in class where I really want to do well in, case competitions that mean a lot to me. But I wasn't nervous at all. No jitters, no shakes, nothing. Even though the prizes were very nice - cash for 1st,2nd, and 3rd - I wasn't caring about winning.

I came out with some lessons then. Firstly, it's probably a good idea to not agree to teammates based upon case competition reputation. Secondly, it's probably OK to work with people one has worked with in the past. Thirdly, there will most likely be frequent situations like the one above, especially in consulting where a lot of very high achievers bring along their arrogance way of doing things. There was once a time where I could use my stubbornness to fight back but that got beaten out of me :)

At the very least, I have an interesting STAR story to develop for behavioral interviews.

For the case comp count, btw:
1. Amazon case comp: nada
2 Yahoo Hack Pitch: win
3 ATKearney case comp: finalist
4 Deloitte case comp: nada (but this was expected; we had two newbies on the team)
5. OLB/CBI case comp: finalist.

* I disagree in some manner to how the classification of people were. I was flagged as being quite low on the extroversion scale. Not surprising. However, the literature suggested that people low on this score would not display the leadership qualities needed to direct a team. I have always found that I will step up to lead, or at least, direct the team in work performances. It's actually quite difficult for me to sit back and allow someone else to take charge, especially if I have no confidence in this person's ability to do the task.

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