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Team building on the MBA battlefield

John Hollenbeck
Dr. John Hollenbeck

During the first seven weeks of the Full-Time MBA Program, Broad MBAs enlist in the Team Effectiveness Lab—a situation room of sorts—where teams take part in a series of war games exercises that examine psychological issues related to team-based decision making.

The Broad College is the only business school in the nation to use the Dynamic Distributed Decision-making (DDD) Simulation, originally developed for the Department of Naval Research. DDD simulates a military command and control context, where the decision makers operate various vehicles, such as helicopters, jets, tanks, and radar planes. The object of the task is to monitor restricted airspace and prevent enemy vehicles from entering forbidden locations by detecting, identifying, and attacking them if necessary.

“It’s like playing a video game,” says John Hollenbeck, Eli Broad professor of management and lab co-director. “But it’s closer to Battleship than Halo.”

Each team is given the same task, resources, and conditions during an exercise. All teams performing the simulations are videotaped and each member’s decisions and actions are captured for analysis purposes, showing who is communicating and being assertive. For perspective, each team may make up to 2,000 decisions during a simulation.

“There is an element of stress,” says Hollenbeck. “There’s a countdown clock. You’re being compared to your teammates. And since we record everything, there’s no way to blame others or put spin on your performance. You really have to confront things you normally wouldn’t.”

Following lab exercises, team members rank the performances of other members in their group on leadership and communication skills. After individuals review the anonymous feedback, they develop a plan to improve on their weaknesses.

“This is a real life test,” says Hollenbeck. “How your team sees you correlates to how employers and recruiters see you.”

A team’s perspective
Sally Sproat brings an unconventional perspective to her team as a career restarter who previously worked as an electrical engineer. As a member of a team with four men, Sproat says she valued her team’s feedback because people won’t always tell you what you need to improve about yourself.

Tim Kuennen says at first the lab is intimidating with complex instructions and different roles.

“Everyone communicates and thinks differently,” says Kuennen. “Success is built upon good communication. We tried to set goals and standards as a team before the lab began so we were on the same page and didn’t have too many surprises.”

Alex Vaughn says the lab compelled him to look inside himself as a person and a leader.

“I tend to lead discussions and make decisions really quickly, so I learned that I had to engage some of the more introverted members of my team and let them speak more,” says Vaughn.

Gaurav Badkar noticed differences in how the introverts and extroverts on his team communicated differently and that each member had to adjust to others’ communication style.

“The feedback from my team showed my strengths are in leadership and seeing the big picture,” says Badkar. “The way we approach work in India is different, but once I learned what my team expected from me, I feel like we were able to bridge the gap culturally.”

Chien Chang Wu says he realized during the lab exercises that expressing his ideas about the mission he was assigned helped the team complete its tasks.  In Taiwan, I tended to keep my opinions to myself, however, I learned that may in the end leave my team with insufficient information to make decisions.”

“Thanks to my teammates, they helped me understand my own strengths and weaknesses and have a more specific target to achieve.

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