How’s this for an outlandish scenario? Four MBAs who’ve never met in person walk into a virtual business contest … and walk out with $28,000 in decidedly non-virtual cash.
Today, VirBELA, announced the winners of its Global Business Simulation Competition. The victorious teammates: Ankita Solanki of the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad; Carine Toutet of INSEAD-Singapore; Laimona Staskus of London Business School; and Wang Lu of Waseda University.
The competition, which ended on Oct. 31, required eight multinational teams to manage their very own virtual automobile companies. The goals were pretty standard: ramp up sales, boost profitability, and maximize shareholder value over 16 to 20 quarters. Still, the setting was far from traditional—though VirBELA is betting that it’ll be the norm one day. The participants never interacted with each other outside of the competition’s virtual world; using customizable avatars, they communicated through a combination of text chatting, VoIP (i.e. talking over the Internet instead of over the phone), and visuals of company assets.
The challenge of virtual communication was compounded by cross-cultural differences. “It was an exciting process to first get to know people on your team just through voice, connect with everyone and understand them,” says Suket Murarka, an Indian student whose team finished second. “At first this was difficult, but as time progressed, it became natural to us. We all realized that one does not need to be physically present to collaborate across geographies.”
Fortunately for the participants, they received feedback throughout the competition. After each session, facilitators trained in organizational psychology debriefed the teams on collaboration, conflict resolution, and decision-making—crucial skills both online and offline.
As business schools have become more global, they have warmed up to virtual environments such as VirBELA’s, says Management Education for Tomorrow Fund Director Allen Brandt. The fund, a creation of the Graduate Management Admission Council, invests in philanthropic initiatives that advance business education. “VirBELA is ideal for providing a platform for experiential learning and collaboration around the world,” Brandt says. “It can bring together students and faculty from around the world for classes, virtual events, and groups.”
While the winners undoubtedly have a few things to say about the future of business school, right now, they have more pressing matters to consider: what to do with $7,000 each (after the exchange rate).