# For These Jittery MBA Applicants, It’s The Ultimate Game Of Thrones

MBA students in an IMD classroom

APPLICANTS ARE BLINDLY REACHING TO TOUCH THE PLASTIC PIECES IN FRONT OF THEM

The second the challenge begins, the candidates are blindly reaching in front of them to find the plastic pieces, fingering them to determine their shape and calling out to each other on what they think theyāve discovered. Not everyone has the same number of shapes, and some are extremely hard to identify. The German consultant thinks they are puzzle pieces. They are not. Thereās some initial chaos in the room until the American begins to take some leadership over the challenge.

āDoes anyone have two shapes that are the same?,ā he asks the group. āI just discovered that three of my pieces are the same and have three different shapes among my five pieces.ā

The rest of the participants answer his question, one by one.

āDoes anyone have a crescent moon shape?ā he asks.

Thereās some confusion over the shape, but the team appears to be working well together, with the American and Turkish woman emerging as leaders. By the time the game is up, the group gets only one of the missing shapes and none of the colors.

Jennifer Bachelard, IMD’s admissions staffer for the Americas, walks to the whiteboard and scribbles three words: Team, Strategy, and Result.

Each applicant is given a trio of Post-It notes and 20 seconds to grade how they think the group did on each of the gameās outcomes. Ten would be the highest score with zero the lowest. When the grades are posted, they are all over the map.

Assessing their teamwork, the grades range from a low of six to a high of ten. For strategy, they range from a four to an eight. The lowest grades came in for result, ranging from a low of three to seven.

Farrus explores the differences among them, asking why the Dane gave the highest seven score for result when the group only got one of four right. āWe had never met each other before and I think we worked well as a team,ā he says. āI think one out of four is pretty good, given the circumstances.ā

The American explains his strategy, to count how many pieces each person had and what shapes they were but concedes that no one was assigned to keep tabs on the total and no one could remember what each other had said. Besides, he added, there was no common vocabulary to describe the pieces which made it more difficult to identify the missing parts. The group is told that it took them 11 minutes before anyone asked an admissions person to identify a color.

‘THE COMMUNICATION WAS CHAOTIC’

āThe communication was chaotic,ā says the German consultant who said that people were talking over each other and that he had a difficult time following the discussion.

The big takeaway? Someone should have immediately emerged as the leader and put some structure into the exercise to allow each player to understand his or her role in the game.

Asked how the group could have done that, the New Yorker says he would have asked if anyone was confident to be the leader. If not, he would have then volunteered to assume that role.

The takeaway for the school officials, however, was deeper. They observed who attempted to take a leadership role and didnāt, who became less engaged by the exercise and gave up, and who made the most valuable contributions overallājudgments that none of the candidates were willing to make.

After a presentation on career development by Natalia Milani, career services direction, Dean Meehan then walks back into the room for a final debrief.

‘IT’S ALL ABOUT A GREAT FIT’

āI hope you had a great day,ā he says to the group, relieved it was over. āAs I said before, itās all about a great fit.ā

He takes two questions, one from the Dane who asks if there will be any major changes to the MBA program over the next year (there wonāt be) and the American who wants to know what an admitted student can do before coming to campus to set him or herself up for success.

Meehan explains that each admit will receive a package of materials by mid-October for their January start. Only one assignment is requiredāa personal identity statementāand all the rest are optional but highly advised. āYou will have to learn two languages: accounting and finance. You need to get to a level where you understand those languages. So the thing to get your head around is the quant material.ā

‘YOU DEVELOP WHEN YOU STRETCH’

āLeadership development has to be experienced, and you develop when you stretch. The situations you are in have to with your chemistry with other people. Itās a simulation. People are often entrenched, not so open, and hard to change. You have to deal with different levels of experience, culture and sophistication. I donāt think you can prepare for that. The learning takes place by being conscious of what is going on around here. Have a great time before you come because we expect you to work hard when you are here.ā

āThe world is changing beyond recognition. Our agenda has always been to focus on leadership. And in ten years time, people will depend on you. You will make significant decisions for your company and your people. That is the moment youāll be tested with no safety net. Up until then, I feel youāre preparing.Ā  We have to think about what we can do in a one year program to prepare you for that moment in time.ā

If you want to be the king or queen of finance, I can think of three other schools that would be better for you. If you want to be a consultant, I can think of one other European school you should go to. But if you want to become a leader of consequence, thatās what we are here to do.ā

While the testing day has ended for the applicants, it is certain that the day will linger for a long time.

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