For decades the world has instructed business schools to incorporate more business-like aspects to reflect the "real world," and the top MBA programs have responded. Student bodies are more diverse, with representation of the world's populations; the curricula contain cases and projects from real businesses; and students get experience in local communities. In short, MBA programs reflect business practices in their curricula, with improvements in education on ethics, soft skills, social responsibility, globalization, teamwork, and technology.
This has been a largely successful transformation. Business schools have made tremendous progress in enriching and making the learning experience more life-like. Perhaps the most important achievement of this enormous investment is the atmosphere of teamwork and cooperation that is often achieved on campus during those two intense years of learning together. That’s why, in the top full-time programs, you find innumerable clusters of talented, motivated young leaders from all parts of the world speaking a common language, learning best practices together, all steeped in sharing and teamwork. The truth is, most businesses would love to achieve this spirit of camaraderie in their leadership teams, yet they often fall short.
The main reason is that many businesses are struggling with the globalization of their workforce, which unfortunately often operates within the confines of various silos—cultural, functional and by fields. MBA programs, with the urging of businesses, have attacked these issues and have made some progress. Now it may be time for some businesses to study how these marvelous learning communities have been created in the top MBA programs.
The following are some modern MBA qualities that could be instructive for businesses:
1) The creation of truly diverse groups. Most business units are rather homogenous, when contrasted to MBA teams or classes. Global MBA schools relentlessly search the globe for diverse applicants, while many businesses are content to draw employees from a single country.
2) The nature of team assignments. Business projects assigned to individuals are often based on expertise and are long-term and functionally specific. Compare this with the forced diversification of backgrounds in school, where the academic projects tend to be short-term and ever changing.
3) The need for an intellectual guide. Perhaps the most important and unique characteristic of an MBA program team project is the presence of an expert guide in the form of a professor, who today is far more than a speaker on the fine points of theory. The professor helps the students navigate the learning process, which includes the principles of teamwork, understanding the setting and the constituents, and the very important modes of communication, taking into account the differences in background and culture. Having an experienced guide in the learning process, someone who is dedicated to making each learning episode meaningful in the development of the individual, may be a rare attribute in businesses.
After a long period in which the major MBA programs have incorporated so many valuable aspects of real business, it may be time for some businesses to look at how top business schools have succeeded fairly well in giving cross-cultural teams such high levels of learning, sharing and belonging.
[This article republished with permission from the author and the Tuck School of Business.]