The Career Teams Experiment – The Results Are In!!

“What should I do when I grow up?”
… Two Harvard MBA students took a question that has forever confounded humanity and designed an experiment…

Exactly a year ago, in an effort to escape the maddening lunch crowds at Spangler, we sought refuge at the Shad Caf‚. The immediate objective was to have veggie wraps and a conversation about what we wanted to do professionally. Little did we know that we would plant the seeds for an innovative initiative to help future Harvard MBAs gain clarity on one of the most confounding questions for humankind – “What should I do when I grow up??”

Over the next few months, we would pin the moniker of “Career Teams” on our zany idea. The basic premise was that most students pursue an MBA for two reasons: to round out their “tool kit” academically and to find a better job. The problem is that students often have trouble defining what “better” means. Deciding on a career path is probably the most important decision we will make during our HBS years, but triple-booked palm pilots and unrelenting case loads make it nearly impossible to dedicate the time and space adequate for true introspection. The job market, which was rapidly tanking last year, only exacerbated the problem and had many students feeling desperate to have any job, let alone a “better” one. Hence the idea of the Career Teams initiative. Why not adapt the study group model to provide a safe environment for the exploration of one’s professional objectives in a holistic and structured way? And just as study groups help students tackle the academic side of our transformational experience, career groups would address the professional questions that consume us.

Somehow, perhaps after spiking their coffee with some of our Kool-Aid, we convinced Timothy Butler (Director of Career Development Programs) and Stacey Kessel (Associate Director of Career Development and Marketing) to let us run our experiment, with a fresh crop of first-years as our guinea pigs…

After training 19 second-year facilitators, a structured program was offered to the first-year MBA during the 2001-2002 academic year. Each facilitator had a group of 5-10 students that either signed up individually, or as a group. Each group would meet once a week for two hours over a 9-week horizon to review introspective exercises as a team. A sample of exercises included discussing Career Leader results, describing hell/dream jobs and formulating a personal mission statement.

Even in its pilot year, 165 students, nearly 20% of the Class of 2003, participated! Like any pilot, C-teams had its share of hiccups. We learned that the program would benefit by being condensed to the first semester and having a consistent curriculum among all the groups. But the numbers from our year-end poll speak for themselves: more than 92% said that they would recommend the program to any RC next year, 95% believe in the value of offering the program and more than 76% affirm it had a significant value in helping them define their career direction.

Sasha Kovriga (OK), one of the facilitators, pointed to one of the most important lessons he learned, which may explain the high rate of customer satisfaction, “I realized why the HBS model really works: a few well placed questions can have an enormous influence on the way people view themselves and their choices and responsibilities in life…”

Participants stated that C-teams made them feel “more confident, more optimistic, more driven and more focused as a result of the experience.” Others even suggested putting pressure on the administration to incorporate this into the curriculum, maybe because they are convinced that C-teams can become “an incredibly valuable and influential part of the HBS experience.”

Of course, this could never have been accomplished without the help of Career Services, nor without the tremendous amount of time, energy and creativity put into it by pioneer group of facilitators: Christina Aragon (OI), Secil Baysal (OH), Tiana Bowles (OJ), Lindsey Cigarran (OH), Michelle Dong (OJ), John Hoffman (OJ), Michael Holt (OH), Cindy Koch (OJ), Sasha Kovriga (OK), Kwame van Leeuwen (OK), Dennis Miyata (OI), Toto Narayan (OJ), Bhavesh Patel (OH), Gail Seymour (OH), Paul Sims (OJ), Hannah Vazzana (OH) and Daisy Wademan (OI).

Tim Butler explains the “immediate appeal” of the Career Team concept: “The groups provide an opportunity for students to discuss, in a supportive and more intimate setting, the full range of their career concerns including crafting a career vision and receiving objective input on self-assessment issues. For the EC facilitators, the C-teams provide a leadership vehicle and the opportunity to give something back to the HBS community that has nourished them in their own career pursuits. For all of these reasons, the C-teams idea seemed like a winner that deserved support from MBA Career Services.”

We would also like to congratulate Laurent Chenot (NA) and Tom Leung (NC), the co-leaders for C-teams, The Sequel. Building on this year’s experiment, this dynamic duo will bring the program to the next level for the coming class of 2004. Considering the ever-present mandate for the talented HBSers to find satisfying work combined with the increasing section size, the C-teams may be becoming even more important mechanism to promote community and discussion at HBS.

For those interested in joining Laurent and Tom as facilitators for the new and improved C-teams, here is Dennis Miyata’s (OI) perspective on serving this critical role, “It was rewarding to be a part of a process that, at its core, represents the essence of what HBS is all about… discovery, mutual support and active questioning of the herd mentality.” Join the team whose very mandate is to facilitate the transformational experience that brought us all here.