When Lauren Meehan walked into Camp Guyasuta for the Tepper School’s Team Day event, she knew there would be no surprises.
Having previously visited the suburban Pittsburgh Boy Scout camp’s grounds before, she was familiar with its layout and facilities, as well as some of its team-building exercises.
“I pretty much knew what I was in for,” says Meehan, who is starting her first year in business school after working for a health care and education think tank in Washington, D.C.
But when she met the rest of her group — new classmates and future colleagues who represented eight different countries — she enjoyed the opportunity to get to know relative strangers very quickly through a series of trust-building exercises.
“We had to constantly change our perspective and change our strategy,” Meehan says of the activities. “I think it broke the ice within my group.”
A veteran of Teach For America, where she worked while earning a master’s degree in education, Meehan is used to the challenges that accompany graduate school. But the self-described Type A personality is excited about the road that lies ahead at the Tepper School.
“I’m going to absorb as much as I can. I made a really conscious choice to give up my salary to go back to school and learn on my own terms,” she says. “At the end of the day, it’s about me filling a void that I don’t have in my skill set.”
Fellow first-year MBA student Tavishi Agrawada was struck by how quickly her group began working together, even though they were all strangers.
“If someone had an idea, there was no dissention,” she says. “Once we had a strategy, everybody was so focused. There was no chatter.”
An insurance broker prior to enrolling at the Tepper School, Agrawada agrees with Meehan’s assessment: “We’re all Type A. We all want to win.”
That’s why the level of collaboration she experienced at Team Day was such a surprise. In one exercise, a climb across a high beam to a zip line, every single team member made it across — even those who were frozen by their fear of heights. Fellow students cheered encouragement until every person made it across.
“Metaphorically, that could sort of translate to my MBA experience,” says Agrawada. “If I’m on a 50-foot pole, and I’m scared out of my life, I have 219 people who are going to cheer me on … It was incredibly supportive.”
Like Meehan, Jim Hodgson had participated in similar team-building exercises before, “so I went into this with pretty low expectations,” he admits.
But after the initial icebreaker activities, his team became so actively involved that he was “blown away within the first hour.”
In a trust fall, a classmate who feared that he was too big to be caught finally agreed to fall after a few false starts. He descended at an odd angle, but the entire group shifted in a half-second to center him in their arms, all without anyone speaking.
“They were extremely smart, extremely team-oriented. It really brought up my level of expectation of teamwork that I hope to participate in for my next couple of years,” says Hodgson. “It set the bar pretty high.”