How do you teach teamwork, creative problem solving, and leadershipâ€”those soft skills that are essential to any executive position? The Mays Business School MBA program at Texas A&M University has a unique answer to that question: send the students for a day of exercises at Disaster City, the premiere crisis training facility in the nation, located in College Station, Texas.
Through activities such as rescuing “victims” from a train wreck, a high speed GPS scavenger hunt, and a “slab drag,” moving a 1,200-pound block of concrete with team effort and pulleys, a group of 90 first-year MBA students learned how to respond during a physical crisis, with the expectation that those skills would transfer to a business setting.
“In any job, you’ll have some kind of disaster, so we can learn from this physical disaster. These leadership skills are very transferable,” said David Ricciardi, a student from Houston, Texas. “You learn group work. It makes you think outside your box. It makes everyone pull together and work as a team.”
Each team member had a specific role to play: rescuer, leader, communications relay, etc. Before each activity, the teams met to discuss their plan of attack. Who’s going in? What is our mission? A debriefing followed each exercise. Team leaders asked: What did we do well? What needs to be done differently next time?
The physical challenges were strenuous and the pressure to succeed was intense. Students were exhibiting signs of stress shared by business executives and rescue workers alike in times of crisis: perspiration, rapid heartbeat, fatigue. Through the stress, they sought creative solutions to the challenges each activity presented, working as a team to accomplish their goals.
One of the most symbolic lessons was the slab drag. As a team, the students were asked to create a pulley system and move a 1,200-pound concrete brick. A single team member could not move the weight, so another was added, and then another, until their force combined was equal to the task. Students were told to consider, when you are faced with a problem that seems insurmountable, what solutions can act as pulleys? Which team mates can help you get the job done?
“Doing this crisis management exercise out at Disaster City is one of the many things we do as part of the Mays MBA program to differentiate us from our competition,” said Michael Wesson, associate professor of management at Mays. Wesson was one of the coordinators for this event. “Few other MBA programs in the country do anything like thisâ€¦We draw on the corporate lessons learned from this day all year long. The situations students face at Disaster City will give them a leg up on business crises they will face as their career progresses.”
Mays Business School currently enrolls more than 4,000 undergraduate students and 875 graduate students. The MBA program is highly selective, with an acceptance rate of 26%. Currently there are 164 students in their intensive 16-month program.
- TEEX Blog: A&M’s Mays Business School Experiences Disaster City (includes video)