One for All, All for one! – Learning Teams at Darden

As Second Years you often find yourself at home at 7:00pm either reading your cases for the next day or reading the latest posts on Oatmeal. (More often than not, it’s the latter). A few evenings ago I wondered why I was at home most evenings. And then it struck me that 7:00 to 9:00 pm was the sanctimonious time when you met with 5 other class mates every Sunday – Wednesday in First year which suddenly freed up on your calendar as a Second year.

I firmly believe that behind every successful man is a women. But I am convinced that behind every successful Darden First Year is the “Learning team”. One of the most unique things about Darden is your learning team experience. When I was applying to Darden last year, words like “collaborative”, “team work”, and “community driven” kept creeping up everywhere. In my interview. In my conversations with students at Darden. And other blogs that I had read when deciding to apply.

When I came on grounds, the end of the week of orientation your learning team was supposed to be revealed to you. It’s a team of 5-6 diverse individuals who become your second family at Darden. With approximately 300 students, the student affairs team (hats off to them!) tries to craft 50 learning teams. I write “craft” because they are truly crafted. Accounted for various constraints like diversity in undergraduate study, work experience, nationality, gender, global exposure, personality type, and god knows what else, the process puts fantasy football brackets to shame sometimes.

I learnt a year back on the last day of orientation that I was learning team 44. Darden sends you an email with a number and asks you to go to a learning team room to find your other members. It’s a very exciting/apprehensive feeling to walk into a room either to be the first one to welcome the others or be greeted by other members who are equally excited/apprehensive. A million questions run in your mind. Will they be nice? Will they like me? Will I like them? Will our styles of study match? Will we see eye to eye or will we contradict to no end?

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As you get to know your LT mates better over a day of scavenger hunting across Charlottesville, feeling glad that you have a UVA undergrad on your team who know the place like the back of his hand, you learn more about each person along the year. Most teams survived the adventure that is FY. Others simply crumbled into what could have been…

Like every relationship, LTs are built on the foundations of trust and honesty. Building ‘trust’ in your mates about getting an excel model/word notes for the next day’s case when you have been busy all week recruiting and trying so hard to crack an internship and reciprocating when they are in the thick of things. Being ‘Honest’ about not understanding the discounted cash flow model, not reading the case due to crazy recruiting schedules, not attending the meeting due to a prior commitment, and about needing help with another mate hours before meeting with others so we can be more productive during those two hours. Somehow getting staying afloat – together.

Most importantly it’s about really getting to know each other and having fun beyond those two hours! Being so far away from home and familiarity, when you feel nothing is ever going to go right for you. Academics, career, life. No one knowing that today is your birthday, you cranking away in a lonely room working on finance cases for exams… wanting to just check out. And in that moment it’s about finding the most surprising sense of family in them throwing a surprise party for you with your favorite red velvet cake and making life – not so bad after all.

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Dedicated to the closest semblance of family I found here – Annemarie, Henry, Will, Jacob and Nicolas. Couldn’t have made it through Year 1 without you all.

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This blog post was also featured in http://www.topmba.com.

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