Innovations That Inspire

MBA Executive Challenge

Recognition Year(s): 2024
School: McDonough School of Business, Georgetown University
Location: United States

Transforming the traditional final exam, the MBA Executive Challenge innovates learning for students in the MBA Leadership Communication course. The immersive experience brings students and over 100 senior executives together to engage in live role-playing cases.

Call to Action

Motivated by a passion for educational innovation, the MBA Executive Challenge offers an immersive journey into the world of executive leadership. We believe the building of leadership communication skills extends beyond traditional classrooms, and through the executive challenge, we offer students the opportunity to experiment with a new learning approach.

On the day of the event, every full-time MBA student pairs with another student on their team team of six to work on a case and sits in on two other cases, which are defended by their teammates. Students receive their cases on the morning of the event, while the more than 100 alumni judges are able to study the cases in advance. Each alumnus plays one of the four roles of each case or is an observer who leads the feedback session at the end of the simulation. Judges enjoy engaging in their roles and observing as students encounter distractions or unexpected challenges, and they equally value emerging from character to interact with students during the feedback sessions and reception.

The results have been encouraging to witness. Students are inspired by their ability to apply the skills they’ve learned in class, skills they will later take to their internships and future jobs. Many report that the Executive Challenge helped prepare them for navigating real-life work experiences. Additionally, we believe the challenge has led to overwhelmingly positive feedback from employers, some of whom have recognized McDonough MBA graduates for their innovation and creativity.

Innovation Description

A team of faculty, staff, and second-year MBA students (Leadership Fellows) works together to prepare for the event. Members organize outreach to recruit judges, orchestrate training and materials collection, update microsites for students and judges, and plan logistics.

On the day of the event, professor Evelyn Williams (who originally created versions of the challenge at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and Stanford University, before launching it at Georgetown in 2017), along with individual Leadership Fellows, briefs the judges on cases they have received in advance. When the simulations begin, each judge is instructed both to disrupt the students’ ability to achieve their objectives and, conversely, to provide students with a strategy for overcoming disruptions or for swaying the judge’s decision. At the end of the round, the judges provide feedback and submit scores that count for the students’ final exams and are used to determine who will be announced as winners at the concluding awards ceremony.

Students meet at the start of the event to receive their instructions from Professor Williams before separating into teams of six. The teams are given three cases, which they work on in pairs. As each pair presents their case, the other teammates study their performance and discover new strategies for success. The teams perform better as they observe and learn.

The challenge provides learners with simulations of real-world experiences, which they can draw from when they encounter challenges in their careers. It gives the judges an opportunity to engage with students by bringing the voice of the marketplace directly into the learning experience, and in addition to those interactions, judges are also able to network with other alumni.

Innovation Impact

Students and employers say the experience prepares learners for real-world conversations and leadership challenges. We believe our students’ innovative and creative abilities stem from participating in the Executive Challenge just before beginning their internships.

As learners, students benefit from being presented with material through multiple avenues, and the simulation provides hands-on experience that is not easily replicated in the classroom. Because the Leadership Communication course is a core part of the MBA program, all of its 270 enrolled students engage in the Executive Challenge on the same day. They have the chance to learn from alumni, professors, and one another. The students who return in year two as Leadership Fellows further hone their skills in leading and team-building as they coach first-year students to success.

Our alumni are thrilled to be a part of the MBA Executive Challenge, valuing the opportunity to share their expertise and to engage with the next generation of executive leaders. In addition to making an impact in students’ learning journeys, alumni say they “sharpen their own swords” by learning from other senior alumni how to provide skillful coaching and impactful feedback. The challenge is therefore a multigenerational learning experience, bringing together both students and alumni.

We further consider the experience to be a “One McDonough” event, meaning it requires cooperative involvement to plan and to execute. We draw together faculty and staff from across the school to make the program a success, and through this joint effort, it has enhanced our school’s sense of community.

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