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Teaming for Experience

Three examples from AACSB's Innovations That Inspire challenge highlight new ways business schools globally are promoting team skills while also providing leadership experience.

The group project is a staple of the collegiate experience, as students work with peers to accomplish a shared objective. These group projects have often elicited groans from students, as working effectively with teammates isn’t always a frictionless experience. But some business schools are coming up with new, innovative team projects that provide a fresh take on that essential experience. The following are three team-building activities or projects offered by business schools that are both highly experiential and decidedly different than the standard research-and-present model.

Urban Adventure Race: Developing Brave Leaders

Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, School of Business (Canada)

Southern Alberta Institute of Technology developed a downtown racecourse to build leadership skills and to provide an experiential learning opportunity for its students. Students worked in teams to navigate the course, solving puzzles to advance themselves back toward campus. In teams of four, approximately 150 students were launched into an Urban Adventure Race that took upwards of two hours to complete.

By redefining the classroom to include spaces off campus, the race was routed through key areas of local communities and downtown, where students visited the school’s downtown culinary campus, the TasteMarket. At each destination they received a puzzle to complete as a team. Upon successful completion, the teams were handed an envelope containing the next destination or clues about where to go next, as well as collecting points for completing these objectives. It was a race against each other as much as a race against the clock.

Once the teams returned to campus, they completed a mind-mapping exercise to capture their journey with images and visuals, connecting the experience to their emotions and feelings. The teams had one week to submit a paper that contained storytelling, group and individual reflections, and application of key concepts from the class textbook.

Escape Room: ‘The Lost Scientist’

University of Mannheim, Business School (Germany)

Capitalizing on the recent popularity of escape rooms—a thematic team-building exercise where groups of people are locked in a room and have to use hidden clues or solve riddles to find a way out within a limited time frame—the University of Mannheim developed their own escape room challenge. An interdisciplinary team of researchers created the Mannheim escape room, called “The Lost Scientist,” as a behavioral laboratory for team performance research. The escape room offers the researchers a unique opportunity to study real team performance.

Specifically, the room is equipped with state-of-the-art technology to measure participants’ physiological stress levels while playing. Thus, the escape room provides researchers the chance to study various aspects of team performance and answer research questions from different disciplinary perspectives.

For the teams partaking in the challenge, the escape room is an experiential, team-building exercise where participants can learn about themselves and how they interact with each other, offering the university an enticing option for promoting team-building and bonding, as a sort of a modern day ropes course (an outdoor team-building exercise using a series of physical obstacles that groups must overcome collaboratively).

Oxfam TrailWalker Adaptive Leadership Course

Queensland University of Technology, QUT Business School (Australia)

The Adaptive Leadership course was designed to put QUT Business School’s students in uncomfortable, unfamiliar settings with real consequences to their actions, thus highlighting their various leadership characteristics and creating the catalyst for leadership growth. The Oxfam Trailwalker challenge is a “pay to play” model, each team having to raise a mandatory minimum of roughly 1,100 USD to participate. The event requires teams to navigate steep, challenging wilderness terrain that requires extensive preparation and training. Critically, both aspects (fundraising and hiking) contained a high-risk quotient, requiring team members to employ both leadership and “follower-ship” behaviors in order to successfully complete the entire event.

The course was open to all enrolled MBA students who had completed at least two-thirds of their degree. The teams were allowed to self-select and were required to participate in a series of advanced masterclass workshops designed to inform and facilitate their activities over a 14-week period.

Workshop topics included adaptive leadership, intentionality and strategy, negotiation under pressure, mindfulness and awareness, and conversations and relationships. Individual and group-based assessments included presenting a project plan, developing a risk management strategy, and submitting reflections on their leadership journey by keeping a blog diary.

This innovation was highlighted in AACSB’s 2018 Innovations That Inspire challenge.

About Innovations That Inspire

Since its launch in 2016, Innovations That Inspire has collected 840 innovative practices across a variety of themes and areas within business education. For each challenge year, a selection of innovations is featured at the International Conference and Annual Meeting (ICAM). Further, current members of AACSB’s Business Education Alliance have the ability to browse through all innovations using the DataDirect database. AACSB continuously highlights submitted examples in publications, events, presentations, and in other media as examples of business schools doing innovative things that push the boundaries of business education.


Elliot DavisElliot Davis is manager of research at AACSB International.