Watching the 2022 DeGroote MBA Games team dance its way through the Spirit Challenge dance video, you would never guess it was their first in-person activity. Limited to online communication due to COVID protocols, the team (whose video sees them put together puzzle pieces with their names to illustrate the Games’ Unity theme) appears close-knit. That comradery is actually part of the formula DeGroote’s team used to place second overall — and to consistently rank high at Canada’s largest annual collegiate competition.
“We had a WhatsApp chat and Zoom games nights and dancing sessions, but it was important to not just have Games-relevant interactions. We wanted to foster familiarity with each other,” says Dr. Soundarya Selvam, one of the team’s two captains.
“It became about supporting each other in general, and not just winning the Games. That made our team dynamic natural, fun, and high-spirited. When your focus is only on winning, you lose sight of building connections, learning from your peers, and creating team resiliency.”
Team captains (or co-chairs) are members of an MBA Games executive team. They play a vital role in the logistical and strategic work it takes to lead a team to MBA Games success. Team captains are supported by a Spirit director and coordinator, an Athletics director and coordinator, and an Academics director and coach.
Isabella Olivares was Selvam’s co-captain. She says in addition to nurturing real friendships, DeGroote’s MBA Games winning teams rely on the Business School’s atmosphere.
“DeGroote, as a whole, has a really good collaborative environment,” she says. “Even on the academic side, we help each other in our classes and in ensuring that we all succeed, rather than just being competitive. That is one of the strengths of our MBA teams. I also think in some instances, other schools really only focus on the case competition. But we recognize that you have to be committed to all Games categories because they all provide a rounded experience.”
Beyond addressing real business problems today’s companies and industries face through a case competition, the three-day event engages students in athletics and community. This year, athletics tested competitors’ abilities and stamina through a virtual running challenge using the Strava platform. Spirit, in addition to the dance video challenge, paired up teams from different schools to fundraise for the partnered charity, Indspire. A national organization, Indspire invests in the education of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people.
“The fact that Indspire supports education is a cause that’s near and dear to a lot of us at DeGroote,” says Olivares. “We went above and beyond in fundraising, and we opted for a grassroots approach. My mom baked over 200 cupcakes, and I took preorders and delivered them. We sold a group trip to the Christmas Market and had a McMaster apparel sweater sale. We ended up raising $3,230.”
Adds Selvam, who was also a 2022 competitor, “We recognize that education can make such a difference in people’s lives, and in their families and communities. The charity was really well aligned with DeGroote students. It was also the case that my Academic team worked on. That allowed us to make an impact at organization level as well.”
For the past 15 years, Dr. Milena Head, an Information Systems professor and Director of McMaster’s Digital Transformation Research Centre, has coached DeGroote’s Academic teams. In fact, Head was responsible for introducing the D700 Case Analysis and Presentations course, which she still teaches. This course has served as a training ground for MBA students wishing to represent the School of Business at national and international case competitions, including MBA Games. She says what stands out to her about DeGroote’s MBA Games teams over the years is students’ self-motivation.
“Our students commit a lot of time and effort to prepare themselves to best represent their School, with great passion and positivity,” she says of the winning formula. “Students push themselves out of their comfort zones, which builds their self-confidence. You compare us to other schools, whose MBA students may be older and more experienced, but the way our students problem-solve, communicate and strategize isn’t any less. The co-chairs are also very carefully selected, and they bring the spirit of the team, doing a great job of keeping students engaged. This year’s team had such a positive attitude and how agile they were really made them shine.”
Engagement, and motivation, become more difficult in a virtual environment. Selvam and Olivares say through their relationship-building efforts, which also included regular check-ins, their team’s engagement remained high as they went into the Games official weekend. The result? After the January 7 to 9 competition wrapped, DeGroote ranked second overall by placing second in Athletics and Spirit, and fifth in Academics out of 14 teams.
“The Games weekend was a culmination of everyone coming together and connecting,” says Selvam. “We all had grown so much together, and that was really the best part for me.”