Making connections that matter

Forty-four students representing over 26 nationalities and 68 organisations across the globe descended on Maastricht on 20 May for the MaastrichtMBA educational week, Entrepreneurship and New Business Development. The week provides an intense and interactive 42 hours of teaching and learning from Monday to Friday, based around the 2 themes of Entrepreneurship and Leadership. 14 different topics are covered in this module delivered by 8 academic experts in their fields, but, it wasn’t all work and no play, the familial and personal nature of the course perfectly lends itself to creating strong social and professional connections, which is something that all of the MaastrichtMBA students and alumni truly benefit from and thrive on.

The music can be clearly heard from the corridor, and as we approach the classroom where one of the first MBA session for this educational week is taking place, the A-team theme tune blasts out. It isn’t necessarily what you expect to hear within the walls of an academic institution, but this was where Professor Simon de Jong’s session on Teaming began. Once you know that, it seems a perfectly fitting place to start!

The atmosphere is convivial, a hustle and bustle of students and staff entering the classrooms, grabbing a coffee or some fruit before the session begins. Amongst them, Professor Boris Blumberg, MBA Director, along with his team, Pia, Chantal and Jeroen, are on hand to welcome everyone joining this Entrepreneurship and New Business Development module. Some new faces, lots of familiar ones, it’s like a mini reunion. One of the core values of this Executive MaastrichtMBA, aside from the knowledge that students are studying at one of the 1% of business schools worldwide granted the Triple Crown status, is its genuinely personalised feel, where valuing the people and offering a personal touch is clearly evident.

As one student, Julie Link, remembers on her first module, “I met with Boris in my first week and I thought well that’s cool! I instantly felt at home.”

What’s the one thing that irritates you the most?

The students in Dr Carina Lomberg’s first tutorial on Tuesday morning, might not have anticipated sharing the things they found most irritating in this session, From Idea to Business Opportunity, but this was all part of the learning process. An amusing and engaging introductory session followed with all manner of minor irritations being aired, from issues with teenage daughters (we won’t go into any more detail!) to putting almost-empty food items back in the fridge (naming no names!), to driving in the middle lane of a motorway, to chewing gum, there were lots more disclosures, but you get the idea! It seemed like a fun ice breaker which immediately engaged the group, but there was also a real point to be made about how we connect with people, and finding out about what we like and don’t like can lead to thinking about things in a less constrained way, and what we can do about it, what changes we can make, and then moving onto ideas about innovation.

Self–Awareness is key: Does your view of yourself match the reality?

What are the advantages and disadvantages of being connected at work? This was the opening question in Dr Hannes Guenter’s session on Connecting People. This wasn’t a free for all brainstorm, but a more structured activity, first with individual reflection, then a sharing of ideas. The focus was on connecting in 3 steps, with yourself, with others and connecting employees with the organisation. This is the core of leadership and leadership begins with self-awareness. Dr Hannes’ session was clearly grounded in academic research and references to this and the theoretical concepts were made throughout.
The content was carefully tailored to the group, and as with this and the other sessions in the week, it was obvious that the teaching faculty had taken into account the particular background and expertise of the students. The style of teaching and atmosphere in the group was quite distinct from Dr Carina’s session, but the engagement and interest amongst the students to both the content and to each other, was evident in both.

When the group was asked to consider their own self-awareness and write down their 2 most important values, to then share with the class, the conversations overheard in the small groups were respectful and highly engaged, but all with a sense of the familiarity, the personal and the fun. As Professor Herminia Ibarra shared in her TED talk on ‘The Authenticity Paradox’, “Being playful and trying on different selves” is an important aspect of positive leadership. As one student commented, his 4-year old son always gave him his authentic self. And when it comes to the importance of being playful, many of the students seemed to recognise this from the other significant teachers in their lives, their kids.

Applying ideas of Social Entrepreneurship to your own organisations

Rounding off the week, was one of the final sessions with Dr Jolien Huybrechts on Social Entrepreneurship. Despite many of the students not having had any direct experience working with social entrepreneurs, “what is the definition of a social entrepreneur?”, asked one student, they were nonetheless able to share their opinions on the case studies from the reading material and began thinking about and questioning how they might apply the ideas of creating social value to their own organisational structures. It was a topic which seemed to divide opinion, perhaps unsurprisingly, but the sharing of the different ideas and being able to critique the research, was a valuable part of the learning journey of this session and of the whole module.

The interaction with each other within the classroom and outside of it, seemed to be the real key connecting factor here. And the MBA A-Team, ‘captained’ by Boris, provided the glue enabling these connections to flourish, before waving the cohort off again until the next one, in September. It was, as the saying goes, very much ‘ a team effort’. We look forward to seeing you all next time!