A leadership slam dunk

MBANBA3The Leadership Immersion Capstone is a slam dunk for full-time MBA students selected to participate. The course – which spans an entire mod – helps develop core leadership principles through executive coaching, individualized feedback, reflection and “Apprentice”-style experiential learning exercises and team competitions.

As part of the 2015 Leadership Immersion, students teamed up with former Tar Heel basketball player Phil Ford (BSBA ’78) for the “MBA NBA Challenge” to raise money for The Phil Ford Foundation, which supports obesity research and prevention efforts at UNC.

Their mission: Create an association of basketball teams to play in a charity tournament benefitting the Foundation. This included:

  • Recruiting, selecting and training UNC students to play in the tournament
  • Coordinating and marketing the event
  • Finding corporate partnerships
  • Earning donations for the Foundation.

The challenge in the Leadership Immersion was divided into six teams to compete for the title of “Champions of the MBA NBA.” And though the challenge pitted the teams against each other, students had to strike a balance between competition with collaboration to organize and run a successful charity tournament.

Students raised nearly $6,000 for The Phil Ford Foundation through the MBA NBA Challenge, part of the 2015 Leadership Immersion Capstone.
The challenge was designed to give students real-world experience leading a cross-functional team with multiple roles and functions, including general manager (GM), coach and chief marketing officer. It also helped students develop and hone management, marketing and sales skills and learn how to navigate partnerships with external organizations.

As the teams worked to organize and market the event, find sponsors and recruit, train and motivate players, students drew parallels between leading a sports team and leading in the business world.

Scroll down to check out our Q&A with Zach Shapiro (MBA ’15) to learn about the leadership insights he gained through the challenge.

Leadership insights Q&A with Zach Shapiro (MBA ’15)

How and where did you recruit players?

We used our network. Members of my Leadership Immersion team who play pick-up basketball recruited friends to play in the tournament. Because the people we recruited are friends with my Capstone teammates, they felt more obligated to follow through with their commitment. We also knew that they enjoy basketball and play frequently, and thus were more inclined to participate.

What was the biggest surprise or challenge in the recruiting process?

The biggest surprise to me was the competitive nature of the MBAs. A large group of us sat down and discussed the pros and cons of each proposal on recruiting players.

Since there was no inherent advantage in terms of recruiting players – anyone could draft anyone – we discussed using a cooperative approach to recruiting, which would have involved pooling resources to ensure that people weren’t fighting over friends in the MBA Program. I was really surprised to see the intensity of debate this proposal created. We debated for an hour and voted it to a draw. We finally made a decision, more out of exasperation than any true benefit.

One of the biggest takeaways was why this approach was a big failure. It’s really a good representation of why flat organizations often don’t work. You can’t just call a meeting of people across the organization and magically expect them to all quickly get on the same page with regards to goals, role definition and priorities. Sometimes it’s just easier and quicker to revert back to your silos within the organization and operate as a function, team or program versus to collaborate. It takes more time to break old habits.

What criteria did you use in selecting players for your team?

I focused on selecting players who play basketball frequently, showed better court awareness and demonstrated high basketball IQ. I wanted players who are used to playing as a team.

I drafted smaller, skilled players for my team. My classmates were more impressed with size and overbid on bigger players. The recruits I drafted were available at a better value in the draft. Additionally, I believe that good passing skills are more important than size when it comes to winning basketball games.

What traits did the top recruits share in common?

The top recruits were passionate and knowledgeable about basketball. They were also willing passers and team players. As a leader, I thought these recruits would be valuable because I believe that team play will beat individual talent every time.