Columbia Business School – Essay 3 (2009)

[Older Question, but still relevant]

Please provide an example of a team failure of which you’ve been a part. If given a second chance, what would you do differently? [500 words]

Usually a straightforward 2-part response:

1. Team Failure

2. What would you do Differently?

PART 1 – When describing team failures, it can sometimes work against your ultimate point to start out with the learned lesson in mind. In other words, don’t get too far ahead of yourself. Sometimes the most compelling stories are the ones that transport us back to the scenario in question, walking us through the reasons things seemed to make sense at the time, only to reveal THAT they failed, and then WHY. This is not always possible since often you will have been witness to a train wreck that you knew about from the very beginning, but it may still help to discuss it through the lens of who you were then, not now. This will make your second half of this response really glow.

PART 2 – Now, when you’re discussing the “what would you have done differently” piece, THIS is where you can lay into all the wisdom you’ve gained ON ACCOUNT of that failure, now that you’re able to recognize it as such. Now that you’ve “learned” what it all means through some reflection, through experience, through analysis. This will all go toward convincing the reader that you’ve really internalized the lesson and will never repeat it again in the future.

So, to sum up, rather than say: Yeah, i saw it coming a mile away. We were disorganized, we didn’t have proper leadership, we lacked this and lacked that, and everything was awful. Surprise surprise we failed! Here’s what i’d do differently. Blah.

Do it THIS way instead: Something didn’t feel right, but I was sure we could get away with not having a leader, after all, we were all college-educated and knew what we were doing. I was convinced that we would gel together as individuals and lead each other based on past behavior. Sure we lacked this and that, but I assumed that XXX and YYY would fill in the gaps. Holy crap was I wrong. And here’s why. Blah blah blah… now that I get it, I will do it differently by doing AA and BB and CC instead, etc etc.

That structure tends to be more convincing because it reveals a very definitive shift in perspective.

Wharton Essay Analysis – Question 1