The Wharton Team-Based Discussion: What To Expect

Our Head MBA Consultant, Yaron Dahan, explores the ins and outs of the 2017-2018 Wharton Team-Based Discussion.

Wharton Team-Based Discussion

Since shaking up the MBA interview process in 2012 with its innovative group discussion, The Wharton School of UPENN shook things up even further this year by changing the question and focus of the group interview. This year, applicants are put in groups and asked to answer the following question during the Wharton Team-Based Discussion:

For many students, the global perspective fostered by Wharton’s international community is brought into focus through immersive learning opportunities like Global Modular Courses (GMCs). GMCs are full-credit courses in an intensive workshop format that take place in a location relevant to the topic.

For the purpose of this discussion, consider yourself part of a group of students invited to design a new GMC. As a team, agree upon a topic to explore then plan a four-day course in a location or locations relevant to that topic. Provide opportunities for academic and cultural immersion experiences while keeping in mind logistical constraints and clearly articulating your course’s desired outcomes.

The Wharton Team-Based Discussion lasts roughly 35 minutes and is followed by a one-on-one interview with a Wharton admissions officer that lasts about 10 minutes. Applicants are also given about a minute to express their thoughts before launching into the team discussion.

Steady your beating heart. We’ve got the scoop on how to ACE this new question and tips for how to prepare. First let’s breakdown what the Wharton admissions committee members (we call them Adcoms) are looking for by changing up this year’s question.

What hasn’t changed since last year?

The Adcoms are still looking to learn about YOU, not your business vocabulary. In short, this year’s modified approach offers them a more real-life simulation of how you work in a group setting. Interacting in a team is a KEY component of the Wharton MBA curriculum.

So, what’s different this year?

Actually, from a content perspective, this year’s version of the Wharton Team-Based Discussion is not that different from last year’s. This year, instead of having to create a “one-day seminar” like in the 2015 question, or a Leadership venture like last year, Wharton refocused the content around a Global Modular Course (GMC) that you and your team will be taking on. The biggest difference is that it’s not just about ideas, but since the GMCs take place in actual global locations this adds a potential element for negotiation, debate, and even disagreement.

Every candidate will have their own personal and cultural background, as well as a different location or region in mind. Yet you all have to decide to go to ONE place AND show why you chose it. This added element of choice will allow the Adcoms to see how you interact as a team, not to mention, how you deal with potential conflict that arises from differences in background and culture, as well as personality and/or experience.

Now let’s discuss how to tackle each part of this question.

1. Addressing the One Minute Thought Before the Discussion:

This is your elevator pitch. The Adcoms want to see how well you can pitch a well-thought out idea to a team. You want your pitch and ideas on this topic to have a certain “wow” factor.

This is your chance to be creative, but don’t go too out of box. For example, a high impact course about Aliens may be too far out there. And on the other hand, a course on technology’s ability to create a more connected world is just plain boring.

You want to clearly state (X) course you want create and (Y) impact/outcome you see it creating. The applicant who nails this section will come across as confident, but not practiced. It shouldn’t sound like you are reading a script; keep it natural.

2. The Team-Based Discussion

After the elevator pitch you are given 35 minutes to discuss a Global Modular Course (GMC).  The approach to this is actually quite similar to last year’s question about a Leadership Venture. Yet there is an added “Soft” element. Not only do you have to choose a course, and define goals, (and efficiently at that! only 35 minutes!) but you also have to fit it in a cultural context.

The Name of the Game is Positivity

You want to convey yourself as someone who’s thoughtful, yet open, about what the organization should address. Overall, the school is going to be looking for a leader who:

  • Has their own innovative thoughts.
  • Knows how to persuade/convince others.
  • Knows how to LISTEN to others, and when to go with the consensus as to not hold up a decision.

The difficulty in this portion might come at the beginning of the interview when, potentially, each person steps forward with a different background and a different idea about where to go. This is the critical moment where the Adcoms get to see how you fare when it comes to adjusting your ideas to the ideas of others. Are you able to compromise, build consensus, motivate or convince others?

It’s good practice to come in with a strong idea of your own, but at the same time, it’s equally important for you to be receptive to the ideas of others, and also, to be able to read the group well enough to make suggestions that aren’t going to negatively affect and/or impede the conversation.

Just Be Natural!

The goal here is simple. You need to look as if you are really interacting with the other applicants and working on a team. You know, that thing you do all the time at work.

One way to succeed here is to let someone else present an idea first, even if it’s different than what you pitched or prepared for. The ability to go with the flow and build off of someone else’s idea showcases your ability to think on your feet and add value on the fly. And if you disagree with something, it IS okay say so! This is meant to be an honest, real-life simulation. If you wouldn’t just blindly agree with an idea on a real-life group project, don’t do so here, either.

So long as you back up your argument with smart reasoning (and avoid, you know, not stomping your feet and storming out of the room when you don’t get your way), you’ll be fine! Having an opinion is going to look a lot better than just being a “yes-man/woman”. So overall, there’s a happy medium here, like with anything else. Don’t destroy the flow of the convo, but don’t just agree to be agreeable either.

And remember, that even if the team doesn’t go with YOUR idea, that’s cool. You’ve negotiated, compromised. They’ve learned more about you and your background, and you’ve learned about theirs. And as long as you have found a way to move together towards worthy goals, you can consider the TBD a success.

At the end of the day, the key to rocking the Wharton Team-Based Discussion is to treat it the same way you’d treat any collaborative discussions you partake in. Picture yourself at work, in board meetings for that non-profit board you sit on, or planning a group trip with your college friends:

  • When presenting your viewpoint/trying to convince others, suggest sort of a framework for the group to make decisions.
  • Remind your teammates about the criteria/factors they need to meet. It’s hard for them to argue that way.
  • Don’t be thrown off by what other applicants say! Remain calm, cool and cooperative. Make sure your voice is heard, while taking care not step on anyone’s toes in doing so.

3. The One-On-One

This is part of the interview will essentially be the continuation of your pitch. There’s still only one reason for you to go to business school, and that is: to reach your professional goals.

This is also a good time to elaborate on why WHARTON is THE place for you to reach your goals. It’s your chance to show the Adcoms how well you’ve researched the school. Show them why you think the program aligns so well with your proposed career path. It’s probably also a good idea to proactively reflect upon the Team-Based Discussion.

If you’re hiding any amazing achievements up your sleeve, this is the time to drop those in too. And finally, make sure to come prepared with at least three very precise and unique questions about attending Wharton. The Adcoms want to see that you’ve done your research and are actually curious about the school.

Do all this, and you are as good as gold. Learn more on Wharton’s website.

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