The Consultancy Challenge is a core element of Lancaster’s Full-time and Executive MBA programmes, providing an opportunity for students to work as a team, to understand the intricacies of team dynamics, as well as how to engage with clients, to understand their business and its challenges and to offer new ways forward. The coronavirus pandemic necessitated a shift from face-to-face consultancy to a virtual version.
For EMBA in the UK and Ghana, Joanne Larty, Randall Zindler (1999) and Sally Fleming (2015) came together to re-design the Consultancy Challenge for the online environment in May 2020, drawing on their wealth of experience, knowledge and resources, as well as applying some core principles in online learning. Joanne explained, “Teaching and learning online presents a number of challenges but also offers new opportunities. Given extended periods of screen-time and long lectures aren’t conducive to learning online, we integrated a number of different approaches that included short introductory audio presentations, live online sessions, online breakout rooms and Q&A panel sessions. We also introduced students to online collaborative tools to facilitate co-creation and idea exchange to enable them to work more effectively.”
Randall highlighted that “the Consultancy Challenge benefits from good team work, where teams are able to bring out the best from all members. We thus wanted to create an online learning environment where students could engage with key ideas for creating positive team dynamics, whilst at the same time getting to know team members, building rapport and creating a strong foundation for the challenge that lay ahead.”
Sally, drawing on her experience as an EMBA alumna, said, “From my own experience of the Consultancy Challenge module, I knew that it would be critical to provide students with key tools and ideas that would enable them to quickly inhabit the role of consultant and provide confidence right from the off. To do this it was important to get students to think about where consultants really add value, the classic traps that consultants can fall into, and the nuts and bolts of managing a highly emergent and iterative task over a short time scale.”
Speaking about her experience leading this year’s Consultancy Challenge module for the Full-time MBA, Dr Radka Newton (2016) explained: “Consultancy Challenge is an experiential module that puts emphasis on relationship building. As a module leader supported by our professional teaching team I felt confident, yet apprehensive about moving this module online.
“There are many uncertain variables that have been even more accentuated during the COVID-19 situation and we took a lot of time to reflect with the students and consultants who joined our sessions on what the implications for the development of consultancy as a profession are. We all learnt a lot from this experience and the key focus was to treat this as a developmental opportunity that can only strengthen students and staff resilience and ability to navigate uncertainty.”
Some of the Full-time MBA cohort shared insights about the experience:
“This morning, we handed in our MBA Consultancy Challenge client report, which we had compiled for MAG (Airport Group) over the last 4 weeks. Our project involved research work surrounding the immediate impact of the Covid-19 virus on the Aviation Industry as a whole whilst narrowing in on what recovery looks like and what trends we believe would emerge out of this global pandemic. The aviation industry (for those who are interested) is one of the most complex ecosystems of past trends, downturns, solutions, recommendations and strategies; historically, with each downturn comes a strategy which is often replicated, imitated and followed to achieve relative success in the next downturn. For me, in particular, this project was everything I would have wished for and more as I am an AV geek. The opportunity to work on a real-life management consulting project was perhaps the best learning curve that conditions (virtually/digitally with various time zones to contend with) has provided us with the resilience and learning that we needed.”
“The Lancaster MBA provides a valuable platform – Consultancy Challenge – for students, especially those who have little experience of Consultancy, to learn the relevant skills and to work with the clients in a real business context. As a student, I had not experienced virtual learning before, which was far beyond my expectation in my MBA year. I really appreciated the elaborate instruction and insightful mentoring from Radka and Ricardo from the Entrepreneurship and Strategy Team, especially when we all deal with the uncertainty and complexity of Covid-19. Furthermore, our client frequently and patiently communicated with our team and offered exhaustive references. The project, related to digital innovation, has made me obsessed with digital marketing.”
“The Consultancy Challenge of the Lancaster MBA has given me good knowledge and understanding of different working styles of a cross-functional team. We analysed the different perceptions of the problem and looked for a solution to recommend. Working in a different time zone and looking for consensus by collaborating to reach a common goal is entirely a roller coaster. I enjoyed the adrenaline! Liaising with the client in a virtual environment for a complete project is something entirely new to me and I adapted quite well. Overall, challenging my perceptions of complete virtual world barrier is shattered.”
“What is it like working on a virtual team?
“It was a challenge, for sure. We had to contend with a “blue sky thinking” project that would have posed a challenge for even experienced consultants working under normal conditions. In our case, however, not only was this our first time working together as a team, the coronavirus limited us to only virtual means of connection.
“It took us some time to get used to the new technologies and our unique working styles, but by the end of the project, we had developed an effective routine that allowed us to overcome these challenges and meet the client’s high expectations. With this experience under my belt, I feel confident that I can succeed on similar projects in the future.”
“The Consulting Challenge was a unique experience. Being able to work with team members all over the globe enabled us to learn how to manage virtual teams, a key skill in times of Covid-19, at the same time as having a real taste of what a consulting project looks like. Additionally, working with Microsoft was unique and gave the group a real experience of developing a strategic project that caters for latent needs of a large corporation.”
“If I could summarize the Consultancy Challenge module into one word, I would say it is “EXCEPTIONAL”. It is EXCEPTIONAL because the module was quickly shifted from offline learning to online learning without delay due to COVID-19. It is EXCEPTIONAL because the experience we gained is far more than what we expected, especially in terms of collaborating remotely in different time zones while still providing a high-quality service to client. It is EXCEPTIONAL because of the professionalism that the Professor and Mentors displayed to continuously support our learning. Overall, this module has become one of the highlights in my MBA journey.”
“The Lancaster MBA Consultancy Challenge was beyond my expectation. Having the opportunity to work with 4 other colleagues in Japan, India and UK was a fantastic learning opportunity in terms of how to efficiently collaborate with a global team digitally. Also, the quality of the live business case we worked on enhanced my learning experience within the consulting space. Finally, I was very much impressed with the high level of support provided by the MBA office to ensure we had a smooth project.”