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The organizing committee members of the University of Alberta's School of Business team that won the Queen's Cup at the 2011 MBA Games, from left, Lucas Matheson, Jessica Kennedy, Ashley Beliveau Davis, Erin Lampard and Kori Patrick.

Alberta School of Business MBA Games team

From motivation tips to Ultimate Frisbee … the team that won the MBA Games offers its secrets to success, which can also be applied to a business education in general.

Hosted this year by York University's Schulich School of Business, the games saw teams from 20 Canadian MBA schools participate in the three-day event held this month, which featured competitions in academic, athletic and spirit categories (the latter includes a fundraising component for local charities).

The prestigious Queen's Cup - named after the school that hosted the first MBA Games in 1988 - was awarded to the team from the University of Alberta's School of Business in this year's competition.

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It's all about teamwork

Like many MBA programs, the MBA Games emphasize teamwork. With teams competing in everything from marketing plans to Ultimate Frisbee, it's crucial to put together a team with diverse strengths.

That's why the Alberta team's organizing committee asked each applicant to fill out a detailed form outlining their interests and past experience in each event the team would be competing in. "It was a big task to try to sort out all of the applications," says team captain Jessica Kennedy.

The effort paid off, the 24-year-old says. The 40 students who joined Alberta's team were an eclectic group, including marketing whizzes and a student who had competed for Canada at the 2010 World Ultimate Club Championships Frisbee competition.

Motivate team members

It's not enough to have a solid group of people. It's crucial to ensure those people are enthusiastic about the task at hand - whether that's winning the MBA Games or putting together a class project.

Members of the team's organizing committee met with first-year MBA students during orientation week. "We were doing cheers and getting everyone excited about the Games," Ms. Kennedy says.

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To keep that enthusiasm alive, the organizing committee assigned team captains for each event - academics, athletics and spirit - that the MBA team would be competing in. Team captains "helped continue to motivate people on a team by team basis," Ashley Beliveau Davis, 28, says.

Kori Patrick even arranged for a member of the University of Alberta's cheerleading squad to meet with members of the business school's team and teach them about cheering. Mr. Patrick knows first-hand that enthusiasm can be a transformative experience.

"Sometimes, I'm the most quiet person in the group, but when I get to the Games, I feel young again and I start screaming my head off like everybody else," the 38-year-old says. "For me, it's an opportunity to have fun, feel young again, feel the university spirit, build life-long friendships and grow as an individual."

Practise. Practise. Practise.

Prior to the MBA games, the A-Team - as the Alberta School of Business team is known - held practices in each category they would be competing in. The soccer team practised three times. The dodge ball team practised twice. The Ultimate Frisbee team practised six times.

Practices were held for academic events, too. The marketing plan team practised twice. So did the case competition team. The two teams critiqued each other's presentations, which improved their presentation skills.

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Practising also helped the teams identify each member's area of expertise. Using that knowledge, roles were assigned to team members, which helped save valuable time during the competition.

All that advance work was worth it. The University of Alberta was awarded the Schulich Cup for coming in first overall in the academics category.

They didn't fare badly in the athletics category, either. They came in second overall, from among 20 teams.

Break large tasks into smaller parts

Similar to business school assignments, it's easy to get overwhelmed by the complex nature of some of the competitions at the Games. For example, in the marketing plan competition, teams had just three hours to come up with a solution - and corresponding presentation - for how Telus should position itself in the tablet market in Canada.

The A-Team's strategy: Break the big question into smaller pieces. "Our solution was structured using the "4 P's" of marketing: the product offering, pricing, placement and promotion," Erin Lampard, 31, says. Working in a hotel room, the team covered the room's windows with easel paper and created a brainstorming area for each of the 4 P's.

After brainstorming big picture solutions as a group, each team member took the section in their expertise to develop the idea further, Ms. Lampard says. "We then came together again near the end of the three hours and worked on ensuring that the ideas flowed well together."

In just three hours, the A-Team came up with their winning proposal for positioning Telus as a One-Stop-Shop, where consumers could try out various tablets on the market and determine which best suited their needs. "Using contract and bundled pricing, consumers would be able to purchase a subsidized tablet, necessary accessories and data plans in one location, enabling them to leave the Telus store with a fully functioning tablet," Ms. Lampard says. The detailed marketing plan even included introducing a new critter for the campaign - the gazelle.

Support others

Like the MBA games, business school can be a competitive environment. The key is to build relationships.

While the A-Team cheered loudly for themselves, they also supported other teams. "We tried to learn cheers from other schools and celebrate them as much as we celebrated our own victories," Ms. Beliveau Davis says.

For their enthusiasm, the A-team was honoured with the peer-voted Spirit of the Games award. New friendships were also formed. "On Facebook now I must have 30 new friends from ... other schools," Lucas Matheson, 31, says.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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