I have always been curious about the American business culture. From an outsider’s perspective, it seemed energetic, innovative and communal. And so one of the key factors in my decision to attend Columbia Business School was to gain more understanding of this culture. My learning truly started on the first day.
Like many business schools, we were split into clusters. I was part of ‘Cluster F’, which was nicknamed ‘Flower Power’. After the initial welcome meeting, we were led to our cluster headquarters (a regular classroom reserved for us for orientation) and this is where things started to get a bit surreal.
As we sheepishly followed each other into the room, we were welcomed by a group of chanting, grinning, arm-waving second-year MBAs dressed in hippie 60s fashion. They gave each of us a Greenpeace necklace, a colourful hippy jacket and a bright yellow headband with flowers printed on it and told us to wear them for the next two weeks.
Wearing my jacket and headband while sitting in a classroom covered in pink paper flowers, I watched Dan, one of the second years, skip to the tune of the Beatle’s Yellow Submarine. It felt like a dream given that only a few weeks ago I was in a tailored suit and Joseph Cheaney shoes, sitting in morning conferences and analysing company performance. It was a long way away (3,459 miles to be exact) from corporate life in London. Looking around the room, I saw other wide eyes and raised eyebrows. Clearly, I was not the only one stunned by this unusual, ritualistic welcome.
For the next two weeks, from dawn till dust, we spent all our time together as a cluster. During one session, we heard Sam’s story about the tattoo on his upper left thigh. At lunch, we heard about Dan’s love for his half-bred German shepherd, named Mud, and at the ‘You Got Talent’ competition, we tested Mark’s ability to remember countless 90’s boyband songs.
It’s surprising how quickly one can adapt to one’s surroundings. After so much intense socialising, I felt perfectly at home wearing the neon yellow headband and hippy jacket, and the strangers I met on my first day have turned into friends.
As I suspected, orientation was designed to develop a shared common identity and foster strong connections within the clusters. But it wasn’t until one of our leadership classes, where we systematically examined business culture cases and reflected on the essential elements for a strong culture, that I came to appreciate the design and underlying intentions of the orientation events. Everything was designed with a purpose, from the ritualistic cluster welcoming and periodically altered seating arrangements, to the selection of social activities.
I now feel part of the Columbia Business School culture and, more importantly, have learnt first-hand the essential elements needed to create an energetic, innovative and communal team.
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