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Externship Exchange Learning Lab: The Wizard of Oz and the Essentials of Team Success

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For more than 80 years, the Wizard of Oz movie–in its technicolor splendor—has mesmerized audiences while becoming a fundamental element of American pop culture. It has generated spot-on metaphors to describe everything from things being not as they initially appear (what’s really “behind the curtain”) to people who either wittingly or unwittingly do the evil bidding of others. (“Flying monkeys” is actually a widely recognized term used in popular psychology, usually in the context of narcissism.)

The movie also provides an excellent framework in which to evaluate successful teamwork and team development, as MBS Externship Exchange students discovered during a February 11, 2020, Externship Exchange Learning Lab. “Every character in the movie has a role that’s central to team development,” says  Abbe Rosenthal, Senior Externship Advisor and Professional Certified Coach, who led the lab. “It was such a great analogy that it resonated.”

Teamwork is an essential part of the MBS Externship Exchange, which pairs MBS students and select students from the Rutgers University Honors College–New Brunswick to company-sponsored small projects that can be related to any MBS concentration.With groups ranging in size from two to nine students, externs work roughly ten to 12 hours each week, completing assignments under the supervision of both a company mentor and an MBS advisor.

Prior to the lab, Rosenthal sent students a link to watch the movie; whether they had seen the movie dozens of times or not at all (many students had actually never seen the movie), Rosenthal instructed them to view it through the lens of teamwork and team development, and think about how they could relate aspects of the movie or its characters to their own team.  

The lab began by participants defining the difference between a “group”—defined as a number of individuals placed categorically with no common goal—and a “team,” where all members share a common goal and combine their talents to move collectively toward it. 

The students then evaluated the role(s) and personalities of the four main characters—Dorothy, the Tinman, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow—discussing each character’s respective strengths and weaknesses, as well as how each character specifically impacted the story, both positively and negatively. 

Finally, the class discussed the individual characters in relation to a concept known as “Tuckman’s Model,” below, which identifies four critical stages of development that every team / team member endures “without exception,” says Rosenthal, as they change and grow, address challenges, solve problems, forge ahead, and deliver results.

Tuckman's Model:

  1. Forming- students first meet, get to know one another and the task at hand.
  2. Storming- team members still view themselves as individuals, with potential friction due to (among other things):
    • Differences of opinions
    • Struggles in choosing a leader
    • Different working styles
  3. Norming- emergence of group harmony, where teams experience renewed motivation, hit their stride, and can openly communicate and express ideas
  4. Performing- period of productive collaboration, where teams start reaching milestones, enjoying the work, and seeing results

The lab, held during the third week of students’ externships, took place in between the “forming” and “storming” stages: all students had met their fellow team members and mentor and had received and discussed their respective assignments; however, the majority of projects were just getting underway.

The ultimate goal of the lab, said Rosenthal, was to create a self-awareness among students so that they can make mindful progress as they complete their specific projects, and so they can identify potential obstacles and address them in ways that move the team forward. 

“It was a good forum in which to discuss dynamics that may already be emerging in some teams,” says Rosenthal. Additionally, “the exercise of talking about teammates and challenges in the abstract was great foundational practice for the teams to then have productive conversations as they progress.”

Introduced this year, the Externship Exchange Learning Labs provide structured discussions about topics such as leadership, research, teamwork, and—closer to the semester’s conclusion—poster sessions. 

The externship opportunity is open to students of all concentrations during the fall, spring, and summer semesters. 

For more information about The MBS Externship Exchange, students may contact Dr. Christie Nelson, Externship Exchange Coordinator, at cnelson@dimacs.rutgers.edu or Abbe Rosenthal, Senior Externship Advisor and Professional Certified Coach, at abbe.rosenthal@rutgers.edu.

Jen Reiseman-Briscoe
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