New Delhi: From being left alone with just two matchsticks to light firewood to trekking 16km at some 8,000ft above sea level, students of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) at Indore were made to face many difficult situations in the Himalayas as a part of their course on strategic management.
The business school took its final-year batch of around 400 students to the Himalayas on a week-long trip and put them in tough situations aimed at teaching them lessons in project management, team building, stress management and integral development in a practical way.
After a pilot last year, the Himalayas course was made a compulsory, four-credit paper this year, the highest weight any individual subject can get in flagship postgraduate programme. The two-year course requires 120 credits and every credit is equivalent to five lectures.
“Several aspects of management cannot be taught inside classrooms. Living skills to manage urgent situations strategically are important for any manager. And here you need to stretch yourself,” said Srinivas Gunta, a professor of IIM-Indore who accompanied the students.
Gunta, who teaches strategic management, said that after last year’s pilot when 32 students participated, the institute’s management thought the exercise was an innovative approach to the overall development of budding managers.
“Making it a four-credit course was deliberate as it will attach seriousness to the task and the marks obtained will be counted as part of their overall performance,” he said.
J.V. Avadhanulu, a retired Indian naval officer, who is helping the school in this work, calls the project an “integral development lab” for learning concepts managers tackle in their everyday corporate lives. “This gives them an opportunity to reflect on what they read in books as the situations require instant decision-making capabilities.”
In addition to evaluations by professors, each student was graded by peers on a 10-point scale in areas such as leadership skill, timely completion of tasks, process compliance, dedication, team player, attitude, quality of work, initiative, out-of-the-box thinking and overall satisfaction. The professors judged the students on five broad parameters—group dynamics, fastest to complete a task, quality of work, process compliance and attitude.
Narayanan Ramaswamy, an executive director at consulting firm KPMG, said that with changing economic situations, leading Indian business schools are trying to reinvent themselves. Innovative, practical teaching methods are always a better way to make students aware of real-life situations they will face after graduation, he said.
Kaushlendra Singh, a second-year student who went on the camp, said the week-long exercise taught him how to manage a project better.
“Learning project management and team work in the classroom is completely different than real-life situations. This trip sharpens your skills, be it effective communication skill or managing an urgent situation. The whole idea was to simulate real-life corporate problems of team building and linking them to some innovative adventure activity.”
The students were divided into four groups and sent to four different locations in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. River rafting, trekking, crossing rivers and collecting firewood may sound fun, but tasks can be very stressing, Singh said. “Unless you take instant yet right decisions, there is a chance of making a mistake, and in those circumstances, making mistakes is beneficial neither to your team nor to your own health.”
Gunta said such courses help students become good listeners and team persons. “You have to adopt to the situation and you do best under adverse situations.”