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Sink or SWIM: The Case Study (continued)

Through class discussions, the group gained a tremendous amount of support and feedback from their peers—and that feedback, in turn, provided perhaps the greatest benefit—a chance to further refine their case. For Graham, teaching the case “helped us to really work through the decision-making process for key points that we had thought were obvious.”

The conference-planning experience, coupled with the opportunity to write a case, was a critical learning experience for all three co-presidents. “It is one thing to learn about the frameworks to make decisions during a crisis, to motivate a team, to sell a product or service, but it’s another thing to actually do it and learn from your mistakes in real time,” said Ramamurthy, a sentiment echoed by Ankeles. “SWIM was the single most impactful part of our experience at MIT Sloan,” she noted. “To be in a situation outside of the classroom where you have to develop your leadership style, to motivate, to take into account individual motivations and rewards supplemented what I learned in the classroom and was critical to my education at MIT Sloan.”

The following is an excerpt from the case written by Lauren Ankeles, MBA ’13; Marine Graham, MBA ’13; Senior Lecturer Roberta Pittore; and Priyanka Ramamurthy, MBA ’13; and prepared by Cate Revis.

On Thursday, February 7, 2013, after 11 months of planning, the Sloan Women in Management (SWIM) club’s three co-presidents and two conference directors faced a difficult decision. The club’s third annual conference, aptly named “Dare to Fail: Taking Risks When It Matters Most,” was scheduled to begin around the time a winter storm, fortified with up to 50 inches of snow, was predicted to hit the Boston area.

The impending storm was an ironic twist for the conference leadership team that had overcome a number of challenges during the months leading up to the start of the conference. When they began planning the event in March of 2012, the club’s co-presidents took on the roles of chief financial officer, chief operating officer, and chief marketing officer, and the two directors were responsible for speaker recruitment. In addition to navigating tense team dynamics over who had final authority in the decision-making process, the team faced many planning setbacks. Finding available speakers proved difficult and took many months. With an uncertain speaker line-up, marketing the conference was tricky and ticket sales lagged. The team experienced a host of last-minute logistical snags, including the cancellation of one of the conference’s two keynote speakers just one month before the conference was to begin. These challenges were set against a backdrop of high expectations. The club’s 2011 conference, by all measures, had been a roaring success with a sold-out crowd of 400.

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