“MIT Scalers” are Global Champions

26th September 2013
Team member Sagar Neel De from MISI class of 2013 conveys the defining moments to their amazing success story:

sagar_champ2

Beyond Numbers!

While waiting for the flight for home at Istanbul Ataturk airport, I received an email with a link and a word – “Congratulations!”. As I scrolled through the press release, I read few impressive numbers and our names.

This year’s final was predetermined to be the biggest and best yet with more than 300 company teams from 25 countries and over 1300 participants entering the 5th annual Global Challenge of The Fresh Connection. After an exciting battle at national level the top 8 teams were selected to represent their company at the Istanbul final. In the end the MIT Scalers representing MIT (Cambridge, USA) came out victorious claiming their number 1 spot with a convincing score.The MIT Scalers achieved a weighted return on investment (ROI) of 47.8 percent, almost 4 percent higher than first runner-up team from Bosch und Siemens Hausgeräte in Germany, and 5 percent higher than the second runner-up team from Fuji Xerox in Australia.

Being an average human being with non-celebrity status, I should have been ecstatic, right? But there were no such feeling. Because the real story behind the press release are not numbers.

Its beyond numbers.

Twenty teams from MIT played the game over a period of 6 months. We were ranked 20 in round 1. Yeah, last!And nothing changed in round 2. The failures brought friction within the team, with doubts and disbeliefs on each others’ capabilities. To add to our woes, four of us were located in four different continents of the world trying to manage 15-hour time differences to schedule a virtual meeting and have known each other for couple of weeks only. The fantastic four, as we humorously call ourselves now, were in deep trouble and far from being fantastic.

As immediate action plan to take remedial measures, a couple amongst us stopped attending meetings and seldom responded to emails. And one among us,Gustavo, started making sense from tons of data in the game. The team performance improved, but still lagged behind at rank 18. I also realized that Gustavo is a reincarnation of a professor and always on the lookout for pupils. And as expected, he proactively responded to my request to document his findings. His documentation, rather “manuscripts and teachings” were infectious and we realized the game to be very engaging, which had otherwise appeared to be intimidating.

Scheduling team meetings were a cheese cake. And we did tons of math. We learnt the basics of the game and brought predictive analytics to life. We developed systems that could predict the uncontrollable aspects of the business, such as, supplier and logistics performances, manufacturing downtimes, production adherences, promotional pressures of sales channels, among others. To make things easy for us, the developers of the game used only normal and poisson distributions in generating random numbers and we reverse engineered to find out.By the time the risk elements were introduced in the game, we were prepared with risk management and scenario planning tools.

In next few rounds we moved from bottom 5 to top 5, and our ROIs have improved from minus 25% to plus 5%. And there was no looking back thereafter. When we met in person in Boston, we worked together, partied together and won together. We enjoyed the challenge and the company more than results. Without exaggerating a penny, I think we were chasing the learnig curve and the results were chasing us.

And there could be no better business than that!

We flew to Istanbul for the Global Finals with a single agenda – Enjoy! The first sight of the competing teams can be summarized in one work – INTIMIDATING. The average experience of other teams were at least 10 years more than us. They appeared very focused and prepared too.

There were four rounds, with the first two rounds not accounting for the championship score. We scored a meagre 8% ROI, which was 15% behind the best score. The ROIs were a paradigm shift from the ones we have observed in the past, but we were sheepishly smiling for we had not used our fireworks. While other teams were busy making decisions for round 1 (assuming), we were updating our backend systems (excel workbooks) to accomodate the enhanced scope of the final rounds. With the second round results, we realized the performance of our preparations. We scored 25% ROI, 8% more than the next best team. We cruised through the final rounds, consistently ahead of the next best team by 3% – 7%.

The results were declared the next day, and under the influence of the historical heritage of Istanbul we summarized our tour as ‘Venimus. Vidimus. Vicimus’(We came. We saw. We conquered).

But more than we were celebrated the victory, we celebrated a life lesson no management books or lectures have taught us. For the lack of a better term, you may call it non hierarchical leadership. There was no leader standing out and leading MIT Scalers, but there was collaborative leadership deeply ingrained in the team. Our operating model was “All Leaders. All Followers. All Critics”. In most teams with no defined hierarchy, you would notice a tendency among few individuals trying to stand out in the team. It is not necessarily an evil, but seldom helps in forging relationships among ambitious members of the team. This was the only team in our cumulative lives of 120 years, wherein we successfully achieved to keep this tendency to achieve individual excellence absent. We thrived only for team excellence.

And we ended up having an experience of our lifetime, forging relationships for life.The glory of winning the championship will soon fade, but the feeling of “Scalers” would be there for a long time ahead.

As I realized its the final boarding call for my flight, I wondered if there’s a science to clinically develop Scalers-like-teams. Or was it a mere serendipity?

Whatever be the case, we lived the experience. Its possible.

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