Winning the Wharton Team-based Discussion

In describing this component of its MBA admissions process, Wharton officials position the Team-based Discussion as an "opportunity to interact with your fellow applicants through discourse involving real-world business scenarios, which will highlight how you approach and analyze specific situations."

Sounds rather tame, right? Just a group of friendly applicants getting together to exchange perspectives, model collaboration, and reach mutually acceptable resolution.

However, the reality that surrounds this meeting of the minds is that participants are competing — against each other as well as the members of other groups — for a coveted seat in this highly selective MBA program. Some individuals will win, others will lose. So, the challenge becomes how to compete successfully while still reflecting a collegial demeanor.

As the first admissions consulting firm to introduce a consulting service designed for the Wharton Team-based Discussion in 2012, and having facilitated dozens of simulated prep sessions for applicants, we have discovered what it takes to win. Wharton admits who have worked with us to date confirm the following key success factors:

1. Understand the metrics
A winning participant is one who demonstrates team orientation, leadership initiative, logic and clarity, poise and presence, and general business awareness — in that order.

2. Capitalize on body language
The use of natural hand gestures, sincere smiles, and supportive nods scores points above and beyond a participant’s actual comments. Remember, Wharton is watching.

3. Balance assertiveness with deference
It’s okay if someone else on the team speaks first, but don’t be last. And don’t be afraid to propose a bold idea — but if buy-in doesn’t happen soon, let it go, and then be the first to sincerely praise the next comment that adds value. Keep the ball in play.

4. Remember why you are there
Beyond engaging in intellectual discourse, you’re trying to get into The Wharton School. So, reveal your knowledge of relevant Wharton offerings — classes, clubs, events, etc. — during the session.

5. When in doubt, aggregate
By being the one who recaps key discussion points, provides an overall framework, and clears the path to closure, you’ll elevate your performance without alienating others around the table. In fact, they’ll probably appreciate your proactive efforts to advance the session.

So, if you’re preparing for an upcoming Team-based Discussion, and if these tips resonate with you, let us know. The MBA Exchange is hosting video prep sessions that could help you plan, prepare and emerge as a winner at Wharton.