The Wisdom of Sharing Pasta

Jacqueline Liao

It was two weeks into the 10-month INSEAD MBA programme. Six strangers were dining pasta on a weekday.

What we didn't know however, is that this was an evening that would change our lives forever.

Within the first four months of INSEAD’s MBA programme, we are all assigned to study groups, formed by five or six people. Each person comes from a different country and we all have different professional backgrounds. We sit next to each other in all classes, and work on all of the group assignments together. This experience is one of the major components of the INSEAD MBA.

We knew it would be an intense year, so we decided to start off by scheduling that dinner. We figured that meeting outside the school environment would enable us to see each other through a fresh lens.

At INSEAD, we were a bunch of smart and ambitious kids who did not even speak the same language; outside of it, we were six individuals figuring out career dilemmas, personal struggles, and cultural shocks.

We were not that different after all; in fact, we could enjoy a good few laughs together. That evening was followed by many other group events, which eventually helped us evolve from being simply a group of people, to a true team that worked harmoniously together.

My view on leadership has also been reshaped. Although I had led people, I had never consciously realised the importance of building trust, which meant creating an environment in which individuals can be vulnerable without the fear of being judged or laughed at. This, contrary to how it sounds, is not that simple. We all unconsciously wish that others have the ability to understand our reasons, so that we can be our authentic selves. But everyone, including our own selves, is too busy with life to listen to each other.

So during that dinner, we took the time to really listen and pay attention to each other. “Invest in people, it always pays off”, my team mate used to say.

That night I discovered that building trust is the cornerstone for any group to progress from coordinating tasks to truly collaborating.

Teams are more open to discuss feedback, to try new things, and admit their mistakes.

As graduation approaches, and I gaze back on the time that has elapsed, I realise that this is certainly a lesson I will carry on with me after the MBA: put effort in people, build trust. When the dinner ended that evening, and as each one of us made our way home, I knew we were not the same group that had arrived. We had already started to become a team.

Article dedicated to Taimur, Fede, Makoto, Irina and William.