The Secrets to Successful Business Partnerships: How a Strong Relationship with a Business Partner Transformed an MBA Program

02/01/2017 05:46 pm ET

Nancy Schreiber is the Dean of The Bill Munday School of Business at St. Edward’s University in Austin. As an expert in leadership and human resource management, Dean Schreiber shares her perspective on building great business partnerships in academia.

What are the key ingredients in great partnerships?

Mutual Respect: Both partners must define expectations, what a “win/win” outcome looks like, and how it’s measured. They must also build a relationship that allows for candid feedback along the way. Undoubtedly, there will be a point where both parties must recalibrate efforts to reach a win/win outcome. Respectful candor is essential to getting there.

Capability: Before entering a partnership, both parties need to thoroughly assess their talent pools and resources against the desired outcome. It’s essential both partners are clear on their teams’ responsibilities independently and together to reach that win/win outcome.

Integrity: The success of the partnership ultimately rests on its integrity. Each party must live up to their promises, be honest with the other in times of stress, and maintain flexibility in the face of unforeseen issues.

Nancy Schreiber is the Dean of The Bill Munday School of Business at St. Edward’s University in Austin.
Nancy Schreiber is the Dean of The Bill Munday School of Business at St. Edward’s University in Austin.

Can you describe a partnership that that shows this?

When I first started as dean of the St. Edward’s University Bill Munday School of Business, I knew we needed to evolve our our curriculum in both content and delivery. The move from exclusively classroom delivery to a hybrid of classroom and online learning requires a business partner from the education technology space.

By partnering with i-DesignEDU, an organization that works with university faculty to build the technical components of the curriculum, our team served as subject matter experts in partnership with i-DesignEDU’s team of technical architects and instructional designers to build the new MBA program.

Both partners had the capability in terms of quantity and quality of resources to get it done, but without respectful and timely feedback about the pain points, we would have been unable to accomplish the goal of completing 12 courses in a 16-month time frame. Our partnership had the integrity to make tough decisions and follow through on actions that were not always easy nor anticipated. Thanks to a very ambitious and courageous team, we now have a robust MBA program that meets the modern needs of our students.

Transitioning from a traditional classroom MBA to a hybrid model will entail difficulties to everyone involved. Can you share an example of a challenge that you faced, and how you overcame it?

Networking and educational events are often highly valued aspects of MBA programs. The hybrid platform limits in-person events and challenges us to think differently about how we fulfill our students’ needs. We learned to creatively program networking events like happy hours, and we also utilize our new platform for educational events such as speaker series and career panel discussions.

How have the professors and students responded to the new platform?

Students are very pleased with the flexible approach it offers them. Many students have told me they would not be able to earn their MBA without this format. It has also helped our MBA market grow geographically.

In terms of learning styles, I have found that the hybrid model has great benefits for more introverted students who prefer to process information more slowly and intentionally prior to communicating their ideas. Not having to respond in “real time” is very beneficial for this learning style.

On the downside, some students feel that rigorous quantitative courses are more challenging with this platform as they prefer asking questions face-to-face. On campus sessions resolve this issue for students who are more insecure about the course content and require more interaction.

I will acknowledge that some courses are better suited for the platform than others, but I would stress that this issue also occurs in the work environment.

For example, in a constantly evolving marketplace, projects are often managed virtually across remote teams, even when face-to-face might be a better approach. Our program is created to “learn the way you work.”

Professors might also need to adjust their style. They cannot read social and physical cues from students online like they can in person. Timely and thorough feedback to students is also critical and may take more time.

While there are trade-offs with the hybrid approach by in large, faculty likes the flexibility it offers and students appreciate the career preparation it provides.

What advice can you give to other university administrators who are considering partnering with companies to provide the technical components of the curriculum?

When vetting vendors, it is imperative you strategically engage and even involve faculty and students from the beginning. They are the end users. Their participation in vetting and trial will help you ask the right questions of the vendor, and zero in on what will truly fill end user needs. Ultimately,, they will be more likely to embrace the new technology if they’ve had a stake in selecting it.

Lastly, there are many campus stakeholders who are necessary to making a major tech change possible and even successful. They should also be included in strategy and implementation where appropriate.

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