11/18/2013 04:27 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

'Cultivating a Holistic, Integrative Approach': MIT Sloan School Reflects on new Enterprise Management Track

A few years ago, we here at MIT Sloan School of Management looked in to launching an MBA track to complement the existing tracks in Finance and Entrepreneurship. We contacted alumni and business professionals to determine what types of skills companies most desired in our MBA graduates. We wanted to find out what the companies' needs were and where they saw gaps. What we found is perhaps the paradox of today's global business world: even as markets have become increasingly interconnected and technology enables employees spread all over the globe to easily share knowledge and resources, it's still hard for large organizations to achieve true interconnectedness that get things done.

The reason is simple. Employees have a natural tendency to be self-contained within their particular business units. Marketing folks mostly talk to other marketing folks; operations people consult other operations people; and the finance team pretty much sticks to itself. This is not necessarily a new problem. Silos comprised of workers with no real connection to each other or even to the outside world is a challenge that many companies face. According to a 2006 survey by McKinsey, the consulting group, only 25 percent of senior executives described their organizations as effective at sharing knowledge across boundaries, yet nearly 80 percent acknowledged that such coordination is critical to growth.

To address the issue, MIT Sloan piloted a new MBA track, Enterprise Management (EM), last fall. This September we welcomed our second batch of EM students. The track is designed for students who are interested in working with or for large organizations in both the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors. The goal is to graduate students who take a holistic and integrative approach to solving business problems and who think creatively about how to work together across functions and units.

We get started as soon as students arrive on campus. In the first semester, students take a special action-learning-based seminar where they work in small groups on real projects sourced from about a dozen large organizations. These include companies like Cisco, Nike, Nokia, and P&G. Students are assigned a faculty mentor, attend class sessions and work in cross-functional teams based on their previous work experience and/or coursework. In the end, students are graded on how well they collaborated with each other to come up with a solution that integrates best practices from different functions and units.

(I admit that at first my colleagues and I had some misgivings about throwing brand-new MBA students in the proverbial deep-end. We worried, "Did they have the specific content expertise to do these projects?" But then we realized something important: developing a holistic mindset needs to start from Day One. We couldn't wait until the second year of the MBA program to try to change their perspective. After all, if you graduate with a degree in business and get a job as a junior marketing manager at a big company, you need to think holistically about business issues from the start. You don't wait until you're the Chief Marketing Officer to have a broad perspective. A holistic approach needs to be something that's cultivated in the early part of your career--both as an MBA student and as a working professional.)

In the second year of the track, students participate in a capstone action-learning event: Management Practice Hack-a-thon. During the competition, which takes place over a fast-paced three days, students work in cross-functional teams to solve a real business problem. On the final day, students give a presentation with their recommendation before a panel of judges. We want to see that students have developed a capacity to apply different management perspectives and practices in their respective roles. We want to see that they've cultivated an ability to forge strategic cross-functional relationships. And we want to make sure they have a deep understanding of how to devise goals for their individual business units that also align with the broader corporate strategy.

The EM Track retains high flexibility within the program; no more than 50 percent of the MBA credit requirements are necessary to qualify for an EM certificate. In addition to required core courses and electives, students in the EM Track have access to special programs like seminars with the faculty, business professionals, and senior consultants, as well as networking events with leading practitioners.

The track is ideally suited for students who plan to pursue careers in consulting, product development and innovation, specific functional career paths or students who wish to do a rotational management program after graduation. Typically students in rotational management programs work in a variety of units--marketing, branding, strategy, supply chain and operations management--within a large organization over a period of about two years.

We look forward to educating our EM Track students and sincerely hope to train them to engage in cross-functional interaction from the get-go.

Sharmila C. Chatterjee is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing and the Academic Head for the Enterprise Management Track at the MIT Sloan School of Management.