MBAs Climb to the Top to Learn Teamwork

A rock-climbing exercise encourages MBA students to move out of their comfort zones and work as a team.

MBAs Climb to the Top to Learn Teamwork

An instructor at a gym for indoor rock climbing in New Paltz, New York, introduces MBA students to the nuances—and teamwork requirements—of the sport.

Last fall, MBA students who were enrolled in Individual and Group Behavior Analysis, a required core course at the State University of New York at New Paltz, learned teamwork skills via an unusual activity: indoor rock climbing. Led in teams of four to five by a lead instructor and several assistant instructors, students learned safety techniques and climbing skills, while working together to coach and encourage others as they navigated challenging climbing routes.

Lead instructor JoDee LaCasse scheduled the rock-climbing exercise about halfway through the 15-week course, just as the students were to begin a discussion about teamwork. The exercise took place during a regular evening class session, which was expanded by two hours to allow enough time for students to complete the activity. Beforehand, LaCasse met with the indoor climbing instructor to develop a curriculum for the exercise, and students signed liability and safety waiver agreement forms.

Ranging in age from 25 to 45, the students came to climbing with different fitness levels and abilities, but all were encouraged to go outside their comfort zones and challenge themselves by choice. The activity ended with pizza and a debriefing session, during which students reflected on what they learned. “Several students were vehemently opposed to climbing at all, but with their team’s support, they not only climbed, but climbed to the top of the wall,” says LaCasse. “The students said that, working with their team, they were able to challenge themselves and do more than they ever thought they could.”

The rock-climbing experience was “a natural way to engage the students” in lessons about teamwork, says LaCasse. Offered again in spring 2018, it is now a signature experiential learning activity for the course.