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By Jamie McLaughlin (2Y 2021) on behalf of the CIM 2020 Exec Team

The CIM 2020 Exec Team (from left): Shubhendra Agrawal (MMM 2021), Jamie McLaughlin (2Y 2021), Howard Hsu (2Y 2021), Kanwal Hooda (2Y 2021), Tracey Fetherson (2Y 2021)

One cannot read or hear about Kellogg without encountering the word ‘collaboration:’  “My favorite part of Kellogg is the collaborative culture” or “The key to Kellogg is collaboration.” But what are we all talking about? What does collaboration even mean?

I choose to adopt a definition I heard from a fantastic Kellogg professor, Professor Michelle Buck: “Collaboration is a collective commitment to excellence.” Note, she didn’t say ‘a collective commitment to getting along,’ but a commitment to excellence we make together. That definition stuck with me at an aspirational level my first year at Kellogg. It now sticks with me personally because I have lived it. I lived it at Kellogg when planning this year’s orientation week, CIM 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Planning CIM 2020 during COVID-19

“CIM is going to happen. We are going to welcome a new class of students to Kellogg.  So, with that being said…how do we do it?”

It is March of 2020 and we are all blinking at each other out of eight Zoom squares. I am one of five students (collectively called CIM Execs) selected to help bring the next year’s CIM to life. The CIM Execs included Tracey Fetherson, K.J Hooda, Shubhendra Agrawal, Howard Hsu and myself, Jamie McLaughlin. We are teamed up with three powerhouse administrators to create the core CIM planning team.*

All of us just look at each other (there is no eye contact in Zoom so it’s just a collective group stare). With all the experience and brains between us, none of us have ever planned a 600+ people event — with an audience that would be both in-person and online — against the background of a global pandemic. Gradually, we all smile nervously at each other and pick up our pens.

It was at that moment, and again and again over the next seven months, that I experienced excellence collaboration for maybe the first time in my life. The magic of this collaboration came in two parts, our definition of “excellence” and our dedication to “collective commitment.”

Delivering excellence for all

Excellence. To responsibly deliver CIM in a COVID-19 environment, we needed to plan hybrid programming where incoming students could safely attend both virtually and in-person. The easy answer would have been to simplify the logistics and strip down the CIM programming to its bare bones, delivering only the required information. Instead, when we asked ourselves “What experience are we trying to deliver?” our responses were:

  • “We want to engage and inspire people, not just hold hours of Zoom meetings.”
  • “It has to be inclusive; all students need to be building connections.”
  • “It has to be a consistent experience across all channels and audiences — equal.”

It immediately became clear we were all committed to delivering an experience that welcomed the incoming class into Kellogg’s values by living up to them ourselves. This meant thoughtfully breaking apart programming into the pieces that would be best delivered virtually and those best delivered in hybrid fashion. This meant training all speakers on how to facilitate discussions across platforms so everyone participated equally. This meant holding complementary virtual and in-person meal options so all attendees had the opportunity to build connections. Overall, it meant working tirelessly to deliver excellence for all.

Collective Commitment. We quickly realized there was no easy way to pull this ‘excellence’ off. We couldn’t exactly divide and conquer because we had no idea what we were trying to divide (or how to conquer it). So, collectively, we committed to hours of Zoom calls, where we walked through drafted programming and challenged each other’s assumptions on what was feasible. These calls could be frustrating and circuitous, so humor became mission-critical. I remember a time in late August when we CIM Execs made the horrible mistake of trying to prank one of our teammates in administration by telling her an early piece of programming had failed. I’ll never forget when we gave up the prank and she said “Oh, so we’re doing that, huh? Playing pranks? Let’s go.” Utterly terrifying.

We came from completely different backgrounds — literally four different countries and eight wildly different career paths. We blended these differences together through a combination of empathy, resilience, creativity and humor to create our flavor of ‘collective commitment.’ We cheered each other on: in our CIM accomplishments, our summer internship achievements, for children’s birthdays, and in almost every type of personal trial. As Tracey observed, “There was never any room for apathy on this team.”

All in, I now understand what collaboration means at Kellogg. Something magical happens here if you let it; through hallways, Zoom screens and everything in between. I couldn’t be more grateful for the team that taught me that.

*It took an army within every branch of Kellogg to plan CIM 2020. Thank you to all!

Curious how CIM 2020 turned out?!
Look out for Part 2 of this blog series: CIM 2020 from a new student perspective. If we’ve learned anything in marketing class it’s that the people who build the product are not the best to review it,  the customer is! So, stand by for the next blog revealing those reviews and takeaways.