Tag: Andrew Knight



A high-performing team is the holy grail of leadership. But how do you build a strong team in practice? The beauty of Olin’s Executive MBA program is the abundance of opportunities to learn, apply, and practice team-building skills.

Executive MBA alumni Eric Willis and Ali Ahmadi, EMBA Academic Director Lee Konczak, and Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior Andrew Knight summarize some of the more salient lessons about team-building from the Executive MBA program and their professional lives:

A Shared Purpose

As part of the Leadership Residency, Lee Konczak, academic director of the Executive MBA Program and senior lecturer on organizational behavior and leadership development, administers a team development survey to measure how well the student teams function.

The assessment is Olin’s way “of defining for EMBA teams what a good team looks like,” Konczak said. “Teams do better when they have shared goals, plan ahead, and communicate. In some cases, it’s obvious when teams aren’t on the same page using this assessment.”

According to Konczak, commitment to a shared purpose and a willingness to plan are the two most important team-building takeaways for executives in the program.

Diversity of Perspectives and Experience

Eric Willis, EMBA 43, was a senior brand manager when he started the EMBA Program. He was promoted to a brand director during the program and is now director of marketing at Nestlé Purina Petcare. For him, the team-building aspect of the Executive MBA Program was an opportunity to practice skills he’d learned at Nestlé with a completely different and diverse group of professionals.

“One of the things I loved most about the EMBA program was that it was such a diverse group of people with different points of view and different backgrounds, all coming together in one place,” Willis said. “On your team, you’ve got to figure out how to leverage everyone’s strengths to achieve a common goal.”

At Nestlé Purina, Willis regularly brings groups of disparate team members together, including finance and product development participants, to agree on mission and vision. Some of the challenges include developing trust, addressing different sets of values, and communication.

“To me, building a strong team means getting diversity of thought. It means respecting people’s different points of view,” he said. “When I think of building a strong team, I think of empowering people to make decisions, and I think of leveraging what everybody brings to the table and trying to find a way to use everybody’s different perspectives to reach a common goal.”

An Environment of Trust and Respect

Entrepreneurship is an area in which building strong teams—and building them early—is critical. As an EMBA student, Ali Ahmadi, EMBA 44, leapt fully into entrepenreurship, co-founding drone 3D software startup “Strayos” (formerly AirZaar), with a fellow student. He knows firsthand how important it is that teams work well when the stakes are high and the rewards are not guaranteed.

“Early stage founders often don’t realize that the idea or product is not the only factor motivating the talent; it’s also the willingness to follow their leader into an environment where the odds are stacked against them in succeeding,” he says. “When you build a team that trusts and respects you as a leader, they will go through a wall of fire to reach the common goal but if the trust and respect are neglected, then very little can be done to salvage it,” he says.

Be Open to Feedback

Andrew Knight, associate professor of organizational behavior at Olin, finds that one of the biggest roadblocks for entrepreneurs is cultivating and developing a sense of shared ownership—“not in an equity sense,” Knight said, “but in terms of the feeling of ownership that the team members have over the venture. There is kind of an asymmetry in people’s investment in the project at the outset.”

Knight suggests leaders invite input from those joining the team, while at the same time creating boundaries: “Encourage new team members to make contributions and suggest changes to the venture, but pair that with clearly communicating where the entrepreneur is less willing to make changes.”

This clarity—inviting input within a mutually understood structure—“applies in almost any creative team where there is a need to get people feeling ownership—especially implementation and innovation,” Knight said.

The importance of this delicate balance is supported by recent research by Knight and Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior Markus Baer, who identified three behaviors of successful lead entrepeneurs in the earliest stages of a venture.




“Millennials in the workplace” is a big topic among non-millennials—both in the media and at work. So we tapped Andrew Knight, Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior, to shed some light on his research regarding this intriguing generation. He presented his findings in a recent webinar, identifying three trends that organizations are facing:

  1. Millennials are difficult to retain.

  2. Millennials prize their personal lives over their work lives.

  3. Millennials want opportunities to grow and develop.

I don’t think that anyone would argue that #2 and #3 aren’t positive or even natural from generation to generation. So let’s focus on the “difficult to retain” trend. Why? First off, millennials identify less and less with institutions, religion, and even voting. So they certainly aren’t going to drink the company Kool-Aid easily! They are always open to new endeavors and don’t readily choose to stay with a current employer for long. They want opportunities and they want to “work to live” (not necessarily the other way around). And when millennials work, they want to work in a less rigid environment, with plenty of mentoring and coaching along the way.

Millennials are often accused of being “entitled”  and “narcissistic.” However, as Professor Knight pointed out, every American generation has been called the “most narcissistic” to date. And many of the measures which ladder up to the label of narcissistic—”self-esteem,” “drive,” and “persistence”—also build up to being a leader, which isn’t a bad thing.

So how do we best embrace and nurture the Millennial generation? Professor Knight shared some key thoughts to this point:

  1. Avoid stereotyping millennials as “entitled.”

  2. Recognize that this generation is the most diverse generation in history.

  3. Offer career opportunities within an organization, even if a promotion is not available or appropriate. Consider a geographic, functional, or divisional change.

  4. Redefine rigid roles and rules to address the fact that millennials value their personal lives more than their work lives. Consider flexible time, flexible roles, or a flexible location policy.

  5. Give the “annual” review more often than once a year. Millennials are hungry to grow and develop; they want coaching, ongoing feedback and opportunities.

Millennials are here to stay, and managers need to think about how to better structure positions and policies to better attract, develop, and keep this pool of talent.

Be sure to check out the “Managing the Millennial Wave” seminar scheduled for February 2018, as well as our other management and leadership offerings

How millennial are you? Check out the Pew Center’s 14-question quiz.


Doors to faculty offices at Olin Business School are always open and professors are always willing to chat, so we’re taking our cameras inside to Meet the Professors in this new OlinBlog series.

In this episode, meet Andrew Knight, an assistant professor of organizational behavior. He earned his PhD at Wharton where he won the Penn Prize for Excellence in Teaching by Graduate Students.

Next month: Meet Prof. Adina Sterling

Filmed and edited by Emma Kane (Arts & Sciences ’15).