Advisor, faculty advisor, mentor, coach: these are just some of the names used for the person accompanying teams to international case competitions. Names aside, this person plays a crucial role in the success of the team. However, as a coach (let’s just use this word from now on) I usually get the question: “So what do you do exactly?” This article aims to answer this question.
The obvious answer is: coaches help the team. What some may not know is that advisors usually start months before the competition. They design the curriculum, select the practice cases, and educate students on how to approach case studies. Actually, this is one of the three roles of a coach. Let’s see what these roles are, in detail:
- Content provider role: This is the classic teacher role, mentioned above. Coaches teach case solving methodology, financial forecasting, and give feedback as to how to present and answer the jury’s questions. This teaching process is planned, but sometimes ad hoc solutions are needed, as well. Once I had to teach valuation in just a couple of hours, for example, when I learned that the finance guy on the team did not know how to do it.
- Tactical role: Just like a football coach does, a case coach also gives tactical advice to the team. This is extremely important in multi-round competitions. At the ICC@M 2015, for instance, I had a sit down with the team after each of the group rounds. We brainstormed on how to compete with the three other teams in our division. We identified what their strengths and weaknesses are, and changed our tactics accordingly. Among others, this involved the step to add valuation to the team’s toolkit.
- Dr. Phil role: Case contenders are strong, confident individuals. But they are people after all, and the high pressure environment at a competition brings their differences to surface. The case coach, as a person close to the team but not being a member of it, can effectively help in these situations. In most cases, it’s enough if the coach facilitates a discussion, where the differences can be ironed out, and team dynamics return to a healthy stage. However, tension can reach levels so high, that the coach needs to step in and save the team. In one extreme instance, I had to convince a team member unhappy with the team’s performance to stay onboard. After an evening of intense discussion, he gave in, and we went on to win the competition in Slovenia.
The three roles above show that a coach’s main responsibility is helping their team to succeed. Of course, case competitions provide an excellent opportunity to meet other coaches, discuss teaching methods with them and secure invitations to other competitions. After all, tactics aside, case competitions are about bringing together like-minded people, and having a great time. You know, just like at a football match.
The author has been the coach to several case teams, competing in Slovenia, Denmark and the Netherlands, among other countries.