In this exercise, EMBA students both give and take. It starts with each EMBA student making a request and posting it on the board. The rest of the students listen carefully to the student at the front of the room, consider how they or someone they know might offer assistance, and jot down their possible contribution on a note.
When all students finish describing their requests, one-by-one they come forward to talk about their potential offers of assistance. They match their contribution notes to the request notes that each student posted on a board. In the end, each student is accountable to follow up on the offers for assistance to get their request met.
Rocca Morra Hodge co-facilitates the exercise with Professor Bill McEvily in this experiential networking session on the Reciprocity Ring®, a lesson for EMBA students on the power of cultivating and tapping social capital.
“I want to encourage and teach them ways to build their social capital and social networking,” says Hodge, executive coach – careers and leadership, EMBA Programs at the University of Toronto Rotman School of Management. “We have our own professional connections, but the capacity and resources of our social network are really limitless.”
Wayne Baker, Robert P. Thome Professor of Business at the University of Michigan, and his wife Cheryl Baker co-created the Reciprocity Ring®, a licensed guided collaboration exercise that applies the “pay-it-forward” principle while encouraging connections.
In organizations, the activity can reap returns of $150,000 to $480,000 in realized value. Hodge applies the exercise to EMBA career development to help students strengthen their networking abilities. “Many EMBA students shy away from networking and don’t know how to ask for help,” she says. Helping others supports networking and fosters a powerful personal and professional brand.
“Most people want to be of value to others, so your reputation and brand go up because you are helping others.”
The premise is simple: “We all have wants and needs, but we may not know how to ask,” Hodge says. Everyone also has the talent and ability to give, once they know they can help.
Students craft a SMART (Specific, Meaningful & Important, Action-Oriented, Real Need, Time Bound) request. On the personal side, a student may want tickets to see the play Hamilton on Broadway. On the professional side, a student may be looking for consulting expertise in supply chain management for a project that starts soon.
While not all requests may be filled, more-often-than-not, even the seemingly most challenging ones are met. A participant in one exercise wanted to make sure that Beatle Paul McCartney received his fan letter. As it happened, someone who knew one of McCartney’s crew was in room.
“That is the magic that happens when you do this kind of exercise,” says Hodge.
For the exercise, groups range in size from 18 to 24, and they may go through the ask/contribute process twice. Hodge conducts the activity during orientation for EMBA students and also invites alumni.
The Reciprocity Ring® is part of a full menu of career services for EMBA students that include assessments, workshops, mock interviews, career coaching, networking opportunities, and support groups. Hodge sees the future making greater use of virtual services and applying design thinking to career services. The Reciprocity Ring® will stay on the menu, and can be run virtually through the Give and Take platform.
“Students just love it,” she says. “As soon as they’ve experienced the power of the exercise, they want to do it again.”