My first two terms at Fuqua (actually, three if you include the short summer term) were more than a whirlwind. Coming from an environmental think tank in Washington, D.C., I was used to people thinking and behaving a certain way. My friend group began to reflect that. All of a sudden, I was—voluntarily, of course—thrown into an environment of uncertainty and adrenaline, sip circles and coffee chats, and small talk in every corner of my new life in Durham. On top of that, I recently got engaged and would be away from my fiancé, Olivia, who is pursuing her master’s in environmental management at Yale University.

At the start of the summer term, everyone in my section was handed a piece of paper with a famous singer/songwriter on it. I had Adele. We were sent out of the classroom to meet our consequential leadership, or C-LEAD, team in the hallway. All I could think was, “Is it me you’re looking for?” Suddenly, I was standing before classmates I had never really met. Soon, we would be working through every single group project together for our core classes over the next few months.

Getting Into a Rhythm

Classes started, I distinctly remember feeling people’s warmth, kindness, and willingness to explore building lifelong friendships. This was built into the experience on every level, both grocery shopping on Ninth Street or sitting in Statistics class. Just a few days into the summer term and everyone getting into the groove of things, I realized that every single morning when class started, people were fist-pumping, high-fiving, or hugging. My C-LEAD and I were definitely a little reserved around each other at first. We did some small team-building exercises, set up a recurring meeting to work through homework together, and were soon “rolling in the deep.”

Gerard Pozzi and his teammates in the Daytime MBA Class of 2025 put their hands into the middle of a table at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business

To share a little bit about my C-LEAD: We have myself (you can read my bio here), Coco Mao (from China and interested in investment banking), Mercedes Jones (from Texas and interested in leadership development programs), Harish Nanjala (from Hyderabad India and pursuing consulting), and Jared Loerzel (from Florida and pursuing finance). We could not be more diverse and different. But I later found out… that’s where the magic lies.

Learning Through Teamwork

We each wield wildly opposite skill sets. Some of us are super analytical, others are excellent at brainstorming and great with big ideas. Through experimentation and a common drive I can’t fully put into words, we pushed through demanding projects and timelines, carved out needed time for team reflection, and celebrated successes whenever the opportunity arose. Fast forward to the start of Spring 2, I’m reflecting on the lessons I’ve learned from my team.

  1. Conflict is OK. In fact, it’s very good. Initially, it might feel safe and comfortable to get past conflict quickly and move on. Taking the time to pause after any form of conflict or disagreement as a team proved to be instrumental to us, refining our dynamic and becoming even stronger.
  2. Carve out time for self and team reflection. After every assignment, for even just five minutes, a moment of reflection served us well. We got into the practice of sharing how we could improve the process. I think this helped us identify pain points over time and grow from that.
  3. Smile. Crack a joke. Pull a light prank. Injecting some light energy here and there is definitely easier said than done when you feel like you’re drowning in an endless tsunami of work. That said, I guarantee that a smile, joke, or even prank will make the work environment more fun and allow everyone to take a deep breath.

After just a few months of working together, I’ve learned how to embrace other’s differences to make a strong team. I’ve learned more about myself than at any other moment in my life. Most importantly, I got to meet four of the most amazing people on this planet.