There are few industries left where the norm is working independently. In fact, it is hard for me to even think of one off hand … yep, not coming up with much beyond zoological photography in the bush or survival reality TV shows. In our day-to-day work lives, we are held to an elevated standard of productive output which can only be achieved through 18-hour days, or if handled more intelligently, effective teamwork. Your coursework at Duke as a Weekend Executive MBA student is no different.

So, am I saying you’re going to have to work 18-hours a day to pass your classes? Not at all. Maybe 18 hours a week, but only if you manage those 18 hours perfectly by balancing what is expected of you, what is expected of your academic team, and how the two interconnect. As far as I can tell, each team is painstakingly chosen with handpicked MBA candidates who bring unique and diverse backgrounds to the group. Even if there is an overlap of titles, for instance two Product Managers, you’ll find that the disparity between those two people is generally far greater than that of people with different titles. Duke is the equivalent of a free country, so you can attack your classes however you want, but I have to tell you that you’re likely to learn quickly that there is one way to not only survive, but thrive, and it is aptly named: Team.

One of my teammates, Kashif, smiles knowingly — we’re about to get a new assignment.

I’m an open book, which you can probably tell from my other blog entries. So I’ll tell you this in my humble, but honest opinion: I don’t care how smart you are, how dedicated you are, or how fast you can pick things up — if you try to tackle this MBA on your own, you are simply not ‘getting it’ and will likely set yourself up for disappointment. Fuqua wants to develop real, effective leaders and not a bunch of one-off managers. In order to further solidify this, you and your team are actively tasked with difficult situations and decisions that reflect real-world problems, and it is up to your team to come up with real-world solutions. Four or 5 other people on your team will look to you and ask, “What unique ability do you have to bring to the table to help us make it through this?” It is up to you to answer that question by applying your personal and business knowledge towards the completion of a shared goal.

The Team Will Click

As you progress through the trials and tribulations of the MBA program, and you get better at understanding how you and your teammates fit into the big picture — suddenly things start to click. Instead of a handful of diverse students, you become one coherent operating entity capable of much, much more than the individuals of the whole. It gets exciting! Really exciting! Instead of competing internally (because let’s face it, we’re all competitive), you get to focus your collective competitiveness towards real and tangible goals and taking them by the neck, throwing them to the ground and saying, “That’s right you freaking accounting case of unimaginable complexity — we beat you!” It’s a ride that is rigorous and invigorating, challenging and painstaking, character-building and teambuilding all in one, and I absolutely guarantee you that it will be one of the most fulfilling experiences of your life.

I will say one last thing — the candidate pool at Duke is impressive. This equates to your team being comprised of equally impressive members. When you connect with these people on a deeper level than just ‘school,’ you realize there is so much more about this program than just the classes. Your team will prove to be one of the most influential parts of the program and at some point during your tenure, I swear to you that you will thank your lucky stars for your team for carrying you through the weeds when all heck breaks loose at work and you’re putting in 12 hours a day for two weeks straight, and then you remember that you have an assignment due on Friday. Your team will be there for you, and when it is your turn — you will be there for them. It is part of what makes this Duke experience so precious.