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Take your spouse along

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If participants of MBA or EMBA programmes and their spouses do not transform at the same speed, there is drama written on the wall, says Rafael Altavini, Head of Talent Management and Organisational Development for the Schindler Group. He holds an MBA from IMD.

After experiencing that taking part in Insead's Executive Master in Consulting and Coaching for Change (EMCCC) seemed to create a distance between him and his wife and learning that some of his classmates had similar difficulties, Altavini decided to focus on the issue. He developed a model of the inner theatre of the non-studying life partners, described as a play in five acts. His aim was to “equip all stakeholders with a framework for discussion so that the ride can be as smooth as possible”.

Here are the acts of the drama, as described by Altavini:

In the first act, called the Leap of faith, partners described their reactions to the news that their partner was considering doing the Executive Master in Consulting and Coaching for Change. It represented a step into the unknown, which they took with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

In the second act, Rationalisation via previous experiences, partners responded to the anxiety of the unknown by relating the programme to their own closest experiences .

The third act, Interactions with the transitional space, is when the programme becomes part of the couple’s routine. Aside from travel-related disruptions and extensive study time, the content of the modules began to regularly feature in the couple’s life and conversations.

In the fourth act, Jealousy kicks in, partners mentioned jealousy, with various levels of intensity. To some extent, the affected partners feared losing the relationship and experienced a mix of fear, anger and suspicion, projected towards other participants or even the programme itself.

In the fifth act, Studying partners’ new ‘magic powers’, programme participants started to enthusiastically share or experiment with their new knowledge. This tended to annoy or put off some partners.

Most partners experienced the programme with either neutrality, engagement or exclusion. Neutral partners didn’t think too much about the programme. Provided the matters of logistics and financing were under control, they were happy to follow their studying spouse at a distance. Engaged partners became deeply involved with the programme. Excluded partners either lacked the tools and skills to engage, or were denied access by their studying spouse. Over time they grew distressed or resentful.

In Altavini's dataset, 40 per cent of partners mostly or completely felt engaged, the remaining partners were equally split between neutrality and exclusion.

Participants should recognise that they need to address issues. “After all, transformational programmes are largely about self-leadership,” writes Altavini. Participants need to seek techniques to properly engage their partners and debrief them about the programme and the transformation they’re undergoing.

Life partners also have a responsibility to speak up if something is not right. “Couples should engage in honest, non-judgmental and continuous communication during the programme, starting at the application process phase”, suggests Altavini.

Business schools should ensure their students are aware of the importance of sharing their learning journey with their life partners. Before entry into the programme, they could provide relevant information or even run assessments involving the participants and their partners.

Read more on www.knowledge.insead.edu

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