Agile MBAs: Cornell Tech students reflect and grow together

By: Katelyn Godoy
Photo taken from above of the class standing in the grass

By Ryan Sydnor, Johnson Cornell Tech MBA ’19

I made so many new and diverse friends this summer in gorgeous Ithaca, NY. This is where my classmates and I spent the first three months of our Johnson Cornell Tech MBA program. A common goal that unites us is fusing technology with business and creative thinking—a core tenet of the Cornell Tech MBA. We also share the premise that the rapid pace of innovation in the digital age calls for a new approach to the way we learn, collaborate, and craft our experience.

With that in mind, as our MBA Class of 2019 approached the end of our summer semester in Ithaca, we wanted to crystallize our experiences by reflecting on what had gone well, what could be improved, and what actions we should take going forward.

For those with experience on an agile team, these three categories likely sound familiar. They are the key tenets of a retrospective. Retrospectives give teams recurring opportunities to reflect, bond, and collaborate to shape positive, incremental change. We decided to apply the best practices from the tech industry to our cohort in order to accomplish the following goals:

  1. Generate feedback and action items for individuals, our cohort, and Cornell Tech
  2. Spend time together reflecting, bonding, and collaborating
  3. Learn about agile teams and retrospectives
  4. Eat pizza!

We drew inspiration from around the internet on ways to run effective large retrospectives. Here’s a quick summary of what we did at Cornell’s eHub in 1.5 hours:

10 minutes: Intro and eat pizza

Photo of students listening to a presentation

25 minutes: Mini-retrospectives

Photo of the group in working sessions in an office space

We ran mini-retrospectives in groups of about four to eight people
where everyone shared their thoughts on “what’s gone well?” and “what can be improved?”

10 minutes: Sharing themes

Photos of a student working on a whiteboard and other sitting around a table

Each group shared their top two themes.

15 minutes: Action items

Photo of students working around a table

We formed new groups to come up with action items for the themes we identified.

25 minutes: Present

Photo of a person presenting at a podium and others watching

We gave quick presentations to say what actions we’re going to take.

5 minutes: Get started!

People volunteered to own and help with each action item.

Retrospective takeaways

Over 1.5 hours, we generated thousands of thoughts about what’s gone well and what can be improved. Here are just a few:

  • “Cornell’s campus in Ithaca is Gorges
  • “The temperature in our classrooms fluctuated too much”
  • “The fast paced curriculum helped me improve my prioritization and time management”
  • “Communicating on Slack was instrumental”
  • “High diversity of talent and culture in the cohort”
  • “Sharing is Caring was amazing”

We then whittled down those thoughts into themes and prioritized the ones we thought would be the most impactful. Here are a few examples:

  • Student-organized groups
  • Culture of continuous feedback
  • Networking outside of our cohort

For each of those themes, we generated concrete action items. For example, one action item is to support Emily, our classmate, in scaling the Sharing is Caring initiative on the cross-disciplinary Roosevelt Island campus. (Sharing is Caring is an incredible weekly meeting where students share their expertise and wisdom with the class.)

After the retrospective we all voted on a scale of one to 10 as to whether or not we should do another retrospective in the future, and the result was a net promoter score of 83! Here’s what that actually sounds like:

  • “Super helpful, collaborative, and actionable.”
  • “I found it inspiring and enjoyable.”
  • “We came up with meaningful conclusions and action items that were based on a variety of perspectives.”

We have continued discussing, coordinating, and making progress on each action item in our cohort’s Slack team. We’re looking forward to continue growing together by shaping the Cornell Tech experience on Roosevelt Island for not only ourselves but also future students!

Learn more about the Johnson Cornell Tech MBA program in NYC

About Ryan Sydnor, Johnson Cornell Tech MBA ’19

Headshot of Ryan Sydnor

Ryan is an entrepreneurial product engineer with eight years of full-stack experience leading agile teams to build products that people love. Check out some of the work he’s done at