PACE (Practical Application for Careers and Enterprises)

Willamette MBA

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Rules of Engagement


“If this gets bad, it gets bad for <all> of us”.

– Tommy Lee Jones, playing Col Hayes Hodges in the 2000 film “Rules of Engagement”

One of our primary goals in PACE is for a team of five or six smart, ambitious, opinionated MBA students to work together for six months on a project for a not-for-profit organization. Last week, we received our PACE assignments! We are extremely excited to be working with the following organizations and are thankful for their willingness to partner with Atkinson:

  • Albertina Kerr
  • Children’s Education Theater
  • Growing Gardens
  • Meals on Wheels People
  • Mid-Willamette Valley Literacy Center
  • Ride Connection
  • Tucker Maxon School
  • United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley
  • Willamette West Habitat for Humanity
  • Immanuel Lutheran Church
  • Salem Health

This week, each team is creating its “Rules of Engagement.” These will help define how each team will interact, outline our values and norms, and establish the conduct we expect from each other. So why do we bother to define our rules of engagement? Wouldn’t it be more time-effective to just launch right into our tasks? These are questions I probably would have asked before beginning my MBA program. However, defining rules of engagement prior to starting the work, though initially time-consuming, can focus the team, manage conflict, and help us coordinate our work.


Establishing rules of engagement allows us to use process loss effectively. Process loss is what results when teams do not work as effectively as they could. For example, the time we spend talking about your weekend instead of jumping right into the group meeting. The goal of working together is not to minimize process loss. Process loss is an inevitable, and some process loss is actually a positive. For example, talking about our weekend creates group bonding. However, if we spend all our time talking about the weekend, we won’t have time to accomplish our tasks. Our groups must find a balance between accomplishing our tasks and working well as a team.

Manage Conflict

Should a conflict arise (and undoubtedly will at some point) we can reference our rules of engagement. Conflict is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to create a toxic work environment. We will also be learning how to manage conflict in future classes, as the instruction we learn in class often mirrors the stages of our projects.


Finally, and perhaps the most obvious, rules of engagement help us coordinate work. If we launch right into the assignment, without thought on how to communicate, some tasks may be duplicated while others may be forgotten. My team, for example, established that we would use a Kanban board to manage the flow of work and would communicate via text if there were a work emergency. Our rules of engagement meeting helped us establish these strategies.

Keeping this Good … For All of Us

Our cohort is very excited to begin work with the wonderful not-for-profits we are paired with and we are eager to start a yearlong, transformative process, working well with our organizations and our teammates. Stay tuned for updates on our projects!

Emily Anderson is a first-year MBA candidate at Willamette University. She is a 2017 graduate of Gonzaga University, where she received her B.A. in International Studies. Emily enjoys PACE because of the opportunity to learn valuable career information, improve her analytical and speaking skills, and build partnerships with not-for-profits in Oregon.



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  1. 2 Comment(s)

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