Ilona Dantsevich, a fourth-year student of the Bachelor in Management program of the Graduate School of Management of St. Petersburg University (GSOM SPbU), Head of the Student Organizing Committee of GSOM Family Day 2021 (GFD). In an interview, she spoke about innovative ways of communicating with the team in a remote format, the innovations of the season and the challenges that the organizing committee faced this year.
On September 25, 2021, a traditional GSOM Family Day was held at GSOM SPbU. The event brought together 560 alumni, students, faculty and partners of the Business School in an online format (from 27 countries — Australia, USA, UK, Korea, Thailand, Singapore, China, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Sweden, Portugal, Czech Republic and others) and 250 people — at an offline party. Thanks to partner companies, the organizing team collected 430,000 rubles for the event — three times more than the previous year.
Tell me, how did the work on the project start this year?
At first, I decided to talk to the previous Head of the event, Maria Voskoboynik (editor's note. — an alumha of the GSOM SPbU Bachelor program in 2021) and the Head of Alumni Relation Department at the Graduate School of Management Department at St. Petersburg University (GSOM SPbU), Ksenia Kolesnikova.
I used to be a project manager with a different target audience: they were primarily students, and I, as one of them, understood their needs. Most of the GFD participants are alumni of various fields, so it was essential to examine their needs and formulate the program correctly. Ksenia Kolesnikova helped us a lot in this — she, like no one else, understands what alumni are waiting for.
What was the principle of team selection?
Recruiting was in two stages — test tasks and interviews. We came up with this methodology a few years ago when selecting team members for Management Career Week (MCW). It helps to understand the motivation of students to participate in the project, to see their strengths and choose the right direction, where students will be able to unlock their potential, acquire new skills and develop colleagues. Now, by the way, this approach is also used by other project heads.
When students apply for participation, they choose the department right there in which they could express themselves. At the test stage, during demo tasks, they understand how close this direction is to them. At the interview stage, the heads of departments and I split the guys into teams. We always try to keep in mind the general attitude: it is crucial to solving problems in a cohesive and comfortable crew.
As a result, 30 students of different programs and courses gathered in the Organizing Committee of the project, which allowed them to exchange experience and improve teamwork skills.
And how are Heads of different departments selected?
During the five months of the project, I have mainly contacted the department heads: all the main work and communication with department managers go through them.
I have worked with department heads on other projects. These guys showed themselves as proactively as possible and demonstrated in practice their readiness for new challenges.
To assemble an excellent team of heads is 60% success: they have a lot of important and complex tasks, the atmosphere in the team and the result of the project depend on their work.
How many departments are there in total and what does each of them do?
The GSOM Family Day project traditionally has five departments — Programming, Logistics, Marketing, and working with participants and partners.
The Program Department deals, in fact, with the program of events. They communicate with the speakers on the day of the event, and they help connect to the place.
The Marketing Department starts its work long before the event. Our creative team has been working in social networks for several months: talks about the formats of the event, the successes of graduates and engages the audience before the program's announcement.
GSOM SPbU has a large pool of companies, both trustees and partners. They are always happy to support the Business School - to share expertise, compelling cases. The Partner Relations Department finds new companies to create valuable connections for each other. This department communicates with organizations, looking for common ground for further work.
The Logistics Department used to be engaged in-place installation, catering, communication with contractors, etc. With the transition to online, the department has expanded: now the team is also involved in technical issues — working with platforms, mail, budgets, etc.
The Department for Working with Participants is vital for GSOM Family Day, as the event's audience is very different. These are students, graduates, teachers, employees and partners of the Business School, and everyone needs to be given due attention.
We also had related tasks for several teams. We tried to create them precisely so that everyone would understand what each of the departments was doing.
What were the innovations in the GSOM Family Day 2021 project?
It's always more interesting to create something new, so we came up with several new things this year. The chatbot has become one of them. We hold a dialogue with the participants on behalf of our mascot, Freddy, the owl. The Department for Work with Participants team answered the most unusual questions related to the program, connection, and registration.
There was also the possibility of an exchange within the team: the guys could go to another department for one or two weeks. We set the special rules so that the work does not suffer — the participants continued to conduct tasks that they did not finish in the primary department and received new ones in another. A quarter of the team took advantage of this opportunity. It helped to try different functions, and I know that many have now gone in directions unusual for themselves.
Back at the beginning of 2021, at Management Career Week, Kirill Kartasidi, the head of Work with Partners, suggested working in sprints (editor's note — a short fixed time in which the team does some limited part of the project) - this is a very convenient format for working in groups, but we have not used it before. We have prescribed all the common tasks in advance and distributed them according to time and sequence. Of course, there were urgent tasks, but we could predict most of them, about 80%. The sprint length is one week. If the job was difficult, then it could last two weeks. At the end of each sprint, we called up and discussed the results.
90% of the speakers in the program are graduates of Business School. We tried to invite the graduates of GSOM SPbU as speakers, so it would be easier for the participants of GSOM Family Day to relate it to themselves.
A lot of excitement was caused by new formats - anti-discussion (communication, which includes each participant in the discussion and helps to look at the issues within the topic from a new angle) and mastermind (group discussion of professional and personal requests, which helps to unite people close in interests, form a friendly atmosphere of mutual assistance and find answers to participants' questions). The participants of the second one continue to communicate and discuss professional issues.
Did you do a lot of work online? How did you manage not to lose the interest of the team?
I like offline, and it's always crucial for me to be in contact with the team. Previously, we often met on campuses, got acquainted, and talked. Now it was more difficult, especially in the summer, everyone left for the regions. With the chapters, we decided to create informal online meetings. We held special team-building sessions so that the guys could meet live or online - play, communicate and get to know each other.
We also made reports in a general Telegram chat — this helped everyone be aware of events, not be limited to the scope of their department, and understand how close we were to a common goal.
When one of the team members showed himself vividly - created a landing webpage, called an incredible speaker, and so on — we marked him in the general chat and praised him. And also creatively congratulated on birthdays to charge and inspire colleagues.
To track tasks and deadlines, we worked in Trello (editor's note — a cloud program for managing projects of small groups). All the teams needed to know what I was doing as the project head and what others were doing.
You started five months before the start of the project. What were the key points in moving towards the goal?
We started assembling the team back in May and started working in the summer. We had a task to make it to the mass holiday season to negotiate with speakers and companies. The key points were team selection (selection of more than 100 applications), preparation of departments and filling new team guys in, brainstorming, approval of formats, program architecture, selection of speakers, coordination, and participants' invitation.
Another vital stage was cast dev (Customer Development - a way to collect information that will help you get to know potential users better and test the first hypotheses - ed.) with graduates. We asked them what they liked and didn't like at past events, what they remembered, why they didn't register, how they found out about the event, and so on. We interviewed 40 people — 12 students and 28 graduates -- of different programs, graduation years, who participated and did not participate in the event to formulate the main insights for further organization. It was important for the guys from the team to get to know the actual participants of the event to understand who we were creating the event for.
By the way, we studied this method in lectures, and it was cool to apply this knowledge.
A month has passed since the completion of the project. What are your emotions?
It's a fascinating state for me right now. I spend all my time studying and doing one job. Previously, I always had several projects, and I tried to do everything in time. It's time to recharge before the final breakthrough - the defense of the diploma.
I am delighted that the guys who were managers of GSOM Family Day or MCW become team heads and lead projects - the continuity of generations; I am pleased with their success and will follow them further.
What were the difficulties?
We didn't know until the last moment what format the event would take place in: we were preparing two scenarios at once. It was essential to talk openly about everything with the team and speakers and warn that there could be drastic changes. It was a challenge for us, which helped us to improve.
Would you fix something?
I want to make a business offline event — with a program, speakers and networking. Most of the graduates in the interview noted the value of networking in Business School projects.
Our evening part of the program was a big adventure — we are glad that it took place at all. We were able to accommodate only 250 people, although there were a lot of applicants. So I wouldn't fix anything. It was a challenge that the team and I coped with.
What advice can you give to the future head of GSOM Family Day?
It is easier to work according to a proven scenario than to invent something new. Therefore, I recommend looking for non-standard options, they may not work out, but if everything works out, it will be much more pleasant to realize that you did it.