Rotman School of Management

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Self Development Lab

Bridging the gap between technical studies and real-time problem solving

In a ground-breaking step, Rotman’s Full Time MBA Program is offering a series of lectures and experiential modules to prepare students for well-rounded excellence. The Self-Development Lab (SDL) is a developmental engine that applies the latest in learning sciences and communicative research to develop interpersonal and communicative skills for enhanced problem solving.

University of Toronto, Ontario Canada


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What it is
The Self Development Lab (SDL) is a fabric of intensive feedback-based learning activities aimed at developing and nurturing in all students the communicative, interactive and interpersonal skills essential to the high-value added collaborative problem solver and decision maker in contemporary organizations.

The SDL is unique on the landscape of business education in that it offers each participant the opportunity to develop these skills in a small form factor environment that is matched to work in the core program. It is therefore both immediately relevant and imminently useful to each individual taking part in it.

All student presentations are video-taped and feedback is geared to helping each student improve his or her own behavioral blueprint in public reasoning, presentation and problem solving sessions. Students may take part in all, a subset, or none of its activities with no penalty to those who choose to sample modules or seek specialized training in a specific interpersonal or communicative competency.

Self and the SDL tools

The skills the SDL develops

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Why self-development

The need for a shift in MBA education is becoming clear. In an increasingly competitive market, recruiters are looking beyond just analytical and inferential abilities to candidates with strong communicative, interactive, interpersonal and collaborative problem solving skills. Top employers are looking to candidates who are able to connect, express themselves impressively, and integrate across conflicting points of view in real-time, high-stakes environments.

The SDL resolves an old dilemma in professional business education. On one hand, the MBA attempts to equip students with a set of technical, analytical and targeted problem solving skills in the structured domains corresponding to the various disciplines of business practice. On the other hand, the MBA seeks to equip students with the interactive, interpersonal and communicative competencies that are pre-requisites for functioning at a high level of responsibility in organizations.

The SDL has been carefully designed to enable students to enhance these competencies at no expense to the core curriculum by targeting intensive feedback-based interventions relating to activities required of students as part of their technical and analytical training.

Salman Arif - San Francisco


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How does the SDL delivers its promise

Learning sciences collectively point to the centrality of feedback to learning, and to the superiority of developmental feedback over evaluative feedback to the learner in the production of better learning outcomes. These effects are amplified for subtle, difficult to measure but easy to observe skills, such as communicative effectiveness and interpersonal competence.

The SDL uses a learner-centric pedagogical model that maximizes the learning-to-teaching ratio via vivid interaction, personalized attention and feedback that is developmental, precisely because it is decoupled from evaluation.

Carrie Anderson - scripture

What people are saying

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What people are saying

The SDL balances our experience here. In the hecticness of course work, interviews and everything else, you might lose track of what’s really important to you personally. The lab helps you figure out what you want to do. You can explore. You bring your whole self. It’s been a very positive experience.

- Andres Lozano, Rotman MBA 2013


At Deloitte, performance evaluations are based upon four dimensions: quality, talent, marketplace, financial. The story is similar at Accenture, where I previously worked. Being a superb technical candidate--whether with valuation models, organization design, or software architecture--is necessary, but not sufficient. You must also be acutely aware of people, and be savvy at navigating interpersonal relationships with peers, clients and partners. The tight deadlines, and fear of the changes consultants often introduce means many interactions are characterized by tension and uncertainty. And yet, being able to earn trust and respect is essential to nearly all aspects of a consulting career: delivering successful projects, recruiting and retaining top talent, building your personal brand, and closing new deals. I think SDL can give students a differentiated skill that complements the strong technical foundations delivered by core MBA program, and I'd recommend it to prospective employees.

- Harley Young, Senior Manager, Deloitte Consulting

Alan Xiang - San Juan Puerto Rico


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Frequently asked questions

I am doing an MBA to improve my technical skills and broaden my understanding of business.  Why would I bother with Self Development at this level?

It is becoming increasingly clear that employers are seeking candidates with more than just the analytic and inferential skills normally associated with MBA graduates.  As competition for even the most technical roles increases, employers are looking beyond grades and accreditation to communicative effectiveness and interpersonal competence as differentiators among recruits.

I came to Rotman to learn finance.  Why would I waste my time on “soft skills”?

Participants report that skills acquired in the Self Development Lab have been some of the most useful, impactful and applicable skills of their MBA training.  The learning is not intended to stand alone - skills are immediately applicable and extraordinarily valuable to course work in other areas.

I have taken numerous courses and I’m familiar with all the tips and tricks for presenting well.  Can Voicing Yourself really teach me anything I don’t already know?

Voicing Yourself does not focus on tricks or rules for improving presentation skills.  Voicing Yourself is real-time, interactive and thinking-based.  It aims to answer the question of what to do when tricks and rules don’t apply.   Objectives are tailored to suit the needs of each individual and small teacher to student ratios allow for constant relevant feedback.  Voicing Yourself is unique and valuable for students of all backgrounds and skill levels.

I’ve heard that there’s a lot of demand for courses within the SDL.  How can I be sure I’ll get the attention I need with so many students participating?

Since its inception, there has been a great demand for courses within the SDL and since its inception, there has been a critical focus on maintaining student to teacher ratios below 15:1.  Small class sizes are central to the success of the SDL and will continue.

Can this stuff be taught?

Absolutely.  While the Self Development Lab is relatively new, the principles behind it have been researched, practiced and adapted over many years.  Instructors come from corporate, clinical, entertainment and academic backgrounds to develop and nurture students through intensive, feedback-based learning opportunities.

Europe Study Tour 2012

Module descriptions

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Module descriptions

Pre-program modules

Pre-program modules focus on the intra-personal aspect of personality development, and their timing during August would allow students to spend the necessary time to address the obstacles that may inhibit their peak performance during the year. They are offered only during the summer, in order to allow the time necessary for making meaningful changes. All pre-program modules are lecture-based (70 students/ section), offered as a pre-program course (3-10 hr per section). 

The modules are:

Self-Management I (8hr)

In a series of four lectures, students learn to hone the instincts necessary to differentiate themselves in a competitive environment. This class develops leaders by going beyond the traditional MBA curriculum to explore personality structure and common challenges that inhibit optimum effectiveness. Techniques explored to overcome faulty instincts include understanding the structure of the mind, emotions, and self-regulation. Ultimately, students can learn the processes through which habitual ways of being can change.

Voicing Yourself I (10hr)

In Voicing Yourself, students are challenged to develop their full expressive capacity, focusing on vocal performance and embodied presence.  This is done through a series of five 2h sessions that include breathing, vocal, and physical exercises. Participants report improvement in their quality of sound, physical expression, confidence, power, and effectiveness in formal presentations and in their everyday lives.

Business Writing (3hr)

Written communication is a critical and pervasive form of interaction in the business world. Crafting an effective e-mail, proposal, request, or memo requires an ability to make an accurate mental model of the others’ experience and create written materials that are clear, articulate, and persuasive. In this class students will learn about psychological principles that underlie effective written interactions and have practice creating, receiving, and revising written work.

Core Modules (Sept-May)

There are 4 core modules, one per each term.  Each module will focus on a different aspect of inter-personal communication or interaction.  In a Communicative Blueprints I, II, & IV, a team (4-5 students) would participate in a 1h module during which personalized feedback will be given on the videotaped material that has been done as either as a homework in one of the core curriculum classes or independently made.  In Communicative Blueprint III, lasting 1.5h  the process would be the same (team-based), except with the write-up of their cases rather than video.

Communicative Blueprint I:  Presentations (Foundations Term) 1hr

In this one-hour module, students get individualized feedback on their performance during a class-presentation, including body language, tone, eye contact, verbal habits, and overall psychological contact with the audience.  Students are given a framework which aids them in understanding psychology of presenter-audience interaction, and tools for addressing individual challenges they experience while presenting. The questions posed in this module will help students model and understand their intent and purpose in making a presentation, and the degree to which the presentation itself achieves their purpose.

Material used: video of each student presenting before a class. 

Communicative Blueprint II:  Presence (Term 1) 1hr

In this one-hour module, students are provided with individualized feedback regarding the non-verbal cues they exhibit during videotaped team meeting session.  This module encourages students to witness and compare their own perceptions regarding their presence with those with whom they interact. Students are given framework to help them understand the psychological underpinnings of trustworthiness, rapport, and conveying competence in dyadic and group situations. 

Material used: 15 minute video of  an interview. 

Communicative Blueprint III:  Integrative Dialogues (Term 2) 1.5hr

This one-hour module is aimed at helping students understand and, where applicable, re-design and re-engineer how they communicate and relate to others in difficult interpersonal situations. It is structured as a personal laboratory experience where students will, in real-time, practice achieving an integrative outcome involving differences of perspectives, perceptions and beliefs in situations where a collaborative outcome is essential. The module is meant to give students the opportunity to practice ‘change through understanding.’

Material used: Write-up of a ‘Case’ describing a conversation that did not turn out well. 

Communicative Blueprint IV:  Interactive Presentations (Q&A) (Capstone Term) 1hr

In this one-hour module students are helped in evaluating the degree to which the Q&A portion of their presentation fulfilled the basic goals of demonstrating competence and an ability to think on one's feet, in a way that is connected to the substance of the presentation. Students will receive individualized feedback on the degree to which their answers were responsive, relevant and informative, the degree of connection established with the substance of the question and the intent of the questioner, and the degree to which the answers provided added or subtracted from the overall mission of the presentation.

Material used: Video of each student’s presentation and post-presentation Q&A.