Demonstrate your interpersonal skills by showing how you helped a "difficult team" overcome conflicts.

Demonstrate your interpersonal skills by showing how you helped a "difficult team" overcome conflict.


I ask all of my Kellogg MBA admissions interview training clients to prepare a "difficult team" story. The question goes something like this,

  • Tell us about a time that you had to work on a team that did not get along.





A skilled behavioral interviewer might ask,


  • Who were the team players?

  • Which members were not getting along, and why?

  • What role did you take?

  • Please explain what you thought, felt, said and did.
  • What was the turning point?

  • What was the result?

  • Based on this example, what would you do if your MBA study team members were not getting along with each other?
Why do I encourage my clients to prepare an answer to this question? Because many schools ask some version of it. For example, I have recently seen instances from Kellogg, Wharton, IMD, and IESE interview reports.
  • Please do not panic - I have never heard of an interviewer asking the entire question at once. I included the second part (based on this example...) in order to demonstrate the purpose of the question (how you will behave at MBA).

  • An experienced behavioral interviewer knows how to pace your story by asking follow-up questions. Let her do so rather than talking non-stop for five minutes.

  • Remember - an interview should be conversational. It is not a speaking test.




Many interviewers ask about your experience with a "difficult team" because they want to confirm your interpersonal skills.
Even at independently minded programs like Chicago Booth, you will work in teams during your MBA experience.
For example, you are likely to collaborate with others on class projects, business plan competitions, in clubs, consulting projects, international study trips, and so on.


What is teamwork?

One dictionary defines teamwork as "a joint action by a group of people, in which each person subordinates his or her individual interests and opinions to the unity and efficiency of the group."

I often discuss movies with my clients. I ask them to think of a favorite sports movie, like “Slap Shot”, “The Bad News Bears”, “Miracle”, or my personal favorite, “Remember the Titans.”

Since I have a young son, I spend a lot of time watching children’s movies. Many of them include themes of teamwork. I am thinking of “A Bug’s Life”, “Finding Nemo”, and “Toy Story”.





Even teams composed of members from similar backgrounds do not always agree.
To make matters even more complicated, at MBA, you may often find yourself working in teams with people from different cultural and functional backgrounds (many countries, many professions and industries).
In such teams, conflicts are even more common. How will you handle such disagreements?
Most importantly, how can you use this cultural pluralism, this creative friction, to generate breakthrough ideas?



The core premise of behavioral interviewing is that your past actions indicate your future behavior.
By asking you to share examples how you handled (and hopefully helped) difficult teams, your interviewer is trying to gauge if you can work well with your future project and study team members at MBA.
Consciously or unconsciously, she may also be asking herself, "Would I want this person in my team?" By preparing multiple examples of how you helped improve team dynamics, you can increase the chances that she would answer, "Yes!"



Difficult Teams Matrix

(Please fill out this chart or create your own version.)


Cross-cultural conflict Cross-functional conflict Btwn you and someone else Btwn two other people (you mediated between them)



Peacemaker / Bridge / Facilitator / Mediator Counselor Teacher Coach



New idea Compromise Agree to disagree Resolution Mutual understanding Consensus



How to resolve conflict in a constructive way How to find common ground How to persuade specialists to share information and collaborate How to negotiate with a certain cultural and/or functional mindset



To MBA life

Club activity

Study group

Project team Consulting project







Please be careful. Questions about difficult team experiences are NOT the same as mistake, setback, or failure questions.
Only offer examples of your mistakes or failures when asked for them DIRECTLY.
In a mistake or failure, you were part of the problem. Your attitude or actions caused actual damage:
  • Lost time

  • Lost money

  • Lost opportunity

  • Lost trust

  • Lost friendship

On the other hand, in a "difficult team" story, you were part of the solution.
Please prepare your answers, then practice them with mentors and trusted advisers. I wish you success!



Here are some other teamwork questions. You can use the same example to answer most of them.
  1. Describe a time when you worked towards an important goal and had to address conflict between two or more team members.

  2. Describe a time when you got an un-collaborative member committed to the team.

  3. Describe the time when you solved a conflict between any two members of your team. (The interviewer specifically mentioned that the question does not imply a conflict between my team member and me).

  4. Describe a scenario where you worked on a team and one of the team members was not pulling her weight. What did you do?

  5. Tell us about a time that you had to work on a team that did not get along. What happened? What role did you take? What was the result? Based on that example, what would you do if your MBA study team members were not getting along with each other?

  6. Tell me about a time when you experienced cultural conflict and how you handled it.

  7. What has been your most difficult teamwork experience? 

  8. Describe a situation in which you had to arrive at a compromise or help others to compromise. What was your role? What steps did you take? What was the result?

  9. Tell me about a time when you resolved a conflict in a group.

  10. Tell us about the most difficult challenge you faced in trying to work cooperatively with someone who did not share the same ideas? What was your role in achieving the work objective?

  11. Have you ever been a member of a group where two of the members did not work well together? What did you do to get them to do so?

  12. What is the toughest group that you have had to get cooperation from? Describe how you handled it. What was the outcome? 








Information is subject to change. Please verify all data with the schools.


- Updated by Vince on 11 Mar 2016

  • I have been a full-time international graduate admissions consultant since 2002

  • Based in Tokyo, Japan, I help clients around the world 

  • In 2007, I launched VincePrep because I wanted to help the best candidates aiming for the top schools

  • To share my insights with a talented team, I rejoined Agos as Consulting Director in 2014 

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