Case Study: Leadership Development at Penn Medicine

Penn Medicine's Leadership Essentials Intensive is a cutting-edge leadership development program that includes faculty, clinical, and research professionals and provides participants with the essential skills required to excel as successful leaders and team members. This intensive cohort-based program focuses on three core competencies: enhancing organizational savviness, driving vision and purpose, and building effective teams.

The program offers a comprehensive training approach through coaching sessions, in-class workshops, and peer coaching, enabling participants to learn how to coach their teams, ask the right questions, and maximize learning. The program's main objective is to expand participants' perspectives, help them enhance their team and leadership skills, and cultivate a reflective stance that seeks to understand the perspectives of their teams, key stakeholders, and the larger organization.

School of Med

Leadership Essentials Intensive: Cohort Makeup

The program culminates in a capstone experience – the Saturn Parable - a team-based game from Wharton Interactive set in a fictional setting that tests real leadership skills.

“We were looking to give our participants, with varied backgrounds and experience levels, a chance to come together and experience teamwork in a real-time setting that called for each participant to apply their team leadership skills and to highlight gaps in those skill sets. The Saturn Parable did just that, and it helped solidify our community of learners.”

Patrizia Salani Platt, Associate Director of Leadership & Professional Development, School of Medicine
The Saturn Parable was built to give learners a chance to practice working in teams.

The challenges in the Saturn Parable are designed as fictionalized versions of common leadership problems.

There are strategic-level decisions to be made about where teams should land their spaceship and how and to what extent teams should negotiate with potential rivals or allies. There are organizational-level decisions to be made about communicating across the organization and generating a shared goal that the organization can rally around. Throughout the game, learners also make many team-level decisions that are tied to questions of team leadership and creativity, as well as team hierarchies and decision-making.

Bridging the Theory-Practice Gap

Having learned about team and leadership skills ahead of the experience, participants in the Leadership Essentials Intensive applied those core team and leadership lessons in the Saturn Parable. The game gave participants the opportunity to explore different roles and perspectives and revealed their leadership strengths and goals and their coping strategies during a crisis. The puzzles within the game prompted participants to apply skills such as task allocation, information sharing, psychological safety, and work to avoid team traps like the Abilene Paradox and groupthink.

The experience also included time for reflection, allowing participants to cultivate a critical, evaluative stance about the experience and reflect on their decisions and reactions in the game. That time for reflection was critical, giving participants a chance to take stock of the experience and weave together the overlapping lessons of the game and the program.

“We found that participants connected the lessons learned earlier in the program – lessons about sharing information, avoiding groupthink, and asking probing questions to understand others' viewpoints – with the experience of the game. The game gave them a story-based reference point for those earlier lessons.”

Jenny Seng-Russo, Learning and Development Specialist, School of Medicine

Anchoring the Community: The Saturn Parable as a Highlight of the Program


The Saturn Parable served as an anchor point, a shared experience, and story that connected the community of learners. That shared experience included a number of "ah-ha" moments as participants remembered their struggles with particular challenges and provided a backdrop for the core objectives of both the game and of the program.

From Theory to Practice: The Saturn Parable as a Transformative Experience

Penn Medicine's Leadership Essentials Intensive and the Saturn Parable are transforming leaders and changing the way medical education approaches leadership development. By providing participants with live practice in a fictional setting, the program aims to create a pipeline of medical professionals with real-world team and leadership skills. As the culminating experience of the program, the Saturn Parable prompted participants to connect what they learned in the program to real-world situations.

As one program enthusiast told us: "I didn't know they would be sending us to Saturn. But that's where we went!"