Working in teams and groups

In all MBA programs, you will be assigned to a team or group for a specific course, project, or even a semester or two. This can be the best part of the MBA program or a real challenge. All MBA candidates show up on day 1 as high-functioning sole contributors with limited team experience. I say limited because even if you run a team, have military experience, or are on a team, you are used to a formal team hierarchy, e.g. team leader, tech liaison, project manager, developer, etc. In MBA teams you are all the same, regardless of years of experience, other degrees and achievements,  everyone on the team is a student. 

MBA teams standing at conference table

Team Building

At the start of your MBA program, you will be placed into teams that may last a semester or more. You will be forming team charters, communication protocols, meetup schedules, and conflict resolution procedures. You will also take roles as project lead, slide deck designer, final editor, spreadsheet model builder, and designated presenter. You may have a regular practice of peer coaching in some programs. Most programs will have a formal team rating system that is graded by faculty at the end of a semester. 

Your program may use a technology platform for team discussions such as Canvas, Google chat or Slack. While on these tools with your group, be professional, timely, and follow up as needed.

Teams protocols

Most programs will have specific rules for teams that connect to the universities code of conduct. There may be staff and faculty resources to help struggling teams. In some MBA programs, individuals may be voted off a team as a last resort. These former teammates would be placed on another team or complete the semester assignments solo. 

Good and Bad

Negative team experiences can be very frustrating. Teammates that don’t do the work, miss class, fail to attend meetings or have a negative attitude can be challenging. The best approach is to work through the team charter and then reach out to program staff. 

On a cheerful note, I have been to my MBA teammates’ weddings, gone on alumni vacations, and most unusual, I gave an insider tour of VCU when they came to campus with their college freshman-age children. 

Three teams tips

First: life happens. Babies are born, couples divorce, people change or lose jobs, illness sidelines key players, etc. Be kind to your teammates and step up when needed. Your time of need will come. 

Second: conflict happens. MBA programs are not high school cliques, you do not get to pick teammates. Try to resolve issues right away and use constructive criticism. Always consider your EQ training first before complaining about another. This is an academic environment, no one is fired or loses a bonus here.

Third: Learn five things about your teammates. Building a personal relationship and holding each other accountable is the foundation of a positive team experience and personal leadership. Five years after graduation when you meet at the airport frequent flyer club, will you ask about the finance homework? No, you will ask about their spouse, did you go on that dream vacation,  or how are the kids doing. 

TLDR: MBA teams are better when you start with a positive attitude and resolve to get the most out of your team experiences.

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