Team-tastic! 5 observations from my MBA experience

If you see your MBA path as a solo endeavor – think again!  You will have group work during orientation, group assignments during classes, and groups you seek out for your own study sessions.  B-school is nothing if not a social endeavor in managing behaviors, building relationships, and negotiating ideas for assignments.

I happen to be fortunate enough to have a really great MBA core team.  And I’ve been equally lucky to have sought out some great study partners outside of my core team as well.  This past weekend, we completed the Internal Case Competition — another opportunity to work closely with a great team.  I’ve developed some observations based my experiences with my teams this year, and I thought I would pass those along to all of those prospective students who are trying to get a better idea of what B-school is all about.

1) Come prepared.  Our best meetings occur when everyone has some idea of what’s going on.  This doesn’t mean you have to have all of the answers – but at least be able to ask intelligent questions.

2) Humility.  I think one of the reasons that the teams I’ve been a part of have been so successful is that we are all willing to recognize we don’t have all the answers.  I’m consistently amazed at how much my fellow students know.  Always be willing to sit back and listen for a bit.  It makes the conversations so much more interesting.

3) Challenge each other and be challenged.  Respectfully.  We all come from different backgrounds with different opinions and different knowledge, and we use that to make each other work harder and think further through the problem.  Ask your team members about their opinions, share your own, and challenge each other to think even more deeply through problems and assignments.

4) Work through things together.  Take your time.  Plan accordingly.  If you have a difficult assignment, find a room, shut the door, and start from scratch.  Each student brings a lot individually – you will be amazed at what you can accomplish together.

5) Enjoy yourself!  Laugh.  Make goofy jokes.  It’s worth the extra time and it will help you bond with your team.

Get ready for lots of work with other people. It can be intimidating to try to do all of this school work with a group of people you don’t know.  But if you approach the group work with an open mind and a desire to learn, you will find that your team based work has a huge, positive impact on your MBA experience.



Taking the Lead

Group projects are essential to nearly every class you will take in your first year as an MLHR graduate student.  They teach you how to operate in teams, and work with different individuals that you normally would not work with.  Though many times a hassle in coordinating everyone’s busy schedules (especially since every quarter I have been in a group with at least one working professional who has more outside responsibilities than the average full time graduate student) they are good for you as a student and future professional.  It is nice to interact with different students who have different ideas and experiences, but also great to interact with people you may not normally talk to, hangout with, or sit next to in class.

I will be the first one to tell you that though I have worked in a variety of teams as an undergraduate (through being involved in student organizations) I was not a fan of them in the classroom.  I was always the one who was “so busy”, and my major classes really did not consist of project work.  Journalism is a solo field, and it is rare for journalists to team up on a project (maybe two journalists and that’s it).  Technically, journalists do work on “teams” when you consider that your story has to go through a number of editors, but it is still very individualistic.  You give your editor your story, s/he looks over it, s/he sends it to the next editor, and so on.  The news runs on too tight of a deadline to really foster teamwork with journalists.  Anytime I was in a team in an organization, I had a designated role (Director of this or something this Chair) so I knew where my influence was on the team.

Fisher has been a different experience for me, due to the teamwork and the equal playing field that everyone in a group has.  No one is assigned as a “Team Lead” and no one’s opinions outweighs anyone else’s in the group.

For the most part, I am a pretty laid back person.  A lot of things that would stress out or bother the average individual don’t faze me.  Anyway, that is how I approached group assignments my first two quarters.  I provided support, gave feedback, gave my opinion when I thought it was necessary, and always asked how I could contribution more to what was going on.  However, I was not the first to email everyone about when we should meet, book a space in Gerlach Hall, or divvy up tasks to individual members of our team.  I normally helped to facilitate discussion though, because nothing irks me more than wasting the first 20 minutes of a meeting with useless banter.  Yet still, this wouldn’t have happened unless another person in one of my groups had not chosen to initially take the lead.

Now into my third quarter, I am starting to see the reverse.  I have THREE group projects this quarter.  As much I detested statistics I almost would rather do a chi square than have to coordinate the schedule with a whole new group of people…almost.  Anyway, I have found myself taking the lead more this quarter in my groups.  In one of my groups, I am the only full-time first-year student, and in another, I am the only first-year student.  Though I do not know the second-years very well, I do have a LinkedIn account.  From what I have been able to derive from social networking, many of them have been going to school for 6 straight years, a, have been going on a part-time basis for 3 or 5 years, and had work experience and then went back to school and are getting at that age where they are just tired of school.  To top all of that, they just got done with their master’s case (which is a requirement of graduation and basically proves that you learned something in the program).  On top of all of that, most of these individuals are still trying to find jobs after graduation.  Needless to say, group projects are not on the very top of their list.   I have now found myself as the person getting the ball rolling, getting people to together, and taking those first steps, where I normally would have allowed someone else to do that.

It is not to say that I lack the initiative to do this.  One of the things I have learned in my life that being a good follower is just as important as being a good leader.  You cannot always be the one who takes charge (or may not be meant to), and it’s good to share both the roles.  I am glad that I am able to step out of my “go with the flow” attitude, and switch up the way I approach my work in teams.


There is no “I” in team…but there is a “Hotdog”

After the first week of classes this quarter, I managed to catch a stomach virus.  I was stuck at home, mostly confined to my bed and felt like I had been given a one-two punch to my head and gut.  And to make me feel worse, I had to miss our first core team meeting as well as an entire day of classes.  Luckily, I have the best team ever.

On the Sunday of our first scheduled meeting, I sent emails to my team letting them know that I was in bed with a fever and that I wouldn’t be able to make it.  Here are some of their replies:  “Get well soon, Mama Miche”  “No problem, Mama.  We got this, you just worry about getting better”.  Nice, right?  But wait – there’s more!  The following Tuesday, I received a text from one of my teammates that went like this:

  • Teammate:  I reserved a room for our team from 12-1:30 on Wednesday before our quiz in marketing.
  • Me:  That is fantastic! After the past two days, I feel like I am behind in everything.  🙁
  • Teammate:  You are, well at least in ops and marketing.  But that’s what teams are for!

This may seem like a simple, polite exchange but it meant the world to me.  Business school is demanding, time-intensive and, frankly, pretty darn hard.  When life happens, it is easy to fall behind – and once you are behind, it is nearly impossible to catch up.  I am so lucky to have a team that works together to make sure none of us is left behind!

Kudos to Fisher for putting so much effort into designing and training, highly-functioning core teams.  Most B-schools are heavily focused on teamwork and Fisher is no different.  However, I can’t imagine that the larger programs take time to ensure that core teams have a great mix both in demographics and in experience.  My (our) team consistently works well together, listens to each other and has fun while doing it!  Let me introduce you to Fisher FTMBA Class of 2012 TEAM TEN:

Ahmet "Turkish Delight" Kadioglu
Michael "Hotdog" Higgins, who apparently is some type of ghost or vampire - every attempt at a photo leads to a blurry pic!
Jonathan "JLowe" Lowe
That me, Michelle "Mama Miche" Petrel
Brandon "we can't agree on a nickname" Tackett. Suggestions encouraged!

Team 10: The best MBA team ever!

MBA teams

If there’s one thing that I like about my MBA more than anything else… it has to be my MBA team for this year. They’ve been my support group in terms of telling me what needs to be done for the next week.

For the uninitiated, here’s how the Fisher MBA program works. The class is divided into teams of 4-5 people who will work together for the entire first year. It’s your responsibility to stick together as a team for the complete year and make sure that things work as planned. And considering the kind of talent that comes in to Fisher, I don’t see any reason why someone would not want to learn from others in his/her team.

While working with my team, I’ve realized that life becomes so much easier when working collaboratively. What is one’s competency might be another’s weakness. Everyone has something to gain from the team’s progress, and the concept of a team gives encouragement and support for everyone to learn from everyone else.

The way of teaching is quite different in the US compared to other Eastern (especially Asian) countries, where the teaching gets done during the class by the professor. Here, the students are required to study the portions that would be covered on that particular day. The job of the professor is to be a moderator in the discussion that ensues in class based on the studies that the students have completed in advance. While the complex topics are still explained by the professors, it would be nothing new to anybody in the class, since everyone has already read the concepts before. So, during the class, the topics are taken forward and discussions concern subjects beyond what is in the text book/ concepts.

What do you think? Do you prefer to work in a team, or work individually? If you think you belong to the latter group, it’s going to be a tough journey for you. But I’d like to know your thoughts nonetheless!