Remember those rules we all learned in kindergarten? “Play nice.” “Share.” “Listen.” And most important: “Don’t throw things.” It’s funny how that advice becomes more significant as we grow older. Sometimes, we believe that “what we know” is more important than “who we are.” We forget that other people (and how we treat them) are crucial to our success.
There are few atheists in fox holes…and even fewer hermits in business school. That’s because courses are taught in ways that reflect business realities. And that means collaborating, delegating, and building consensus. By working together, you move faster and cover more ground, discovering far more than you would from a silo. More important, you learn to work with people you may not like – and how to amplify those people’s strengths (and mitigate their weaknesses too).
This week, U.S. News and World Report outlined some best practices for MBA students working in teams. If you’re looking to knock your assignment out of the park– and maintain harmony in the process – consider these strategies:
1) Determine Roles: Ever engage in cooperative learning in grade school? You’d assign roles like group leader, data collector, and timekeeper so you’d know who was responsible for what. Well, business school is a sophisticated application of that strategy, focusing more on the why and how. teams must set ground rules and establish roles, responsibilities, and expectations to ensure everyone’s part will eventually sync into the whole. In addition, teams should develop a process for updating members, monitoring progress, evaluating quality, and deciding when to modify or pivot.
2) Listen: Gregory Patton, a Professor of Clinical Management Communication at USC’s Marshall School of Business, says it best: ‘What a student says sometimes isn’t as important as what they are hearing.’ In groups, there are so many dynamics that can inhibit communication, such as ego, excess certainty, fear, distrust, and a desire for control. And those factors can hinder members’ ability to listen. To succeed, Patton reminds his students that they should be “listening to understand versus listening to argue.” By removing the emotional clutter, students can identify and integrate the best solutions.
3) Develop Relationships: People naturally distrust (even fear) what they don’t know. And that pertains to other students too. Take a page out of the corporate handbook. Want to get something done? Get to know the people around you on a personal level (and drop your guard too). When you build relationships with your classmates, you build chemistry and trust. And that just frees you to do your best.
4) Be Flexible: It’s easy to ride herd. Let’s face it, we admire people who tough it out, and follow their vision and plan to the bitter end. However, Gene Anderson, Dean of the University of Miami’s School of Business Administration, cautions students to be “nimble.” Goals can change. Unexpected variables can make a project more difficult – or even render the original concept worthless. As a result, Anderson advises teams to “learn things as you go along and you’ve got to adapt, whether it’s with the time you’re going to put into things, or what your role is.”
5) Stay Self-Aware: What you don’t know can kill you, especially among your teammates. Your reputation is all you have…and your behavior is all your peers can see. And intentions mean little compared to their delivery. Paula Caproni, a Lecturer of Management and Organization at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, warns that students should “be very mindful of your own behavior in that team, of what you want to learn, of how you personally are helping and hurting the team.” You may be able to skate by with being a skeptic or sourpuss in business school. But companies want MBAs who can work with their people to simplify the complex and deliver the difficult. Eventually, it is your people skills – and your ability to work in a team – that makes this happen.
Source: US News and World Report