Working in Student Teams
Several of your MBA courses will require you to complete projects or
other assignments as part of a student team. These exercises will
culminate in a team comprehensive case competition in your MGT
6359-Strategic Management course.
A student team is not a small group of students who complete an
assignment by dividing it into sections that can be completed
independently by individual students. A student team is a group of
students working in collaboration to achieve an outcome that satisfies a
course requirement. While your assessment in a given course will be
based in part on the quality of your team's outcome, as with all other
course activities the point of the exercise is what you learn from
performing it. Therefore, it is essential that you approach student
team assignments with a positive attitude.
You will almost certainly be called upon to serve as a team member in
your future endeavors as a professional and a member of your
community. Organizations use teams to accomplish many tasks because
they recognize that different people bring different points of view,
concerns, experiences, knowledge, and skills which enhance creative
problem solving. Working in teams also frequently leads to more
efficient work management, better morale within the organization, and
higher-quality decision making.
A successful student team is characterized by:
- Communication - Members of a successful student team share knowledge
and information freely. No member of the team
"stockpiles" information, and no member acts as a
"gatekeeper" preventing other members from sharing their
knowledge with the team. Concerns are addressed and conflicts
are resolved in a timely fashion.
- Inclusion - Members of a successful student team are quick to
acknowledge each other's contributions. Team members do not
compete with each other, recognizing that success in this case is
defined in terms of the best outcome for the entire team rather than
for individual members.
- Shared leadership - In many cases, as a new team forms a natural
leader will emerge. However, successful teams recognize that
each member is responsible for the collective outcome, and members are
therefore motivated to share leadership responsibilities.
- Full participation - Successful team participation means that all
members are contributing. No one is monopolizing the
conversation. No one is abstaining from the conversation.
Members are voicing their ideas and opinions even when it brings them
into direct conflict with each other. Members of the team do not
attack each other even as they are criticizing each other's
ideas. And all members feel that they are being heard and
treated with respect regardless of whether any individual idea they
contribute is used.
- Consensus - A successful team determines in the beginning how
decisions will be made, and all team members agree to support the
- Flexibility - Team members must be prepared to listen to unusual
ideas from each other. They must also make every attempt to
understand what other members of the team are working on. In an
exceptional team, members can actually trade places with each other
during the course of a project without difficulty.
- Commitment to excellence - Just as you are expected to perform to
standards of excellence as an individual student, your team is
expected to take a personal interest in the quality of the team's
- Role division - Because each member of a student team brings
different knowledge, skills, and experiences to the table, each member
is naturally going to gravitate toward one role or activity associated
with the team's assignment. The team should take time in the
beginning to identify the strengths of individual members and, to some
extent, formalize these natural role assignments, bearing in mind that
the highest-functioning teams could reassign roles and still achieve
Getting Your Team Off to a Good Start
When your instructor assigns you a team project, certain decisions have
generally already been made:
- The team's general purpose has already been defined in terms
of an assignment to be completed.
- The instructor has already determined that the assignment is
an appropriate one for a team.
- The instructor has usually determined the appropriate size of
Still, your team has decisions of its own to make, and they are very
much in line with the strategic planning process.
- Articulate the team's mission - Your instructor has given you
an assignment. Your first task as a team is to reach consensus about
what your mission is--in other words, make sure that everyone on your team
understands and agrees on what the assignment is and what a positive
outcome will look like. A well-stated mission will be firmly
connected to the guidelines for the assignment, realistic, specific,
motivational, and reflective of the abilities of your team members.
- Set goals - Once your team agrees on its overall purpose, it
is time to consider the nuts and bolts--specific activities that must be
performed and benchmarks that must be reached for the team to consider
itself on the right track. Your team's goals should be specific, and
they should be prioritized. Each goal statement should specify not
only what is to be accomplished, but who is responsible for it and by
when. Also take time to consider how each goal will be accomplished.
- Develop an action plan - Now that your team has a good idea of
what needs to be done, write down a plan of attack. A well-conceived
action plan will assist your team by setting
"checkpoints"--points in the process where you can stop to
assess what you've accomplished thus far, celebrate progress where
appropriate, and change direction if necessary.
- Establish a code of conduct - Each team should agree on
fundamental behavioral rules from the beginning. The idea is not to
be legalistic--for instance, for a team of 5 to 7 people it is generally
not necessary to agree on a procedure for introducing a new idea. However, teams should reach consensus about interpersonal issues that are
most like to create unnecessary conflicts. Common issues to address
in this manner include the length of meetings (since some members can
become irritated by meetings that last longer than anticipated) and the
appropriate manner in which to disagree or offer criticism.
- Take inventory - Take some time at the beginning to identify
the skills and talents of each member of your team as they relate to the
assignment at hand. Technical, organizational, problem solving, and
interpersonal skills will all become very important as the team
- Cast the show - Each team member should understand early what
his or her role is and what the expectations and responsibilities are, and
should possess the skills or abilities necessary to fulfill that
role. Productive teams may have as many as eight key roles, even if
they have fewer than eight members:
Leader - A strong communicator who can inspire the team
and promote consensus.
Critic - An analyst who defines and clarifies issues
and tends to prevent the team from reaching a bad compromise.
Implementer - A forward-thinking problem solver who
keeps the team assignment moving forward.
Specialist - A team member who may understand the ins
and outs of the assignment better than the rest of the team due to a
particular ability, such as a talent for research.
Diplomat - In a student team, this may be the member
who moves the assignment forward by staying in close communication with
the instructor, with members of other students teams, or with other people
outside the team who can be of assistance.
Coordinator - A good organizer who is willing to manage
a plan once the team has agreed on it and inclined to take responsibility
for seeing tasks completed.
Innovator - A creative thinker who keeps the team's
energy up with new ideas.
Inspector - A goal-oriented person who keeps tabs on
how much the team is actually accomplishing toward its goal.
Development Stages of the Team
Your student team will pass
through four stages of development to reach its highest productivity:
- Forming - The first time your team gets together, you will probably not
function as a team. At this point, you do not know enough about each
other to determine what roles you will hold. During this stage, one
member will probably emerge as the team leader who begins to organize the
remaining members into a cohesive team. The forming stage is often
uncomfortable, so don't be alarmed if you or your teammates are uneasy
about the project or about team formation. At this point, the
members of your team are likely to be too formal and polite for any
difficult issues to be resolved, which is the challenge to be overcome.
- Storming - Once your team has gotten somewhat adjusted to each other, the
polite formality may fade away and be replaced with the first instances of
conflict--arguments over the purpose of the assignment, disagreement over
group roles, frustration over the logistics of the meeting schedule, or,
in many cases, hostility stemming from earlier bad experiences with
student teams which resulted in one person doing most of the work, or one
person receiving a lower grade than anticipated because of what he or she
perceived as failings in other team members. Team members must begin
to embrace problem solving in order to progress from this stage.
- Norming - In the third stage of team development, many of the major
conflicts have been resolved, and team members are beginning to get
comfortable with the idea of reorganizing--reassigning roles based on
legitimate strengths rather than first impressions. Communication
improves, members begin to like each other on some level, and the team
begins to buy in to the project at hand and feel some optimism about what
they will accomplish together. Conflicts will still crop up, but the
team will be able to handle them more appropriately in this stage, and by
this time the team's code of conduct is in place.
- Performing -
In the final stage of team development, communication and morale are at
their peak. Members of your team are prepared to cooperate with each
other, stay on task, and believe that the team will have a positive
Whether your instructor assigns you to a student team, or your
team forms out of affinity, you will find that you aren't equally
effective working with everyone. While it is easy to blame other
people for unpleasant team experiences, you should remember that the only
person whose behavior you have any control over is you. The
following table lists the traits that will make you most and least
effective as a member of your team:
|Traits to Acquire
||Traits to Avoid
in your teammates
to accept responsibility/blame
to express appreciation
and quiet in criticism
of other people
of team priorities
Running an Effective Meeting
- Have an agenda - At minimum, an effective meeting agenda
should include the purpose of the meeting, the topics to be discusses and
who will lead each discussion, and estimated length of each
discussion. Ideally, agendas should be developed in advance of the
meetings. One approach to this is to email team members and ask them
to submit agenda items by a deadline. If there is no time for this,
spend the first few minutes of the meeting agreeing on what is to be
- Decide who will fill the key roles for the meeting - Each
meeting needs a leader or facilitator, who keeps the team on task during
the meeting; a timekeeper, who ensures that the entire meeting time isn't
consumed by the first few items on the agenda; the notetaker, who keeps a
detailed record of what was discussed in the meeting, what decisions were
made, and who is responsible for action items, and will send out minutes
from the meeting to all team members later; and the scribe, who keeps
meeting notes on a board or flipchart during discussion and brainstorming.
- Evaluate your meetings - Spend a few minutes after each
meeting discussing how the meeting went and how future meetings can be
made more productive.