Peer Mentor Network

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

B-School Lessons: Episode 2

Working in teams is a reality. In the interview process, many companies pre-select candidates based on things like experience or your GPA. Once you get to the interview, they ask questions to determine your fit within the organization, and most importantly, your ability to work effectively in teams. We've all experienced dysfunctional teams whether it be your friends deciding which bar to visit on a Saturday night, or a group project for your class, or the team you work with professionally. Here are some tips on how to manage a team.

Team meetings are often a source of dysfunction. There are five steps to making teams work. 1) Plan - is a meeting really necessary? Can you accomplish the task by sending email or making phone calls? If you really need to meet, decide who really needs to be at the meeting and who doesn't. 2) Inform - let everyone know in advance that you're calling a meeting, and what the purpose is. Let contributors know what they need to do to prepare for the meeting. 3) Prepare - set an agenda of things to cover and how much time you plan to spend on each topic. Limit the discussion to those items and don't waste everyone's time by allowing one team member go on at length about her weekend plans. 4) Structure - discuss the roles each contributor is expected to play and outline the plan of what needs to be accomplished when in order for the team to accomplish its goal. 5) Summarize and record - assign someone to take notes at meetings and distribute these to the team. This can serve as a reminder of the progress you've made and the actions required to finish the tasks.

Along the way, watch out for some of the major pitfalls of teams. 1) Groupthink - with highly cohesive teams, there can be pressure to go along with the group and causes people to be reluctant to question the team's decisions. Conflict can be a positive thing - encourage team members to consider all options to arrive at the best decision. 2) Social inhibition - particularly when teams are larger than they need to be, a few people end up doing all the work and others fade into the background. Those people contribute less and are typically quiet, or overtly polite, and assume that other team members will do the work, causing them to fade into the background even more.

Successful teams do a good job of setting objectives, establishing rules and norms, and differentiating roles to be played by each member. The size of a team can often lead to problems and the rule of thumb is that teams of more than seven members experience these problems more frequently than smaller ones.

Next time you join a team, make sure you understand the role you play. If it isn't clear, ask the team leader to assign you a role so that you become a valued member.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Value of Rotations

If you haven't figured this one out yet, I'm in a rotational program at work. That means that I get to do a new job every year for three years. It's a beautiful thing because it gives me a chance to do some trial and error with my career to figure out which part of the business I love the most. It's trial and error, basically. Even if your company doesn't sponsor a defined program like this, do it on your own. Here's how:

Expand your network every day. Make friends with people who work outside your immediate group and get them to like you. Take them to lunch and have them tell you about what they do. People love to talk about themselves. Once you identify a different role within the organization that interests you, start planting the seed with your current manager. Tell them about your long-term goals and how a lateral move into another group would help you build a new and exciting skill set.

If you don't have a mentor, GET ONE! Your mentor can help you through the process in many ways. They have an extensive network and can put in a good word for you with another manager who is looking for someone to fill a spot you want.

I'm on the hunt for my next rotation now and my network is proving to be very useful. I told one of my informal mentors which positions I'm looking for and he's making phone calls on my behalf to help me find the right position. Once you meet with your potential new manager and they decide they want you, let your current manager know that you will be accepting the new role and negotiate the transition. This process can take a long time in some cases so if you're getting bored with your current job, start the process today.

The only down side is that your current manager will have to replace you. Believe me, you have to be selfish and get over that. The up side is tremendous in the long-run. You will become more well rounded, leading to increased job satisfaction, leading to incresed performance which serves your company well.

If your company doesn't offer the position you want then you need to find a new company that does. For example, I'm interested in getting exposure to Investor Relations in the long-run, but those jobs are at our corporate headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland. When I'm ready to do that rotation, I'll either have to be willing to relocate, or I'll have to be willing to find another company to work for in Silicon Valley that offers what I'm looking for.

All the upper level management I've met with talks about the value of new and challenging assignments in their career development. That means that the "rotation process" should never end. View every job as a stepping stone to the next job. Continually update your development plan with skills you've learned in past jobs and skills you hope to obtain in future jobs in order to meet your long-term objectives.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Coca Cola?

No Hops.

I thought of Mountain Dew. Geeze, I thought we were friends. Dude, what if I sit in an office, and no one ever sees me. Crap, at least I'm still getting a check. It's only a matter of time.