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.


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