Working with Classmates

You’ll spend a significant amount of your time in the MBA program working and communicating with your classmates. Whether you are working in a group discussion, a team case project, or an assignment with a partner, you may find the following tips helpful for ensuring a successful collaboration.

Cultivate a Healthy Team Dynamic

Teamwork is more enjoyable both at work and in an online class if you have a spirit of fun and collegiality. Sharing personal aspects about yourself and knowing some personal aspects about others can help you all be more comfortable working together. So get to know your teammates and show a little levity. The Watercooler Discussion in Canvas is a great place to share this type of information.

In addition, avoid dominating the discussion or taking over a group project. Try to pull in individuals who are quiet or reluctant to step up by asking them questions or offering a specific task that they might take on. If you notice a teammate taking over, remind them that the workload should be shared among the team members.

Manage the Logistics

Before you begin a collaborative assignment, discuss logistical issues that may impact teamwork.

  • Are you in the same time zone?
  • When do you normally set aside time for schoolwork?
  • When could you collaborate synchronously with teammates if necessary?

TIP: Establish internal due dates leading up to the assignment due date. For instance, if your project is due on Friday at 11:59 pm, when will you each submit your parts and then get feedback to each other? Ensure that the timeframes work for everyone. Sometimes, compromise in personal preferences is necessary for the good of the team. You may also want to discuss what happens if someone does not do their work.

Manage the Technology

You will not likely need complex technologies for completing group work in your MBA program; use tools that all group members have access to and are comfortable using. Here are some considerations:

  • Do you want/need to have real-time (synchronous) meetings or can you work on your own time (asynchronously) in a OneDrive or Google document?
    • TIP: Avoid emailing documents back and forth. Instead, work in a document you can all edit together in OneDrive or Google.
  • Is email or the Canvas inbox a good way to communicate or do you want to be able to chat? While Canvas doesn’t have a small group chat option, Microsoft Teams, Slack, or even Facebook Messenger would work if you all agree. Or you can use a texting app such as What’s App.
  • Do you want to use a tool that has a calendar option for project management?
  • If your instructor has created groups in Canvas, you will have a group home page which is essentially a mini-Canvas course for your group.

Even with the best training and planning, technology can fail. Be sure you anticipate how a technology issue might impact your project and have a back-up plan.

Give and Receive Feedback to Create a High Quality Product

It is easy to come across negatively or abruptly in writing since we aren't able to provide the body language and tone of voice that are helpful to convey positivity.

Offer Constructive Criticism

You may be asked to provide feedback or peer review. Remember that criticism comes in two forms: constructive and destructive. You can offer healthy criticism by doing the following1:

  • Stick to the facts. Rather than talk about your feelings regarding a classmate’s discussion post, be objective and point to concrete examples. Rather than say, “I don’t feel like you really addressed the question,” say “The assignment requires that we give three examples of motivating language, but I cannot locate those in your draft.”
  • Watch those pronouns: Instead of using the accusatory “you” as in “You didn’t use three examples of motivating language like you were supposed to,” say “I am unable to find the three examples required by the assignment.”
  • Ask clarifying questions: Sometimes giving criticism is just a matter of leading the other person to the realization that issues need to be addressed. You can always say something such as “Could you tell me what your three examples of motivating language are?”

Be Open to Others’ Ideas and Feedback, and Be Willing to Change Your Mind

You won’t like every idea you come across, and occasionally your team members will be off-base. But often they will share such smart insights that you may change your mind about your own ideas—or at least being challenged to think more deeply about them. Engage in that process. While you are not obligated to incorporate all peer feedback, thoughtfully consider it and ask questions if necessary2.

Disagree Respectfully 

When you do disagree with your teammates, do so respectfully. Here are some ways you can start those statements of disagreement:

  • “Help me understand what you mean when you say ___.”
  • “Tell me more about ___.”
  • “Am I understanding correctly that ___?”“I can see the logic in your position that ___, but have you considered ___.”
  • “Yes, you make a great case for ___, but here are some examples you provide that I think point to ___.”
  • “Allow me to offer an alternative viewpoint.”
  • “I respectfully disagree that ___.”
  • “I read your section of our project. Based on what I have written in my section, here are some factors to consider in your revision.”

Virtual teamwork can be a fun, productive, interactive learning experience.  Take the time, enjoy the process, and welcome the opportunity to broaden your circle of professional colleagues.

[1] Rentz, K. and Lentz, P. (2018). Business communication: A problem-solving approach, 2e. New York: McGraw Hill.

[2] Rentz, K. and Lentz, P. (2018). Business communication: A problem-solving approach, 2e. New York: McGraw Hill.

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