In college, I remember that all introductory humanities courses had assignments for at least three 3-page papers. Each of these was meant to be a general exercise in college writing, practice in information processing and clear presentation. The idea was that we needed get used to writing papers, because it’s something that any B.A. should be able to do well. Now, I’m realizing that there is a similar kind of MBA initiation, with group collaboration as the ubiquitous foreshadowing of future coursework.
My first class, in management, specifically covered organizational behavior. We formed groups of 5 or 6 people, who became our discussion partners for the duration of the class. We separated into these groups to analyze case studies, which made up the majority of the homework assignments. A few of the readings clearly detailed expected sets of behavior for professional teams and their individual members. Obviously, the formation of study groups encouraged the practice of analyzing our own behavior. That was a little awkward at times, like trying to spot the “sucker” at a poker table in the hopes that it’s not you. “Let’s see… who’s the joker who can’t stay on topic, or… who’s mistakenly identifying symptoms of a problem as the main problem?”
I am working with 4 other people in my marketing class, and we have already done worlds more than my 6-person management group. I think that the end-of-quarter deadline is keeping my management class from getting a decent head start. Over three quarters, I’ve learned some valuable lessons about collaboration, some specific, some general. The biggest surprise is that even though I’m working with some people for the second time, each group has been totally different from the others.
The current collaborations have higher stakes than the first class, since we are now expected to do major group projects. Group members get the same paper grades, which are a huge percentage of the individual class grades. The more productive of my two groups is “leaderless” despite the advice of coursework and management teachers. Our paper has had over a dozen good revisions. Whoever has the best understanding of each phase of the project explains it to everyone else, with people sequentially volunteering for the next logical bits of research, writing, or meeting with the professor. So far, so good, and from what I’ve heard, I should be happy with how well it’s going. Generally, people describe introductory level group projects is annoying. I feel lucky, so far, but the real trial starts next month.