Tips for Success

Working in Teams: The Do’s and Don’ts

Cortland Comer (M.S. in Commerce '22) explains the dos and don'ts of working in a team and how essential this experience is for your future career.

Before I started the M.S. in Commerce Program at UVA McIntire, I anticipated working in teams occasionally. Now, I can barely recall the last time I worked on an individual assignment. Working in teams is a fundamental component of the M.S. in Commerce. The business world is driven by the work of teams, and it is an essential skill needed for your career.

Usually the announcement of a group project is met with pained groans, and the memories of a group project gone wrong flood your mind. Working in teams can be a challenge, but here is some advice about working successfully in groups in the M.S. in Commerce Program.

Do’s

Find common connections, and establish relationships.

Teamwork is more than the task at hand. To get great results, you have to foster and develop positive relationships with your teammates. In your first meeting, break the ice with fun prompts and learn about your fellow team members. Always start meetings with a brief reflection about how everyone is doing and how their week has been going. By making an effort to have more open and personal conversations, team members will feel more comfortable being themselves and expressing their opinions to the group.  A comfortable environment will facilitate discussions and produce better results. In addition, in a small program like the M.S. in Commerce, you never know if you are going to be working closely with a person again, so it is important to establish connections.

Embrace differences.

It is important to embrace the differences of team members—differences in academic major, cultural perspective, hobbies, and personality. The M.S. in Commerce unites students from all different majors, and each person brings their own unique viewpoint and skill set to discussion. By embracing diversity, the results that the group produces will be more informed, more creative, and unique. Identifying the different skill sets and opinions of each member is valuable in formulating good business solutions. Diversity provides depth to answers and considers many perspectives.

Divide and conquer, but plan thoroughly.

The M.S. in Commerce is a fast-paced program, and sometimes it can feel like there is a never-ending list of things to do. When working in teams, it is important to divide the work evenly and play to each individual’s strengths. However, it is also important that the team meets to develop a cohesive plan for each assignment. Taking the time to sit down and outline the task will ensure a more seamless and organized final project. Each assignment should read as if only one person wrote it, and each section should be highly coordinated.

Take on different roles.

While working collaboratively, remember that you are at McIntire to learn. Avoid only doing parts of assignments that you are familiar with. If you don’t think that your strength is math, try to take the lead on that component of an assignment, and use the help of your math-strong teammates to learn. Don’t just write yourself off as not being able to do a certain thing and let your teammates do it without you. Commit to putting in effort, prioritize learning, and encourage your teammates to do the same. Make sure that everyone has the chance to lead different parts of projects, and don’t limit yourself.

Have fun!

Most importantly, have fun! It is easy to get caught up in the pile of work and lock yourself away in a Rouss & Robertson study room. While completing all your work is important, taking a breath and enjoying yourself will only make your work better. Plan a fun outing or meal with your team to get to know each other and clear your heads from assignments. Not only will this build team relationships, but it will also be a refreshing break.

Don’ts

Don’t just agree so that the project can be finished faster.

After a long day of class, meeting as a team can be exhausting. It is normal to want to get things done in an efficient manner. However, agreeing with others just to get things done faster will only harm the team. In the name of efficiency, certain things can get overlooked, and attention to detail will suffer. If everyone just agrees so that the team can move forward, the opposing perspective will be ignored, and large problems can potentially arise in your arguments. If time is limited, make sure that your team sets up a group chat or email chain where everyone can ask questions and other team members can respond.

Don’t assume you are always right.

One of the hardest pills to swallow is that you are not always right. Hard to believe, I know. But it is true. Accepting and admitting that you are wrong are essential for group work. If someone critiques your work, it is not a direct attack on you, but a redirection. Each member of the team has the same goal: a high-quality final product. If you are wrong, the entire group is affected. Therefore, it is important to check each other’s work and eliminate any mistakes. A team member catching your mistakes is a benefit to teamwork, not a malicious action.

Don’t be unwilling to compromise.

Compromise is the key to teamwork. With so many different perspectives and backgrounds, it is extremely rare that everyone will always agree with how the team should approach problems. Be willing to change your opinion and push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Someone’s different approach might produce a result that is different from what you would have done and can be a learning experience for you. Adapting and changing your work habits will benefit the team and be a valuable skill in your future workplace.

Don’t ignore competing views.

Don’t shy away from disagreement. If someone in your group disagrees with you, take the time to listen to their argument, and try to take their perspective. If everyone avoids conflict and chooses to agree, tunnel vision and groupthink will occur, and deficiencies in reasoning will be overlooked. In any consideration, adopting the opposing viewpoint is a good way to see the flaws in your reasoning and has the power to make your argument stronger. Even if all members of your team agree on an issue, elect one person to argue the opposing side and poke holes in your argument. Insights from disagreements will inform your argument and ensure that there is evidence to support your claims.

Don’t ignore members not pulling their weight.

We’ve all had a group project in which one or more members do not contribute the same amount of work as everyone else. Don’t ignore this! It is up to the team to hold each other accountable for their share of work. If a social loafer appears, first approach the issue as a team. Spend the planning period dividing work up evenly, and assign parts to make sure everyone has individual responsibilities that can be attributed to them. If the problem persists, confront the person directly, and make sure that they start contributing. Make sure that responsibilities and expectations are clear and understood. Remain civil, and appeal to them by reminding them that everyone benefits from each member’s contributions and the team shares a common goal. If those attempts do not work, reach out to a professor to mediate the conflict. It is always better to approach any issues head on and try to fix the problem as quickly as possible, instead of ignoring it.

Learn more about the M.S. in Commerce at McIntire.

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