Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Various Types of Teamwork

I'm sitting in Kellogg's Career Managing Center (CMC) managing the Consulting Club's case interview workshop, where 2nd-year students walk 1st-years through a practice case. My "shift" ends in 20 minutes, so I thought I'd take advantage of the idle time to write up some of the different types of teamwork that I've encountered so far at Kellogg. Given that the school prides itself on its collaborative nature, it is safe to assume that you will run into a lot of group assignments while you are here, even in classes that don't seem as conducive to the format.

Here is what I have personally experienced thus far; please keep in mind that this is by no means an exhaustive list.
  • Coffee Chat - This is when you run into a classmate outside of class (normally still in Jacobs) and start chatting about something interesting from class.  These normally benefit from being good friends with the classmate, as it is then much easier to carry on an honest discussion, particularly when there are areas of disagreement.  These small encounters with classmates are one of my favorite parts of the experience so far, and they can even rival the Roundtables that I describe below in terms of quality.
  • Han Solo - This is where 1 person volunteers to put together the "first" draft of the group assignment, effectively anchoring the team to their work. This can result in an awkward situation if the draft isn't good, because people are less likely to criticize it given the amount of individual effort that went into it; fortunately, I haven't run into this situation. This is particularly popular on smaller writing assignments, where it is important to ensure that the paper "flows" well.
  • A la carte - This is where everyone does the group assignment individually, and then the team meets to pick and choose the best answers for the final assignment. This works really well for small weekly HW assignments, particularly those that involve individual questions. There generally isn't a lot of deep discussion involved with this strategy, unless there are some glaring discrepancies in the answers.
    • Sometimes the final process of combining the answers occurs entirely via email
  • Divide and Conquer - This is where the team comes up with an outline of the final product, divides out the different sections, and then merges them together at the end. You'll normally run into this on the larger projects (research papers for example), where it is too hard for everyone to do the assignments themselves. Professors warn against using this model, because it might result in a paper that doesn't "flow" well; students normally counter this by performing multiple rounds of reviews/edits after piecing it together. 
    • Note that there is also an opportunity here for the Han Solo situation. Sometimes a member of the team will opt to take all of the individual sections and rewrite them into the first draft; I was surprised by how well this can work.
  • Roundtables - I've only come across this in discussing the cases for the Business Strategy midterm and final, and I think it is extremely useful.  Here the group just starts an open discussion on the assignment (case) centered around the questions that they expect to encounter on the final.  It requires critical thinking, since everyone has to apply the various concepts taught in the class to make or refute a poin and is extremely valuable in my opinion.  Honestly, I wish that there were a lot more of these, because I've found them to be the most engaging/enriching type of teamwork so far.  Unfortunately, the case discussions I've had in class have rarely been as good.
I'm curious to see what else (if anything) I'll run into during the remainder of my time here.  Given the trend so far, I am fairly certain that I'll be working in teams in all of my future courses.


  1. Interesting way of putting this :) .. I am only 2 quarters in and have experienced a few of these. Han Solo for MORS (I regretted the decision once I found how many hours I was putting into it), Roundtables for Business Strategy and A la Carte for DECS.

    For most courses, I would guess Roundtable is the way to go just because it guarantees equal effort in the beginning ...

  2. Thanks! Having now gone through 2 years of this, my experience on how the types were used is that:

    For small modular assignments, like problem sets, a la carte and divide and conquer were the most popular.

    For small write-ups, like a 3-page case analysis, it was a combination of roundtable to discuss the case followed by someone volunteering to Han Solo the write-up.

    For larger assignments, like class projects, divide-and-conquer was by far the most popular method, with an occasional roundtable discussion to ensure we were all on the same page.

    Before submitting an assignment, we generally went through a series of round-robin edits that tended to focus on stylistic changes and cutting content more often than anything else.

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