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Teamwork is hard. The reason that companies continue to push us to provide teamwork experiences for our students is because no matter how much team work you have done, there is always more to learn. Several years ago I began to think that continuing team activities and emphasizing teamwork in the MEM Program might not necessary because so many undergraduate programs now have some type of team experience in their curriculum. But the more I talked to our industrial colleagues, the more I heard that additional team training is not only necessary but is a critical component that will separate high performers from mediocre performers. This is because optimizing the output of a team is difficult. And yet, teams are essential for many projects. Hence, we find that our industrial advisors continue to push us for a greater number of team experiences and more challenging team experiences for our MEM students. This is sometimes difficult because students do not always agree that difficult team experiences are a valuable part of the educational experience. In fact, teams can seem unfair when one focuses on grades rather than learning opportunities.

I was reminded of this recently by observing and communicating with teams in the MEM Program. The most common problem is simply that a particular team member cannot contribute to the team activities as much as most of the other members. This can be for a variety of reasons including:
• motivation
• intellect
• academic background
• communication skills (i.e., a language barrier)

I have been very impressed with how teams have generally made strong attempts to include all members as much as possible in the team activities. But when all is said and done, we can’t expect every member to contribute equally to every assignment. It is important to keep in mind that you are trying to optimize the output of the team as a whole (i.e., considering the team as a system, what is the system optimization for the team). Of course, output can take many forms and this is a balance that the team must decide for themselves. I recommend that maximum learning for each team member be a key component of “optimizing” the team output. Thus, my suggestion is to work hard at integrating your team members and obtaining maximum input from each, but to also think creatively about how to optimize the entire team system. In some cases when there is an extreme gap in motivation, language, etc., for one of the team members, then the optimization may involve tailoring a segment of the work for that individual. For example, if one of the team members lacks experience and has difficulty interpreting cases, perhaps they are the note-taker for meetings and consolidate and write up the discussion from the other team members. Or if a team member has difficulty with oral communication, perhaps they are charged with summarizing the case in writing prior to team meetings. The point is simply that we each bring a different set of skills and a different level of skills to a team. Optimizing the use of those skills and enabling learning opportunities for each member of the team does not mean distributing work equally or even having equal input into every activity. Of course, there will also be those rare cases where a team member has little or no motivation and insufficient skill; thus, they do not even appear to be trying to make an effort on the team. Although I think these instances are rare, it is one of the reasons we utilize peer assessments in our classroom teams and 360 degree reviews in our workplace.

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