A Practice Run – Global Virtual Teams (GVT)

One of the main attractions of an MBA is leadership development. Within the first semester of the Smurfit MBA, we were presented with two challenges to develop our leadership skills. The first was an introduction to the Leadership Development Programme which is a yearlong, standalone program that develops student’s self-awareness, team skills and organisational leadership. The second challenge was the Leadership & Organisational Behaviour module which addressed the complexity of organisational structure.

In semester two, we will be challenged with a project where we work with students from around the world in a global virtual team (GVT). This project is part of the involvement with GNAM (Global Network for Advanced Management) and will partner with students from EGADE (Mexico), HEC(Paris) and Yale(US). The project will involve a simulation of a production line where cooperation and engagement from all team members is critical. This follows on from the learning in the Leadership & Organisational Behaviour module which included a trial GVT project.

The trial GVT project was designed to practice working in the unfamiliar situation of having remote team members who you had not interacted with before. The task was to analyse organisational issues within a case study, review related literature and provide a plan of action for the organisation. The submission format was not your typical MBA report or presentation, instead we had to create a video to provide our recommendations. One last curveball was that we were told not to meet in person.

The case study involved a character – Greg James, who had trouble managing his global team of 45 employees in the company Sun Microsystems. A sub optimal team performance had caused a recent problem for a customer and the organisation was starting to suffer. We identified GVT issues within Greg’s team as problems in communication, feelings of separation, feelings of unequal working conditions and lack of team spirit and camaraderie. I will omit our suggested solutions!

My trial GVT team included two full time MBA members, two mid-week EMBAs and one weekend EMBA. Some of our challenges included communication channels, finding meeting times to suit everyone, changing schedules, fluctuating engagement of team members, rapidly approaching deadlines and completely different personalities. We experimented with different IT solutions to facilitate remote meeting and work flow management. After many headaches, we settled on Google hangouts and Google Drive which gave us the most hassle-free work environments. We managed to scramble together an unpolished video and submit within the timeline . . . not our finest work but the learning is far more important.

Working in a global virtual team is never going to be straightforward, there are no perfect solutions and there will always be hurdles to overcome. I am looking forward to working with the GVT project next semester, the added variables of schools, locations, time zones and cultures will bring our skills to the next level. With the range of theory, challenges and experiences covered during the Smurfit MBA, we should be well positioned to excel in the increasingly global environment.

 

Eoin Carroll, Full Time MBA 2017-2018

The Importance of Teamwork

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When I decided to put my music business on hold and to take a year out of life and return to college at UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School, I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the raw intensity of what was to come. Even after 15 years of intense work in the Hollywood entertainment industry, MBA life often seems to be an exercise in survival training for business more than academic learning. Part of me feels that this is the point of it all. From the beginning, the high pressure environment has created a strong bond between the Full-Time MBA students. We realise that supporting each other is the cornerstone of our fast evolving class culture, and this family attitude increases the chance of us making it through the year relatively unscathed!

Teams, teams and more teams

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From the start, teamwork has been a huge part of our MBA experience. We work in assigned teams, in self-selected pairs, and as individuals. We also share ideas as a class on a regular basis. The thing about assigned teams, as you can well imagine, is that there’s no choosing who you get. At the start of Semester One, I think a lot of us collectively held our breath before meeting our teams after hearing all the rumors about teams being customized to create minor conflict to challenge us. I feel I have been very lucky. I have four teammates from different backgrounds, countries and cultures who support each other and have been there for each other every step of the way. It has been a great support to me personally.

I’ve actually been discovering a lot of hidden things about teamwork that will benefit me for many years to come. So many of us are being reminded that there is a lot more to it than simply having a meeting and then going our separate ways to work on tasks. For example:

  1. What are our individual and collective strengths?
  2. How can we learn from and with each other?
  3. How do we engage with each other?
  4. How can we align our goals or expectations?

Virtual Teamwork at Smurfit

Recently, we were hit with a new challenge – working in virtual teams across the various Executive MBA and Full-Time MBA classes. The task seemed simple: collaborate through virtual communication and make a video about the experience. In reality, it proved to be an engaging challenge. Trying to agree on simple things such as an online platform or when everyone is free is apparently harder to do with teammates you don’t know or see!

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We tested the virtual team experience in a “safe psychological environment” (a phrase heard a lot in our class) and had a lot of fun doing it. When two of us attended Global Network Week in Yale’s School of Management for example, we took the time to organise a Skype call from Yale with our teammates back in Ireland to give us an authentic international Global Virtual Team experience.

Our final video project revolved around interviews with fellow Global Network Week students and our own team discussing our experiences.

The MBA Leadership Development Programme

There is a growing awareness among many of us, that developing our ability to work with and lead a team of diverse individuals is a far more significant part of our growth as future business leaders than simply getting the top grade in an MBA exam. It’s proving to be an interesting psychological transition. The ego wants to be selfish and to focus on what is best for the self, yet we see time and time again that the collective delivers better decisions and outcomes.

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The Leadership Development Programme (LDP) focuses on the skills necessary to help us. It IS all worth it. This voyage of self-discovery feeds our emotional growth, and our capacity to be more productive both individually and collectively. At the end of the day, we unquestionably need to understand who we are, before we can lead others in the future. To help us understand our psychological preferences and our emotional strengths and weaknesses, we have done a barrage of personality tests such as an ESCI 360 Peer Review and a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test based on C. Jung and I. Briggs Myers type theory.

Honestly, it sometimes feels like we are doing a new test every second week!

Moving Forward

So what is next for me? I think most of all, I simply look forward to continuing on this voyage of self discovery and enjoying the remainder of my MBA experience.

Ciaran Hope ~ Full-Time MBA