MBA programs are big on collaboration (a.k.a. “group work”). Online MBA programs are not an exception to this rule. But online MBA programs do present some challenges when it comes to group work. However if you are able to work through these challenges, you’ll gain some valuable skills in leadership and team building.
Building a successful group (or team) is the first step towards effective collaboration. From the beginning, you should strive to get to know your online MBA program peers and observe their strengths and abilities. Create a spreadsheet or log of the people that you work with and make honest notes about both their positive and negative qualities. Keep this log handy throughout the duration of your program so that you can recall who was and was not a good team member for future courses. But don’t be afraid to work with people that you have not worked with before. Just pay attention to how they work in the course in general. The best team members are people who take initiative…that go above and beyond the bare minimum. Look for people who turn in assignments early…who post early and often on discussion boards…and who communicate well.
Once you’ve established your team, make sure to establish standards early on and to identify tools that can help your team find success. Some of your earliest conversations as a group should be about meeting schedules and personal availability. Make sure to take your group meetings seriously (and expect this from everyone else as well) and come to them fully prepared. You should treat your MBA group meetings with just as much seriousness as you would a work meeting. If you cannot make a meeting, be sure to let your team know ahead of time and supply them with whatever information that you would have provided to them in the meeting.
When it comes to the tools that you can use as a group in an online MBA program, the most important thing is to facilitate communication and information exchange. Utilize online chat rooms; making sure to log the chats so that they can be referred to later. Another great option is to set up conference calls with your team. This gives you a different facet of interaction and in many cases, it is more productive to talk about assignments and projects. While many phones offer a conference call feature, it may be limited to a certain number of lines and/or it may eat up the phone minutes in your calling plan. A great alternative is to utilize FreeConferenceCall.com; where you can set up a conference call number at no charge and get a lot of great features such as call logs and the ability to record your conferences.
For file management, one option that you can use is Google Docs, which offers a lot of storage space for many types of files. You can also easy manage multi-contributer files and revisions. However in my experience, Google Docs is not as straightforward to use for those who do not have Google accounts.
These are just a few suggestions that you can use when looking to build a great team to work with in an online MBA program. Remember, effective communication is the core of your success; so whatever method you choose to utilize, never lose sight of the importance of excellent communication among all team members — no matter what the medium is.