3 Tools to Help Your Group Get Things Done
Graduate and undergraduate classes have one major difference. In grad school, working in a group is usually a requirement in the majority of the classes that you take. I am currently in the Information Security MBA program at James Madison University. So far, I am almost done with 5 out of 14 classes. In all of them, there has been a group element. The main reason that there is because, in any career that we have, we will always have to interact with others.
When I was still in college, the main requirement for the job that I chose was that I barely had to interact with anyone. I wanted to be able to only minimally communicate with my boss and coworkers. I am an introvert who prefers to work without any interruptions, and it’s exhausting talking all the time. After I graduated from college, I realized that my dream job of being alone at home or in an office, and barely speaking to anyone was a fantasy. Even though I now manage teams of people and are client-facing, I still hoped that in my MBA program, I could still just do my work with minimal interactions. I was let down, and I am glad that I was. The people I have met in my cohort are all amazing, smart people who I am learning from. I am glad that I didn’t get my wish because I have friendships that are growing because I am working with others in groups.
This is how groups have been done in each of the classes I have taken so far:
MBA 618 – Information Systems Strategy
In the first MBA class that I ever took, we were put into groups after the professor did her introduction to the subject. The professor would then break us up where we had to do extensive analysis on a business case, and then when we came back together as a class, we had to present our findings.
This is a hybrid MBA program (online with class component. We meet every 10 weeks), so even though we had only met once before, my group members and I got to get to know one another.
The final project that we had to present when we met in person was with a group of three other people. We collaborated online. All of us were in the DC area, so we met in person for three hours to make sure that the final version of the paper was how we wanted, created the presentation, and divided it up.
MBA 680 – Intro to Information Security
We were required to form study groups that would get together to discuss the lesson topics for that week before the professor presented. The group grew to six. Every week, we met up to ask one another questions on the material that we studied so we knew what targeted questions to ask the professor. One of my team members had a cybersecurity certification so he really helped the rest of us understand some of the concepts that were hard to grasp.
MBA 600 – Leadership & Organizational Behavior
The same study group from the previous class decided to continue working together in this class. In this class, we had to create groups of two or three where we had to learn the topic that we chose in the first class, and teach the class. One of the people in my study group and I paired up to do the study lesson. We mainly worked online until the weekend before we were supposed to present. We met up at a coffee shop to make sure our presentation slides made sense and that we were in sync. I was lucky that she is a Trainer at her job, so I got great tips on teaching others.
MBA 610 – Quantitative Methods
This was a Statistics class, so we continued our study group. The hardest class that we’ve had so far didn’t really have a group component. However, seeing the value in working with others made us want to continue having the group that we had put together.
MBA 620 – Accounting for Decision Making
We have a report that we have to work in groups of three. Additionally, we meet weekly to discuss the homework before the professor goes over it. When we meet in person in the upcoming weeks, my group members and I will do a presentation on what we discovered when we were doing our research.
Tools Used to Work Together
I am a huge advocate of not having to physically be in the same space to create great products and solutions. My teams have mainly been remote for years, and we work great together. However, I will admit that there are some challenges that remote teams need to make sure they are aware of and working towards reducing that co-located teams usually do not have to worry about. Therefore, it is VERY important that you have the right tools. Here are some of the tools that I use with my groups.
1. Office 365
Office 365 has been great at school and work. One of the tools that Microsoft has added is Microsoft Teams. A few years ago, Microsoft bought Skype and Lync. This helped improve their online communication tools. They released Microsoft Teams that is a workspace that has chat, files, and OneNote. It’s kind of a mix of SharePoint and Skype/Lync. When I found out that JMU had that tool available for us to use, I quickly talked to the first group I was in to use it. It made things easier because:
- Everything (files, conversations, notes, etc.) is in one place
- Have the ability to use Microsoft Office products like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint
- Collaboration was made easier because we could all be working on the same report and seeing each other’s changes
We would create WebEx sessions and that is how we had our weekly meetings. Microsoft Teams also has an online conference tool that you can use (I use at work all the time), but the team members wanted to use WebEx because that is what our professors were using.
WebEx is an established conferencing tool that has the ability to share your desktop, chat with others, upload files, and whiteboard. There are other features but these are the main ones that helped us.
3. Group Text Messaging
The six of us have a group chat that we would use to coordinate. We would also use the group text to message each other funny comments and GIFs, as well as questions, during class. This was much needed when the material was dry and this helped keep us focused.
There are many tools out there that can help your groups and teams work together. I am glad that I was in these groups because I:
- Got to know the people in my MBA cohort
- Learned from others especially when I was completely lost
- Helped to get through some of the classes when they were a bit dry
The only part that I still don’t like from doing group work is having to evaluate my other group members. It a bit awkward to do that, but I know it helps the professor know if there was any one person who wasn’t pulling his/her own weight.