MBA Students Take Deep Dive into Teamwork

MBA class on teamwork
Evening and weekend MBA students Sophia Le, Awais Ahsan, Vili Leonardo, and Karthik Suryanarayanan work as a team during their mid-year retreat.

Anyone who has worked on a group project at school or work knows the common frustrations: One person isn’t pulling his weight; another is too bossy; yet another can’t meet because of other commitments.

But working in groups doesn’t have to be this way, as MBA students are learning this year in a new program called Teams@Haas.

Teams@Haas—a new component of the Berkeley Innovative Leader Development (BILD) curriculum—aims to give students a toolkit of skills to work more effectively in team, says Brandi Pearce, an organizational behaviorist who is leading the program. Students learn how to become better active listeners, how to provide constructive feedback, and how to create a collaborative environment to increase the potential for innovative thinking.

“Unlike when we operate as individuals and we can practice reflexivity, in a group we need to carve out time to exchange information and understand how we perceive the situation,” explains Pearce.

Full-time MBA Program

In the Full-time MBA Program, Teams@Haas launched during Orientation Week with semester-long study groups creating collaboration plans. The groups are designed to maximize diversity to prepare students to work in a global context across a wide array of boundaries.

After a month, the groups participated in diagnostic and feedback sessions. Checkpoints throughout the semester also enabled students to describe anonymously how they thought the team was functioning. At the end of the semester, Pearce debriefed with students through a survey to show them how their teams have evolved and help them recognize best practices.

In the current spring semester, Pearce and a team of coaches are working with full-time and part-time MBA students as they tackle group projects in their experiential learning courses, which are a BILD requirement.

Along the way, Pearce is available to meet with students as their teams encounter challenges.

“We did reach out to Brandi for additional help and advice, and she really took the time to speak with us and make sure that each person was heard,” says Felice Espiritu, MBA/MPH 14. Her study group—which included students from Switzerland, India, the East Coast, and several industries—worked with Pearce to solve problems involving scheduling meetings and enforcing deadlines.

“What Brandi helped facilitate was establishing the group norm for how we communicate with each other and how we work with each other—what’s acceptable, what’s not, and how we prioritize our work,” says Espiritu.

“While we had all worked on teams in our previous jobs, Haas challenged us by putting us in more diverse teams than those we experienced at work,” she adds. “But Haas also gave us the resources to set us up for success and deal with issues that arose in a way that focused on our long-term personal goals and leadership development.”

Evening & Weekend MBA Program

In January, the Evening & Weekend MBA Program’s mid-year retreat featured team-based live-fire simulations that for first time incorporated the Teams@Haas. After one day of working together, students participated in a feedback session to reflect on their team dynamics and prepare them for a second day of presentations before judges.

Girish Nagasandra, MBA 14, a program manager at Franklin Templeton, notes that his team reorganized their responsibilities after their feedback session, and consequently performed better on the second day.

“The feedback session provided us a framework and a forum to discuss our ‘hot spots’ and come up with ideas to fix them. Without this session, we wouldn’t have felt comfortable talking about it, nor would we have had a structured framework to do it,” he says. “We implemented some changes the next day, and about 75 to 80% of the changes worked.”