Scheming and Teaming

Tom Mackey, TMMBA Student

Our team met each other for the first time at the welcome reception. For our class, it was held at the Burke Museum on the UW campus, and our significant others were welcome to attend, too. That was a nice touch, but it was also an opportunity for the staff, through a guest speaker from the previous class, to help level-set expectations for the following 18 months. I remember our speaker going through a series of lessons learned, and things not to do, including conceiving a child during the Fall break which meant dealing with child birth during Finals week the following June! Yeah — “Don’t do that!”

It was during the opening Residential that we really started to get to know each other. The staff tries to give the teams a good head start for the Winter quarter through a series of team building exercises and social time. Early on, our team decided we wanted to get the most out of the program that we could, and we all wanted to get good grades. It was a consensus, meaning, we would each support the decision, and none of us would act contrary to the decision. This is important, as the program is structured such that individual scores in most classes are comprised of a “team score” and your individual score. For our team, this means that the work done to earn the team score is most important. If one of us chooses to relax their standards for a particular class, then it means that our individual work is what we would allow to slide a bit; we are all expected, and held to, doing the best we possibly can for the team. The side effect is that for the most part, our individual scores are probably higher than they otherwise might be, because we are all fully engaged in order to support our team responsibilities.

The usual four steps of team building occurred (Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing) — starting in the Residential and continuing during the Winter quarter. It is the nature of the program that it attracts mostly professional people with well-established careers, so working in teams was not new to any of us. What was new, at least for this writer, was the depth of teamwork we were able to establish so quickly. Again, I attribute a good part of this to our decision to be a high-performing team, but I give kudos to the TMMBA staff for giving us the tools to make it happen.

What do we do to make this happen? I know that some of the other teams are also high performers, so I am sure that ours is not the only way, but here is what works for us.

The “people” aspects are probably most important.

1: For each team deliverable, we choose, mostly through volunteering, but sometimes by suggestion, a project manager. The PM is responsible for calling the meetings and setting meeting agendas, and for assigning and assembling the work into a coherent work package. The PM is not responsible for writing or doing the project on behalf of the team, but rather is responsible for keeping the rest of the team on track in producing the required work to assemble the final product.

2: It happens that our self-professed “type-A” personality likes keeping track of all the deliverables for each quarter, so he acts as a “quarter master” and makes sure we all know of key due dates for individual homework, group assignments, and tests.

3: We rotate the PM role so each of us gets to experience the leadership role for a variety of deliverables. We try not to let anyone get overloaded, and also try to let team members with particular interests take projects that will help them grow in their careers. We acknowledge that taking on a particular project may be a challenge, and will pitch in to help the PM be successful.

4: At the end of each quarter, we meet and do a de-brief, sometimes called a “post-mortem” and discuss what went well, what didn’t, and figure out what needs to be done to correct course before the next quarter starts. If one of us has not lived up to expectations, we are sure to hear about it in this meeting, if not earlier, but we strive for constructive criticism — we are all in this together and we really do need and depend on each other in order to be successful in the program.

Tools are less important, but are still necessary for collaboration and communication. Most of us have work or personal email that we prefer to use, so we all forward our school email to our favorite place. Once again, what I am about to describe is what works for us — it may not be optimal or even feasible for other teams.

1: We don’t use Blackboard for collaboration. It quite frankly sucks blue mud. We tried Google Sites and found that it gives us pretty good functionality. Docs can be uploaded through a web interface, it is secure, and there is a rudimentary version control system built in. As a Config Mgmt guy, I like that. We can also arrange our work in folders that match our classes, and there is effectively no limit so we can keep past quarters’ work for reference in an archive area.

2: We use Google Groups for email accretion. We can each choose to have email to the group account bounced to our favorite personal account, and by replying to the message, with the original sender being the group account, the reply reaches each of us. Plus, messages are archived at the group, so there is no need to store them in our personal accounts unless we want to.

3: Along with Google Groups and Google Sites, we use Google Calendars to track our deliverables. There is one for individual assignments, one for group assignments, and we can have our personal calendar for tracking vacations (hah!, like that ever happens…), business trips, and so forth. We can then combine what is important to our personal calendar and have a one-stop look at what we need to do.

4: For conference calls and virtual meetings, we use freeconferencecall.com and Microsoft’s SharedView. SharedView works as well as WebEx, but is free. Can’t beat that! The conference call number we have is long distance, which is no problem for those of us that have unlimited long-distance cell plans. But for the rest of us, and speaking for myself, I bought a calling card from Costco and pay about 3 cents per minute.

For the Summer quarter we decided that we weren’t getting enough accomplished in virtual meetings so we decided to meet every week on the other section’s class night. That was quite a hit for those of us with long commutes or who usually take the bus, as the bus service late at night to anywhere other than Kirkland, Redmond, or Bellevue is so bad as to not be an option. That committed us to 2 or 3 nights per week, depending on whether or not there was a TA session scheduled on Thursday. This is one thing we will have to look at during our debrief session next week, because after Fall quarter the next TMMBA class will provide competition for the meeting rooms at TMMBA HQ. I’m hoping we can find a way to be effective utilizing virtual meetings.

I would be quite interested in hearing from the other Bloggers and how their teams work — both in the People and Tool realms.

That’s it for now.

-TomM