An Introvert’s Thoughts on Group Work

Introverts don’t usually like working in groups. Business school involves a lot of group work. So, by the transitive property, introverts shouldn’t really like business school.

I certainly fit the first part of this equation. In college, if I saw a team project on a syllabus, I’d go running – hours of time spent with strange people trying to solve a problem I could probably better (and more efficiently) tackle on my own? Nothing sounded worse. However, the working world challenged my impatience with group work, and I actually came to love the close bonds and shared memories that grew out of late hours in a team room (windowless client site optional). So, my current feelings on group assignments are actually pretty divided.

At Sloan, as at most MBA programs, group work is at the core of the academic experience. I’m hardly an expert as a first-semester first-year, but here are some initial thoughts on the fearsome extrovert-friendly group work experience.

 The pleasant surprises: 

  • We all add value. Sloan puts a lot of thought into the creation of Core Teams, including an emphasis on professional diversity. The result is a collective mix of quantitative and qualitative skills and cross-sector experiences that enable every team member to contribute uniquely within our five-course Core curriculum. An Economics team project is much more bearable with an Econ major at the helm.
  • We all want to grow. In high school and even college, I associated group work with the nightmare freeloaders who had limited standards for quality. At Sloan, my teammates and I are all here to challenge and advance our knowledge, so we’re committed to taking the time to explore a problem. Team sessions result in prolific whiteboards and solution sets ranging from textbook to outright ridiculous (we probably wouldn’t actually suggest that the CEO of an airline try flying an A-380 engineless just in case it worked). Inspiration is the new exasperation.
  • The outputs are tangible. One of my biggest gripes about group assignments used to be the lack of connection between the homework and the class goals. The hours spent pasting construction paper boats onto a map of 1592 Europe never deepened my understanding of world history. It’s a lot easier, however, to get excited about five hours on a team case when we’ll have a chance to present, debate, and challenge our work with our classmates and professor.

The perennial challenges:

  • Everyone works differently.Groups are necessarily sums of parts, and in business school, the parts are in fact chosen because of how different we are. To be successful as a team, everyone must sacrifice some personal work preferences; for me, this means I’ve had to relinquish some of my prized independence and get comfortable shouting out answers in team problem-solving sessions. My group established these norms (and voiced our preferences) during our first meeting, which was a great first step toward recognizing where each member’s limits are. Doesn’t mean it’s always perfect, but that’s life.
  • The “correct” answer isn’t always the goal. For graded group assignments, there always seems to be a division between people who want to get it done right, and people who want to explore the topic purely for intellectual fulfillment. MBA project teams are no exception. My group has found that the sooner we establish our goal for each assignment (the “correct” answer, or the creative answer?), the more seamlessly we work together to achieve it.
  • Coordination across seven schedules is pure agony.Simply put, calendaring sucks. Weekly team meetings were a cute idea in week 1, which is where we left that thought. Getting everyone together for dinner? Impossible. While the headache of scheduling doesn’t ever fully go away, it got a whole lot less painful once we started deciding who would lead each session and back-calculating required attendance from there.

In any case, group work isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. This Atlantic piece provides an interesting rebuttal to my increasingly positive attitude, for anyone interested.

Anna Thomas

Anna is pursuing an MBA from Sloan and an MPP from Harvard, graduating in 2018. In a previous life, she was an international strategy and operations consultant at McKinsey & Company and a strategic initiatives fellow at Khan Academy. Anna is an avid traveler, food and wine consumer, modern literature reader, Arabic learner, and rescue dog advocate. Anna dreams of one day working at the intersection of labor productivity, vocational education, retail, and emerging markets - any ideas?

2 Comments

  1. Introvert? Would you believe Anna an introvert?
    It’s great article by an introvert.

  2. Apurv Lucas Walia

    I just shared this link with one of my team member at MBA.

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