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Playing Well With Others

So, we've spent some time discussing the specifics of my somewhat unorthodox MBA program. (Although, in the world of online degrees and distance learning, I'm not sure if it even qualifies as "unorthodox" these days.) But we've yet to touch on one of the other main components of the graduate program -- group dynamics.

As part of the MBA program, the university divided up the students into 10 different groups of five to six people. We keep these groups for the entire two years. Some classes focus more on the groups than others. As you might expect, Statistics sported a lot less focus on group work than Strategic Analysis.

And, in case you're nosy like me, the answer is no: My husband and I are not in the same group -- to the relief of all involved, I'm sure. I'm sure we would have worked together just fine, but would you want to be the one with the married couple in your group? I sure wouldn't.

Before we even knew about this component, my husband warned me that business school meant a lot of group work. I can be both pretty introverted and pretty impatient, and I'll be the first one to admit that group work isn't always my cup of tea.

However, I said from the beginning that if this program could help me work better with others in a team dynamic, then it was money well spent. And I meant it. When you think about it, that's pretty much the crux of business: Learning how to effectively work with a great variety of personalities and opinions to successfully implement a plan or strategy.

But what really surprised me was how many people were dismayed by the concept. Whenever I described the program to people, one of the first reactions was often, "You're stuck with the same people for TWO years? What if you hate your group?" At any rate, it was good to know I wasn't the only one apprehensive.

I met my five group members on a Friday night in August at the first part of a two-day orientation for the MBA program. There are four men and one other woman; about half of us have typical business backgrounds, and the rest of us have more liberal arts backgrounds.

And you know what? I don't hate my group. I actually like them a lot. And that's definitely a good thing -- as my husband pointed out, we'll probably be spending more time with these people than anyone besides the people we work with. (I really like his group too -- a nice bonus!)

But it's early in the game, and two years -- and 28 classes -- is a long time, so I'm sure there will be times when I don't particularly like them. And that's OK. Because, in my opinion, the group construct is one of the most valuable parts of the MBA program.

We go to school to learn all sorts of concrete, tangible things, but many schools overlook these "soft skills," which can be the hardest ones to develop. Most of us work with at least one person we just don't like -- that's just part of life. But learning how to work effectively with people we don't enjoy being around is a vitally important skill. And if that's the one skill I take from this program, I won't be dissatisfied.

What's your take? Do you think this is a valuable skill to develop, or do you think group dynamics is overrated? Do you agree with me that this is an important part of the MBA curriculum, or do you think I'm just fine with it because I like my group?

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