Management by shutting up

I always make my graduate students watch an episode of The Apprentice.

It’s not because it’s a great piece of high-quality television that’s graduate education worthy. It’s not. But ti is a good conversation starter about the role of individuals in team work.

Our graduate program centerpiece is called “interactive project for the public good,” but is better known as the “Fly In,” for we do actually fly. In groups of 6-9, the students go to another country to collect content to create a website for an NGO.

I think of them as little miracle projects, because we go from wheels up to website in 3 weeks, all produced by a group of essentially advanced beginners. The students learn a great deal from this experience, and one of the greatest lessons is about being effective in teams.

The Apprentice is edited to highlight little pathologies in interpersonal relations that come to life in the boardroom when the aspiring apprentices try to rip each other up in front of their prospective boss.

Those little pathologies are things that can make or break a team.

There are typical teamwork issues like social loafing and managing up. The more damaging ones, though are the devaluing of input from some people on the team. It quickly becomes toxic when a person says something, is ignored, and decides that if his or her input is not valued, he or she will shut down or, worse, try to sabotage the others. When this happens, everybody loses.

It’s hard, especially when teams are diverse, to make the effort to thoughtfully listen to everyone. And that’s why it’s important to think about inclusiveness as a team value ahead of crunch time.

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