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Dysfunctional team. (diego cervo/iStockphoto)
Dysfunctional team. (diego cervo/iStockphoto)

EMBAs: Like them or not, it's all about your team Add to ...

Sandy (Sandra) Dias is doing a Kellogg-Schulich Executive MBA. She has more than 10 years of sales experience and has spent the past six years working for L'Oréal Canada. She is both a national key account manager and a district manager for Quebec and Ontario boutiques for the luxury brand, Kiehl's Since 1851.

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As I wrap up my first module in my EMBA program, I can say it's been a combination of intense work, scheduling and juggling - and a little bit of fun.

A big part of the experience has been getting to know my class and team mates. The class discussions and the key things I learned have been driven by the diversity of the group. We are made up of lawyers, engineers, sales professionals, talent managers, IT experts, academics, project managers, entrepreneurs and finance managers, from both the private and public sectors. We are 25 classmates varying in experience, knowledge and expertise.

Our teams are smaller samples of the whole, each individual bringing a different perspective to our work. The deliverables are demanding, and working with an efficient team is key.

At the beginning of Module 1 we were put into teams that would make up our "home" team, the peers we would do our group work with. Team dynamics play a significant part in our success, as 60 per cent of our academic work is group work. Over the past three months, there have been opportunities to test each other's metal and showcase our best - and our worst. The ultimate goal: to learn from whatever experience transpires.

As in any new relationship, teams go through patterns: There is a honeymoon phase and a "storming" phase, and hopefully the teams come through even stronger. In my team, we have found a groove and defined each of our strengths, and the goal now is to maximize those strengths to propel the team forward. Just as in any company, there are changes that happen organically and those that need to be implemented forcibly. A team contract helped us quickly establish rules we could all live with even before knowing how we worked together. The contract has evolved and has been a great point of reference, and I am surprised at how often it is referred back to.

At Kellogg-Schulich, a big emphasis has been placed on teams, team building, team management and communication. At first it's almost excessive, like trying to kill a bug with a shotgun. We could not relate, and it was almost too soon in the program to be discussing or analyzing the situations before they occurred. However, we quickly began to see the patterns our professors warned us about and began to learn from the past very quickly. As a team, we pay better attention to communication styles, and adapt them to ensure the message sent is received appropriately.

Interestingly enough, just as we are getting used to our groups, we have been advised that the teams will change, depending on the module and the needs of the program. As much as we are approaching this with mixed feelings (we all have a great sense of accomplishment with our current teams) this is how the real world works. Adapting quickly and efficiently is what will make us great leaders, and this environment provides a subtle form of coaching.

It will be interesting to take these key learnings and apply it to our international modules: modules where the diversity will be even greater, in larger classes and with greater networking opportunities; modules where new teams will be formed and intensity heightened because of the short time frames for deliverables. And it will be interesting to see what we all bring back to our home teams - will dynamics change once again, or will we fit right back into our old patterns?

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