IN business schools,

many professors put

students in teams. The teams do a variety of things. Sometimes they do classroom activities. At the other extreme, they create a project that counts for a boatload of points in the course. No matter what the team’s purpose, most students hate teamwork.

Why, then, do we use teams? Shouldn’t we make our students happy?

If you think about it, the business world runs on teams. Whether it’s a formal team structure like we have in classes or not, people are constantly working within and across unit boundaries to accomplish things. So it’s the opinion of business faculty that we should prepare our students now for what they will experience in their careers.

What does a good team member look like, whether in the artificial classroom setting or in the workplace?

First and foremost, everyone should do their part. It’s always difficult, if not impossible, to divvy up the responsibilities of the team equally, but there are ways for each person to contribute.

In my career, for example, I have worked with co-authors on research papers. While I contributed ideas and did a lot of the writing, one of the tasks that generally fell to me was formatting and editing the final paper.

I ensured the style met the requirements for the journal to which we planned to send the paper. Another big part was to review all the references used and make sure they were in the proper format at the end of the paper.

Why did I tend to have this as part of my team contribution over and over? Part of it was because I liked doing these more mundane tasks, but the main reason was because I attended to the details better than my colleagues did.

While I was doing my work, my colleagues were making other contributions. And while it never happened, I would have severed any collaborations with people who didn’t do their fair share.

In your world, you may not be able to decide not to work with someone because they don’t do their part. But you can certainly speak up when you have a slacker holding the team back.

When I meet with students who complain about their “loafer,” I ask what they’ve done to ensure the loafer knows he’s a loafer. Generally, as few people want a confrontation, the answer is nothing. The loafer is getting away with being a loafer because no one will speak up.

So the second piece of advice for teams is to say something. Better yet, put it in writing! There must be good communication within the team. Let the loafer know he’s not pulling his weight. And in the workplace, if he continues to not participate after being told, it’s time to get his supervisor involved.

While in college, professors may allow students to pick their own teams. Teams are not formed because of the diversity of skills, knowledge or experiences each member brings to the team.

That’s not the case, generally, in the workplace. The work team has been carefully constructed because of this diversity.

If you’re a member of this team, you may be the only person who knows certain information or ways to accomplish things. If you are the slacker, the project will either not happen or not be as strong as it could be.

My advice is to always do more than is expected on a team. Don’t be the person the rest of the team is talking about.

And of course, suggesting we should make our students in business schools happy was somewhat tongue-in-check. We sometimes have to get our students to do things they don’t want to do to prepare them for what’s ahead, whether they like it or not.

Teams are a reality in the workplace. They may be called a work group or committee, but they are still teams.

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Lynne Richardson is the dean of the College of Business at the University of Mary Washington.

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