Team Projects and Part-Time MBA Students

A recent study by Patricia Rafferty in the current issue of Journal of Management Education provides a qualitative examination of how part-time MBA students experience group work. The benefits of possessing skills requisite to performing as an effective team member are well documented. Thus, it’s not surprising that the MBA classroom is replete with group work as a mechanism to provide students opportunities to develop such skills. And while the fundamentals of good teamwork are not likely to change due to the type of program, the structure of the program could raise significant barriers to enacting effective team behaviors. Most notably, team projects are typically designed to be completed outside of the classroom making team coordination, a critical component of effective teamwork, all the more difficult.  To date, little research to has explored the impact of such situational group work factors on part-time MBA students.

Through year-long in-depth interviews, Rafferty finds that there are indeed some situational factors that uniquely affect part-time MBA students’ perceptions of group work. For example, the study reveals that providing access to virtual team tools resulted in mitigating much of the logistical challenge associated with geographical distance and “alleviated the incentive to divide and conquer.” In another finding, part-time MBA students reported a heightened unwillingness to deal with noncontributing team members as the process for doing so without regular face-to-face contact appeared too daunting.

This study should serve as yet another reminder that a high quality part-time MBA program can’t simply be a facsimile of the full-time program offered at night; but rather, it requires more deliberate curriculum design choices that honor the unique challenges facing the working professional student.

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