6/6/14 When business students are instructed to comb through case studies or pitch new product designs, three dreaded words often follow: “Work in teams.”
That dread is especially deep for American MBA students, according to a Graduate Management Admission Council survey released on Wednesday. Only 13 percent of American citizens listed team projects as their preferred teaching method, compared to 25 percent of students from Africa and the Middle East and 20 percent of Chinese students. (More than any other region, 35 percent of American students chose a mix of lectures and discussions as their favorite approach to learning.)
Why do Americans grimace when professors sort them into groups? It’s a cultural thing, says Bradley Kirkman, head of the management, innovation, and entrepreneurship department at North Carolina State’s Poole College of Management. Poole’s MBA program emphasizes teamwork, reporting to Bloomberg Businessweek last year that team-based instruction accounted for 37 percent of its curriculum.
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“Americans resist the notion of their success and livelihood being tied to someone else’s performance. People want to know that when they work hard, they get the reward. Other cultures are about harmony in the group,” says Kirkman, who has published research about teamwork. “That’s why you’ll see push-back in U.S. MBA programs.”
Administrators say they’ve heard plenty of student complaints about working in teams. Students find themselves doing all the work for the rest of the group, or struggling to find time to get group members together, said Peter Rodriguez, senior associate dean for degree programs at Virginia’s Darden School of Business.
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