August 4, 2013 2:48 pm

FT MBA Challenge: how to form a global team

Alliance for children and youth

The Alliance for Children and Youth in Bulgaria

The Financial Times has partnered with the Global Fund for Children for its second MBA Challenge, in which nine teams of business school students will each advise a different charity on its long-term strategy from July to September.

The first stage of the challenge involved the students forming teams of up to eight members in which the mix must include Europe, the Americas, and Africa or Asia. At least one member of the team had to be an MBA student, but the others could be from other disciplines.

A number of team-building issues emerged.

How do you establish a diverse team?
Hans Lerwyn Villarica, an MBA student at Spain’s Iese Business School, set up the Global Grassroots team, which is working with the Alliance for Children and Youth in Bulgaria. “I compiled a list of prospects and cross-referenced their professional backgrounds and schools using LinkedIn to create a shortlist,” he says.


Why is teamwork important?

One person cannot be an expert on everything, says Mr Villarica. “With a team, you can bring in lots of different points of view.” He admits there are downsides to team work: meeting deadlines can be easier when working alone, for instance. But these are outweighed by the experience available.

Meret Brotbek, an MBA student at Switzerland’s University of St Gallen and in the Per Aspera Ad Astra team, which is working with a Colombian educational charity, says cultural factors are important: “Our member from Brazil has a different idea of what slums are and understands better what non-profits face.”

What are the practical difficulties?
“We thought it would be difficult to co-ordinate communications with everyone spread over four time zones,” says Abhinav Goel, also in Global Grassroots, and an MBA student at Kellogg School. But technology has simplified their liaising. “We agreed on Barcelona as our main timezone as three of us were based there and we made all deadlines, phone calls, etc applicable to that. We also had a WhatsApp group on our mobiles to send reminders to each other,” he says. “If one person was unable to attend a meeting, we recorded the conversation and put it online via Dropbox.”

Mr Villarica advises not assuming everyone has a 9 to 5 schedule and to hold virtual meetings at flexible times: “Weird times like Sundays can work for meetings,” he says.

Nominating a team leader
For Global Grassroots, Mr Villarica was a natural choice because he set up the team. But he emphasises the need for collaboration: “The term ‘leader’ can be misleading. I don’t have a final say over anything, it’s a team effort.”

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