By Arial Starks
Collaboration is critical to professional success. Organizations across the globe have learned that success is often predicated on a diverse team of people applying different ideas and skill sets towards a common goal. We spoke with M. Eric Johnson, Ralph Owen Dean and Bruce D. Henderson Professor of Strategy; Juli Bennett, Executive Director of Executive MBA Programs, Cherrie Wilkerson, Assistant Dean for Young Professional Programs; and Tim Vogus, Brownlee O. Currey, Jr., Professor of Management, who explained why collaboration is essential to business education.
1. Collaboration in class prepares students to collaborate at work
From grade school through graduate school, your education will have likely featured team-based assignments, and Vanderbilt is no exception. “I know of no classes that are based solely on individual effort,” says Wilkerson. Teamwork experience in school is critical because most organizations operate in a team-structured setting. “Work in business is rarely an individual contribution,” Wilkerson adds.
Bennett points out that as Vanderbilt Business graduates rise through the ranks of the companies they work for, they will inevitably find themselves working in and leading teams. “For some Vanderbilt Owen students, particularly in our one-year programs, this may be their first exposure to working with others to deliver a work product. More seasoned, working professional students may have worked extensively with teams and have an opportunity to refine their skills as team leaders and elevate the way they lead. Regardless of the experience students bring, the opportunity to work collaboratively as part of the b-school experience makes our graduates better team players and better team leaders,” says Bennett.
2. Collaboration helps students strengthen soft skills
There are many benefits to students working in teams in business school, just as there are several reasons collaboration is successful in the working world. An environment where students must rely on one another to achieve success pushes them to strengthen important soft skills like communication, problem-solving, and critical thinking that they will utilize in the future.
“At Vanderbilt, we provide curricular and co-curricular experiences for putting the knowledge students are learning in the classroom into practice through in-class simulations, in student organizations, or even on non-profit boards, all of which require collaboration. We specifically focus on how to constructively engage and integrate the diversity necessary for today’s most important business problems and to do so in a way that fosters deep learning, better decision-making, and more innovative approaches,” says Vogus.
3. Collaboration builds trust and respect among business students
When students work together in teams, it reduces the cutthroat, competitive environment that exists when they are working individually for success above one another. This in turn builds trust and friendship. Friendly competition is healthy in the classroom and in business settings, because it presents a sense of motivation amongst peers. But when there is competition without collaboration, it can create a toxic and unproductive work environment. “One of the things we really want to help our students understand is that even while working in a collaborative environment, they can still compete. We’re not telling them to not compete or work hard and shine individually, but in doing so, there’s so many instances where if you win, I win. It doesn’t have to be me versus you,” said Johnson.
4. Collaboration encourages students to learn from one another
Collaboration is, by definition, bringing different people together to work towards a common goal. A space where diverse cultures, ideas, and skill sets can come together, creates opportunities for individuals to learn from each other and increase their professional development. At Vanderbilt, each program is made up of students from different backgrounds, industries, and stages in their careers. Dean Johnson says this is done intentionally to ensure students are prepared to work with colleagues at all levels in the business world.
“Many times students work in teams instead of working individually and it’s that type of collaborative environment that I think is so important to their own learning. Students may learn as much from each other as they do from the traditional content of the class itself and that’s all preparation life outside of Owen in terms of being collaborative team players wherever they go,” he said.