Distance Learning MBA: Working in online groups

19 June 2020

Distance Learning MBA participant, Jag Chandi, shares some valuable lessons to help you get the most out of working in online groups. 

Having spent a large part of my career working with remote teams, I have always felt comfortable working online. However, the Distance Learning MBA with Warwick Business School brings a very different experience with it. When studying at school or for a specific course we recognise the “normal” approach as being in a classroom, learning in a face-to-face environment. So it was initially a challenge to transfer work skills into a learning environment. I really put this down to being outside of my comfort zone, studying subjects which I did not necessarily have a working knowledge of, and with people that I had never met before. However, over the last one and a half years I have had the opportunity to try and hone the skills required to work online and alongside many different members of my cohort.

For modules where a group assignment is given, we are usually grouped at the beginning of the module. I have found that it is beneficial to make contact with the team even before the group assessment criteria has been set, as it gives an opportunity to get to know your team before the pressures and urgency of the assignment sets in. Another benefit is that you have time to discuss lesson content and raise any queries you may have. I find this collaborative approach very useful, and as a project manager I use a democratic approach when leading my teams at work. So for, my initial approach has been to create a WhatsApp group which acts as an informal forum for initial introductions to be made and for us to arrange our first online meeting.

Microsoft Teams has been our application of choice for online meetings, and I think this comes down to familiarity, as many people have come across Teams in their professional lives. Personally, I find it useful for arranging multiple teams (per module) and having access to them all in one dashboard. Whilst working in larger groups, we have also used the Trello plugin in order to organise and prioritise work using project boards.

Here are four lessons to help you get the most from working in online groups:  

  1. Get to know your team. Ensure that there is enough time to make introductions during your first online meeting. Rather than a just five minute formality at the start of the meeting, make a conscious effort to get to know your team. As with any environment, it helps to know who you are working with and what their strengths and weaknesses may be.
  2. Try and use video. I can appreciate that using video can be unnerving at times, but this is where it helps to have a proper introduction first. Seeing your group members and allowing them to see you makes for a productive meeting. You are able to read each other’s actions and anticipate when someone may have something to add, which helps avoid situations where people talk over each other.
  3. Mute your mic. If you are not talking, put your mic on mute. Squeaky chairs, heavy breathing down the mic and other background noise can be off-putting for those that are presenting their ideas.
  4. Show self-awareness and empathy. For many modules there will people that are new to the subject, as well as those who already have prior experience. It will therefore help to work at a pace that benefits the entire team’s learning. After all, we are here to become the best versions of ourselves. 

Find out more about our Distance Learning MBA options.