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Building Your Learning Team Relationship

There is no magic formula for a happy Learning Team Relationship (LTR), but I have a few tips from RC and EC experiences:

Pixxy-Trixabelle* (22, NA) is distraught. “My Learning Team just dumped me. I thought everything was going so well until last week! How can they leave me at a time like this?”

Pixxy-Trixabelle is not alone: all over campus RCs are learning alone, many still hurt by a recent split that they didn’t see coming. Other RCs, however, are happy with more ‘casual’ learning environments, perhaps working with a friend from Section or sharing write-ups with an ex-Learning Team mate: someone whose learning style is familiar but who isn’t as demanding as a full Learning Team commitment.

In this article I investigate different styles of learning – often via frank interviews with students themselves – and aim to provide some pointers for how to manage your very own Learning Team Relationship.

Butch* (29, ND) has been ‘going steady’ in a committed Learning Team Relationship for three months now. “I shouldn’t brag – I mean there are always different approaches to be discussed and compromises to be made – but the learning is great, especially role-playing for LEAD. I used to be all about the tough stuff – FIN and hardcore FRC -, but my Team has brought out my softer side. It’s been a transformational experience for me. I love my Learning Team and think we could go all the way.” Should we all aspire to ‘go steady’ with the Team, like Butch?

Perhaps not. Angel* (27, KSG and NC) has been ‘learning around’. “There’s nothing wrong with it, and you learn so much more”, she says. “I mean, my Sectionmate is soooo good at TOM an’ we work on that soooo much, but then my friend from my old work and I bounce MKTing ideas off each other – just a quick session that’s really fun.” (“An’ next Semester, all my KSG friends can get together ‘n’ help me with Big E”, Angel added, somewhat confusingly for the author.)

Tiamii* (28, OH) says that she benefited from different learning styles, but still stuck with her Learning Team. “I had a great Learning Team”, she relates, “but still we’d each join other Teams for a morning now and then, just to see their style, and what we might try in our team”. The author was intrigued; “Like what?”, I asked.
“Well, like I found one team had a ‘facilitator’ to make their sessions run to time – we took that up in our team.” “Oh, good”, I replied.

D. C. Flow (28, NF) doesn’t subscribe to learning with others at all. “At we’d figured out that teams just waste time talking,” he explained. “I work best on my own; others just slow me down. What do they know anyway?” D.C. uses the time in the morning that many Learning Teams see as their ‘quality time together’ to develop his business plan. The Harbus wishes him luck with his patent ‘excel macro to identify anomalous P/E ratios and execute PE deals automatically’.

But not all RCs are as happy as these four. “Yes, I used to enjoy being with my Learning Team”, relates Tutsiana* (25, NA), “but then the relationship became one-sided. I’d spend all evening slaving over MKTing for my Team – you know, making the write-up fonts consistent, emboldening key ideas and even providing a really cool ‘cold-call executive summary’ for my Team. But they just didn’t seem grateful – I felt I was doing all the work in the relationship.” Tutsiana tried discussing her needs with her Team, but she felt they ignored her: she felt used. Last week she just walked out, and is wondering whether she can start again.

You may be comparing your experience with our interviewees. There is no magic formula for a happy Learning Team Relationship (LTR), but I have a few tips from RC and EC experiences:

-A LTR is just that: a Relationship. You have to compromise a little and find what’s best for everyone

“Communication, communication, communication”, said one alumnus (now speechwriting for Tony Blair). “If you say how you’re feeling, people have a chance; if you guess they know everything, tension just builds up and you’ll split up with a team you really liked”

-Some EC teams had more formal ‘how’s the team going’ meetings. Just stopping to think may help everyone realize that one person does all the work

“It’s not all about write-ups,” says Chillaxin* (OI), “we didn’t have them except very occasionally, and our quality time in Spangler was so useful and fun. I reckon we stayed together learning as no-one had to do all that work in the home.”
-Try having everyone say what their personal goals are – for example, some people may want to practice their arguments, others may want to be challenged with new ideas, and knowing that is invaluable

“Don’t be embarrassed to seek help”, advises Zebedee* (MBA ’04 B. C.). “We did – the Administration has great people to help your team. We actually thought everything was fine, and a session each Semester still helped us get more out of our relationship.”

-And finally, remember our interviewees. While most RCs aspire to a committed LTR, it is not for absolutely everyone. As an alumna (MBA ’06) advises: “Part of HBS is about finding out how you work best, and part is about experimenting in a safe environment.”

Good luck all; and happy learning

* Some interviewees’ names have been changed at their own request

November 19, 2007
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