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Case #4 “The Learning Team”
1. Read the case below. 2. Answer the questions at the end of the case in a separate paper. Your written answer should fill 2 pages minimum, double-spaced 12-point font Times New Roman with one-inch margins, and upload your response.
Case Title: “The Learning Team”
By: Yuctan Hodge and Stacey Jenkins
Tony Marshall, a second-year learning team mentor, stared at his notes again. His interaction with the team he was mentoring last night confirmed what he suspected.
Learning teams were assigned with each incoming first-year MBA class. Learning teams did not have a designated leader; they were self-managed, and tasks were distributed throughout a team. The idea was to offer students an opportunity to work with individuals outside their classroom.
Only three weeks into the first year of an MBA program at a school in the eastern United States, the learning team Marshall was mentoring was in trouble. From his own experience the year before, Marshall knew that a first-rate learning team made a huge difference in a student’s first-year experience. The corollary was also true: A bad or difficult learning team experience could taint the entire first-year school experience. Although Marshall wanted to help, he was not at all sure how to do so.
First, before describing the situation Marshall was dealing with, it’s important to describe the team members. Essentially, they were all around 26 years of age, athletic, and had professional backgrounds in finance or economics. First, there was Tom Giffen, who was a self-professed introvert and who was passionate about the Chicago Cubs baseball team. Professionally, prior to business school, Griffin worked as a financial analyst on Wall Street for a few different firms. He spent time at the London School of Economics, but had not traveled outside the country much over the past few years. With plans to target investment banking firms for his summer internship and later career path, Griffin had been spending a lot of nights networking with banking alumni and recruiters.
Sandeep Prasad was from Bangalore, India. He received a degree in technology and worked for Intel in Bangalore for six years before coming to graduate school. Prasad spoke fluent English and was a huge cricket fan. He followed his favorite team, Bengal, passionately and was also very involved in in the informal Indian club at school. After graduation, Prasad wanted to pursue a career in consulting and hoped to get sponsored for a visa to live and work in the United States permanently.
Jennifer Martin was the only woman on the learning team. Martin received a dual undergraduate degree in finance and information systems. Prior to business school, she worked as an analyst for a private foundation. Martin planned to focus her career on private wealth. Despite the great amount of networking that her chosen career path required, Marin was very involved in the school community.
She spent a lot of time working on projects for the Black Business School Forum and the National Association of Women MBAs.
Dan Onyealisi was originally from Nigeria and had been living in the United States for more than 10 years. He graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in government. Following his undergraduate degree, Onyealisi worked as a policy research analyst for the District of Columbia, then changed career paths and worked as a real estate analyst for three years before attending business school. Onyealisi was a first-generation college graduate and awarded the Robert Toigo Foundation Fellowship, which was a grant meant to help fellows with aspirations for careers on Wall Street. While Onyealisi was not very involved in the graduate school community, through the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America organization, he was a Big Brother for local youths. Onyealisi planned to target the consulting industry for his summer internship.
Rob Delery was the only scientist in the group and earned a B. S. in chemical engineering from Penn State. During his undergraduate years, Delery was a member of the Penn State soccer club, and the team won the national championship when he was a sophomore. Before business school, Delery worked for Air and Product Chemicals in Allentown, Pennsylvania. He was hired into the competitive Engineering Career Development Program, consisting of three one-year rotational assignments in varying locations and functional roles. Being single, Delery embraced the social life of the school community, and could often be found at the Thursday Night Drinking Club. Like Griffin, Delery planned on going into investment banking after graduation.
This brings us to the sixth learning team member—Jason Cooper. He was also a former college athlete. While working on a degree in accounting at Washington & Lee University, Cooper was also the captain of the varsity football team. Before business school, he spent five years in real estate investment. Cooper was the only married member of the learning team, and his wife worked in the school’s admissions office. He was very involved in the Christian fellowship program at the school and planned to continue his career in real estate.
Now, here’s what happened that night: Marshall, the team mentor, was already in the room when team members began to arrive, and Onyealisi was the last to enter. “I didn’t realize you were going to be here tonight,” Delery said, looking up from his computer screen. “We haven’t seen you all week. Where have you been?”
“I’ve been very busy,” Onyealisi responded while smiling at Delery, “I had to head up to D.C. for an interview on Tuesday. But thanks for sending me all the answers and class notes, so I could stay caught up.”
“You’ve already had an interview!?” This was an eye-opener for Delery, who continued: “Company briefings haven’t even started yet! And don’t thank me. Jennifer Martin was the one who put everything together.”
With that, Delery looked at Martin, nodded his head, and sat down. When it looked like everyone was ready to go, Martin cleared her throat. “Ok guys; let’s do takeaways from the cases from today.” Delery groaned lightly in response. With an arched eyebrow, Martin asked, “Is there something wrong?”
Delery hesitated for a moment and looked around at the other group members. “Well, we never really agreed that we should do takeaways every day. They take up at least a half hour every meeting and we might be able to make better use of that time or at least get out of here early—I’m sure that Cooper’s wife would appreciate that!”
Cooper just shrugged his shoulders. “I think that takeaways are great and they should really help us when exam time rolls around.” Prasad agreed with Cooper, as did Griffin. Martin asked Onyealisi what his opinion was. He shrugged his shoulders and said that it didn’t really matter to him either way. “Well, I guess I’m outvoted then,” Delery said, smiling slightly. “Let’s keep going.”
Martin looked at Delery. “If it helps, I can take ownership of the document and put something together at the end of the term for all of us.”
“Anything that helps with exams is great,” Delery responded. So far, none of this was going that badly—but it didn’t stay that way.
Martin started with her own notes of takeaways and then asked for additional ones from the rest of the group. Cooper gave his takeaways and stood up to draw a chart on the board, replicating something that his professor had done in class. As Prasad began covering his takeaways, his cell phone went off and he left the room to answer it. The group paused and several members started to check their e-email.
Prasad walked back in, apologized for the interruption, and presented his takeaways. Then Martin, who had been taking notes for the group copy, asked Onyealisi if he had anything to say. Onyealisi passed because he had no input, but he looked flustered. “Who’s leading the marketing case tonight?” he asked.
“Well, since none of us are marketing experts,” Cooper relied, “we’re just going to have to struggle through this together.”
“I spent some time this afternoon on the first two questions,” Griffin told the group. “Let me go through my responses and we can talk about it as a group, okay?” Martin and Cooper nodded their heads, but none of the other team members responded. Griffin started the case and made sure to mention that everyone was welcome to add anything as he worked his way through the questions. Once Griffin started to repeat himself, Prasad interrupted. “Let me share some of the stories I’ve heard about people having problems with OnStar technology.” He looked at Griffin for approval before continuing. “I think that customer perception is a good indicator of brand awareness.” Cooper spoke up with his interpretation of the case study questions. Delery, who had been sitting the entire time, then spoke up to mention that OnStar was purchased by affluent people. “No joke,” Onyealisi said, laughing sarcastically. Delery quickly turned his eyes back to his laptop.
This was all unusual, but for a reason—Delery was normally the most outgoing of the team members and often shared funny anecdotes from his class sessions. That night he was very quiet. Cooper
appeared to notice this because he kept looking over at Delery with a small frown on his face, but he didn’t say anything.
Griffin brought them back to the case questions and provided his thoughts on the next question. Cooper waited for Griffin to finish before he spoke up:
“I really don’t understand why you feel that way. I think that you are looking at this too much from a finance standpoint. I think that the important point here is that OnStar has the first mover advantage, but it won’t last much longer, especially if they can’t fix the defects in the technology.”
“Isn’t that pretty much what I said?” Griffin asked the group. Before Cooper could reply, Prasad interrupted, “You guys do this every time! One of you thinks he has a different point, and you argue about it for 15 minutes before you realize you are saying the same thing.” Cooper and Delery looked at each other, and neither responded to Prasad’s comment. Martin looked around the table. “I think we’re working really well on this case tonight, so let’s not let things deteriorate, okay?”
“Okay, I agree,” Prasad said. “Let’s continue to talk about the 4 Ps in this situation.” Griffin groaned, “I am so sick of talking about the 4 Ps and we are only three weeks into class!” Delery and Martin laughed as Griffin threw his hands up in the air in disgust. “Well, I heard from a second year,” Prasad smiled and said, “that understanding the components of a marketing plan will be crucial before the final.”
“Well okay. Let’s just do it, then,” Griffin said. “So OnStar is being positioned as a luxury item for a few select brands of car. Do we think that this is the right move for them to make?”
“Absolutely not,” Onyealisi snorted. “After all, Toyota only has a few luxury cars and aren’t they mostly lower-end ‘affordable’ cars?” Martin exchanged confused looks with Cooper and Delery and said, “Umm, don’t you mean GM?”
“No, Toyota,” Onyealisi replied. “Don’t they own OnStar?” Shaking his head slowly, Delery asked Onyealisi, “Did you even read the case for tonight?”
“What’s the big deal?” Onyealisi shrugged. “I had to do other things today, and besides, everyone knows about OnStar.” Martin was visibly upset. “I thought we all talked about how we needed to be prepared for every case,” she sneered. “Otherwise you are basically just using this team to get answers to use in class tomorrow. Why should you benefit from all our work?”
“Okay, everyone, let’s just slow down for a minute,” Delery said as he waved his hands in the air. “It’s been a really long week and I think that tempers are getting the best of us. Let’s just finish answering these questions so we can get home and try to relax before class tomorrow.” Prasad, Griffin, and Cooper mumbled their agreement. Martin didn’t say anything, but glared at Onyealisi, who said: “Fine…let’s talk about positioning some more.” Martin proceeded to share a personal story about her grandparents’ love for OnStar, and Onyealisi laughed, calling them silly and suggested that they were wasting money. Martin got defensive about her grandparents, and Cooper and Griffin told similar stories to get Onyealisi to stop laughing.
Martin continued and brought up XM as a similar model to follow, and again Onyealisi laughed, claiming it was a silly connection since OnStar was not an aftermarket product. The rest of the group again defended Martin’s view, arguing that OnStar could be an aftermarket product so that it was not specific to GM cars. Increasing sales and allowing OnStar to get better distribution through Best Buy made sense. Onyealisi stopped laughing and apologized to Martin for not understanding her point. Then he asked some questions about OnStar that were not in the case and that no one had the answers to. The questions concerned the current state of OnStar, so he started to Google “OnStar.” As he did, Prasad cleared his throat and said, “I think that looking up information on the Internet would be a violation of the honor code.”
“Come on, that totally doesn’t make sense,” Onyealisi snorted. “Why shouldn’t we have information about what’s going on today? We already know about the product.” Cooper and Delery agreed with Prasad and told Onyealisi that he definitely couldn’t look any information about OnStar up online.
“Do you think it would be possible to sell OnStar through third parties?” Marin asked the group. “For example, having stores such as Best Buy carry the product. They do it with XM and Sirius radios and I think that OnStar would fit into that market.”
“That is the dumbest idea I have ever heard,” Onyealisi quickly sneered. Martin immediately turned to look him directly in the eye. “Really? And why do you think that, Onyealisi?” Onyealisi smirked and looked down at his computer. He didn’t say anything. Breaking the tension, Delery leaned back in his chair, stretched, and said, “One more question to go. Let’s jam out a positioning statement and call it a night?”
“Can we spend some time talking about what a positioning statement is, and why it’s important?” Cooper looked at Delery and asked. “My professor doesn’t really spend much time talking about positioning statements so I’m a little confused.” Delery groaned and replied, “Can we do that later? Why don’t you meet with your professor on your won to talk about that stuff?”
“But I thought the point of learning team was to help each other grasp concepts—not just work through the case questions,” Cooper pressed on. “And I could use the help.”
“What if we split the cases?” Onyealisi suggested. “That might make us more productive in team meetings and then we can spend more time on concepts.”
“I feel like I would go back and redo your work,” Prasad said, shaking his head. “After all, you didn’t even read the case for tonight and we only have two classes tomorrow! You also haven’t led any operations or accounting cases, so can I trust that what you share is right?” Cooper frowned at Prasad and asked, “What does any of that have to do with my concern about reviewing concepts as a team?”
“We’re going to have to talk about splitting cases eventually, so why not address it now?” Prasad argued. With this, the team meeting quickly deteriorated into multiple side conversations as Prasad and Onyealisi continued to argue about splitting the case work. Delery and Cooper started raising their voices as they volleyed back and forth about spending time on conceptual issues. Martin sighed and looked at Griffin. She turned to the team mentor, Marshall—who had stayed silent during the entire exchange that evening—and asked: “Isn’t there anything you can do to help?”
Marshall knew that they definitely wanted him to step in and help, but he wasn’t sure if he was ready for that—he just didn’t know what to say or do.
Case Study 3 Instructions “The Learning Team” Case Study
After reading the case study, you will write a two-page double-spaced minimum (12-point font, Times New Roman, 1-inch margins) paper.
Please answer the following questions in your paper. 1. Consider the five stages of team development. What stage do you think this team is at, and why?
2. What type of interdependence (out of the three interdependences discussed in class and in the book) is the team trying to have?
3. Consider process gain, process loss, and social loafing. Is the team experiencing any of those three things? Why or why not?
4. Consider the common communication barriers (as discussed in class and in the textbook). Identify at least one barrier that seems to be occurring in the case.
5. If you were Tony Marshall, the team mentor, what would you do? Are there any recommendations you could make for the learning team?

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