When faculty members from eight Northeast Ohio institutions of higher learning decided to develop a major project together, they first had to put aside the differences of their competing institutions and learn to work together as a team.
Members of the Entrepreneurship Education Consortium needed to build a trusting relationship before they could work together, something they did through understanding and sharing goals, listening to each other, and creating a clear vision, says Phil Bessler, associate professor and director of the Business Clinic at Baldwin-Wallace College.
“The sharing of goals is a critical first step, so you can find a common objective,” Bessler says.
Members had varying opinions and ideas, so it was important that they listened to each other. Bessler says that to work as part of a team, you need to listen to other people during a discussion and refrain from telling others what to do. And if someone is having trouble with a concept, other members of the team should jump in to help that person understand the point.
“It’s not one person debating with another, but rather a third, fourth or fifth individual getting in, paraphrasing, maybe suggesting an alternative way for moving forward that makes sense to all parties,” he says.
Bessler says that too many times, people in a conversation are thinking so hard about their own next comment that they aren’t really listening to what the speaker is saying.
“The second speaker should respond to the first speaker’s comments before they add new information,” he says. “If a question is on the table, the question gets answered before a new question is introduced.”
During the discussion, Bessler says you need to follow the rules of brainstorming — don’t evaluate, judge or critique — have just one person facilitate the session and set the amount of time you’re going to spend on the issue. And don’t judge other people’s ideas, even if you disagree with them.
“Some thoughts and ideas are going to be way off base, and without that trust, you end up being judgmental, and that gets in the way,” Bessler says. “Some of the most off-base ideas may trigger someone else’s idea that brings it right back in line with what’s appropriate.”
The next step is to formulate a vision. Bessler says a good vision is one that everyone can buy in to and that can be felt by those listening to it.
“I want them to put me in that place three to five years from now, so I could close my eyes and, as they’re describing it, I’m painting the picture and I am moved to that place,” he says. “I can place myself there because they’ve articulated it in a way that takes me from my present state to their future state.”
Even on the best of teams, disagreements will occur as individuals with differing opinions work together. When that happens, Bessler says you should let the problem sit for at least 24 hours, so that team members can gather the necessary information on it.
“Time is a wonderful catalyst for creating clearer perspectives, so if a resolution could wait 24 hours, let it wait,” he says.
Bessler says it’s important to be a leader and not a manager for a team to be successful.
“Be open to the valuable input from each of the team members,” he says. “Build on each other’s ideas. And have no hidden agendas.”
HOW TO REACH: Baldwin-Wallace College, (440) 826-2083 or www.bw.edu
The Entrepreneurship Education Consortium
Faculty from eight Northeast Ohio institutions of higher learning created the Entrepreneurship Education Consortium in 2006 after meeting to discuss each person’s respective business departments. The consortium is made up of faculty from the University of Akron, Baldwin-Wallace College and Ashland, Case Western Reserve, Cleveland State, John Carroll, Kent State and Youngstown State universities.
The goal of the consortium was to help college students develop and launch their own business in Northeast Ohio, encouraging them to stay in the area following graduation and create more jobs for the local economy, says Phil Bessler, associate professor and director of the Business Clinic at Baldwin-Wallace College.
“We felt we needed to do something to help them create opportunity here, look at the infrastructure of the entrepreneurial community and the resources that are available to them, and create an experience for them that would encourage one or more groups of students to launch new businesses,” he says.
The first program in August at Cleveland State University was a success, Bessler says.
“We were unbelievably impressed with how well this program went, and that’s a result of our commitment and our skills,” he says. “We pulled off a great program. We could have made it better, and we know there are things we will change for next time.”
The consortium is committed to continuing the program, and this year received a grant from the Burton D. Morgan Foundation for funding, with a commitment for funding the following year.