Henry Tam & The MGI Team
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MGI team were left with three weeks to come up with a business plan before the time line for the Harvard Business School (HBS) Business Plan Contest. The seven members in the team comprised of the three founders – Igor Tkachenko, Alexandra (Sasha) Gimpelson and Roman Yukab, Henry Tam Jr. and Dana Soiman of HBS MBA class students, Dav Clark from MIT and Alex Jan Sartakov from Boston Berklee College. The team had little success thus far working together having experienced conflicts and tensions.
The root causes identified for the team’s process problems were firstly, they did not divide the task into sub tasks. Secondly, there seemed to be a main group and subgroups with no integration. Thirdly, no team leader was officially appointed or nobody was empowered to define the role structure, the decision-making process and assessing team performance. And lastly, they did not set the norms and values and did not spend time developing a good working culture from the start.
On paper, the team demonstrated some key strengths. It was a multi talented team composition. The founders’ commonality in ethnic background, close friendship and shared passion on their product was great and there was complementary skill sets contributing from the various team members and their shared commitment to the business. However, one danger sign was the personality of the MGI team founders , they had a history of not getting along with outsiders very well as indicated in the case. Hence when evaluating if the team’s differences was an asset or liability, we concluded that this team was a liability as they had not met the objectives, forgone the socio-emotional needs of the team and lacked signs of an effective team.
Could this team be salvaged? We certainly think so and we recommend Henry to step up to be a good team leader for the MGI team.
Question 1What is your evaluation of the MGI’s team process? What were the root causes of the team’s process problems?MGI’s Team ProcessThere were seven members in the team consisting of the three founders – Igor Tkachenko, Alexandra (Sasha) Gimpelson and Roman Yukab, Henry Tam Jr. and Dana Soiman from HBS, Dav Clark from MIT and Alex Jan Sartakov from Boston Berklee College. In evaluating the team’s process from the five stages of group development; Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing and Adjourning ,we saw that the forming stage took place over a few meetings as not all members were inducted in the beginning. Roman was not present in the first meeting, Alex was introduced in the second meeting and Dav was only introduced in the third meeting subsequently.
In the next storming stage, we saw conflicting expectations, frustrations and a bit of confusion too. Dana and Henry saw themselves as strategic contributors to the business strategy of MGI but was perceived by Sasha as interns and business plan writers while Igor saw them similarly as helping with vision and strategy. Henry and Dana were also appalled that Sasha wanted them to contact HBS Alumni. Further confusion added when Dav was introduced by Sasha to the team. Henry had doubts on Sasha’s intentions and wondered if both Dav and the HBS students were used as ploys to get into business contests. Eventually, Henry commented that the project was a drain on them with Dana commented “It was a a juggle”.
We saw complete blunder in the norming stage because the team had not sat down to discuss the norms and values to follow in order to achieve their goal. There was no cohesion; Roman was disagreeing within the Russians and Henry and Dana were disagreeing with Sasha and vice versa. Henry and Dana also felt that the brainstorming sessions were far too lengthy and not effective while the other members felt that these were necessary. The norms were obviously not defined and embraced by all team members.
The problem in the norming stage led to the problem in the performing stage. The team was wrought with high conflict, no decision-making and different task orientation hence the development of the business plan was way behind schedule.
Root Causes of the Teams Process ProblemsThere are four factors to consider when setting up an effective team. The factors are task, people, formal and informal organisation.
From the task perspective, the team’s task was to write the business plan for MGI. The root cause is that they did not divide the task into sub tasks. As evidenced in the case study, they were brainstorming in an disorganised manner and specific outputs were not determined from each meeting or from individual. Hence there were missing pieces in putting the business plan together.
From the people perspective, there seemed to be a main group and subgroups. The main group consists of the three founding members Sasha, Igor and Roman. Dana and Henry formed the sub group with the main purpose of taking part in the HBS business plan while the other sub group consisted of Dav, Igor and Sasha who worked on the technical aspects of product design and patent application. This sounded logical with different skills orientation doing different things but they did not define each other’s roles properly hence there was no integration between the main group and sub groups. At the same time, they did not utilise all the team members abilities as well. Henry did most of the job and Dav did not have much to do. Henry and Dana took it all to themselves eventually and they were struggling under the enormous work they had to do.
From the perspective of formal organisation, it was equally disastrous. The root cause was that no team leader was officially appointed or nobody was empowered to define the role structure, the decision-making process and assessing team performance.
And lastly from the perspective of informal organisation, they did not set the norms and values and did not spend time developing a good working culture from the start. It was more of reactive actions example Henry and Dana playing a good cop/bad cop role with Sasha while Alex took Dana aside to explain the way creative people worked. The team members also had the tendency to blame others. Igor and Roman blamed Sasha at the beginning of the teamwork for being overwhelmed with lots of works and ignoring the sales while Sasha blamed Dana, Henry and others for not using his stuff much although he helped the others a lot. Attributing failure to other members is one of the causes of the MGI’s problems. The members were unable to listen actively and communicate properly. Effective communication is a vital part of any team. The MGI’s team members were not able to communicate properly and it caused a lot of conflicts among them as Henry commented that the members were still uttering their same different idea after several meetings.
Question 2What are the strengths of the MGI team? How would you have evaluated the MGI team “on paper”, that is, before their first meeting?We would evaluate the strengths of the MGI team based on each individuals skills, knowledge, expertise and personality to analyse whether they would be a good team and would this team work.
On paper, we identified a multi talented team composition as one of the strengths. They were primarily the three founding members of MGI with each able to stand on its own reputation, talent and skill sets. Igor had an impressive CV particularly. He had a strong reputation in the music industry, had market exposure in both US and Europe, had good connections having received commission works from various parties and had experience in business set ups. Roman similarly had great reputation being an impressive composer having won awards. His music had been performed in both US and Europe as well. Sasha had strong working experiences in both MNCs as well as start-ups. Being a HBS MBA graduate, he brought with him extensive management skill sets.
Both Igor and Sasha had worked together previously in starting ProNetMusic.com but the case did not indicate if they were successful in this business venture. Sasha although having worked for MNCs, there was no indication of his track record in generating sales or growing/managing a business venture successfully. His CV did not indicate his key achievements. Dana and Henry were both HBS students but on paper, they had no track record in helping start-up companies except coming from an Ivy League university.
The second strength identified was the founders’ commonality in ethnic background, their friendship and shared passion on their product/business. Three of them were immigrants to US from the former Soviet Union and they have been friends for a long time, particularly Sasha and Igor. They shared a common bond that would not easily been broken and they were always able to deal with their conflicts without jeopardizing their friendship. They were equally passionate about their product and business, they worked very hard on getting their product out but lost money in the process as indicated in the case. Although we noted that Igor and Roman preferred communicating in Russian while Sasha preferred to communicate in English, on paper we felt this would be a non-issue as their ethnic background and friendship would conquer this minor differences.
The third strength identified was the complementary skill sets contributing from the various team members and their commitment to the business. The founding members had knowledge in the music industry as well as product knowledge. Igor brought with him his reputation, his knowledge and networks in the music industry. Roman complemented further with his knowledge in both traditional and electronic/computer compositions. Sasha’s management skill sets was an asset as Roman said, “His Financial abilities are also crucial. He has come twice through the investors”.
Both Henry and Dana joined MGI to test their business skill sets and like the founders, saw business potential for the product as the case wrote, “Henry was impressed with MGI’s product, and the company’s seemingly desperate need for business planning only heightened his enthusiasm” and Dana was “interested in the product and with the concept for repackaging music into an interactive format”. Henry had been an investment analyst and strategy consultant with reputable firms while Dana had investment banking background having worked for Goldman Sachs hence both of them had good working experience behind them. On the softer side, both Dana and Igor shared similar likings for working with children. Most importantly, all team members were committed to working together and would like to have the business successfully implemented.
On paper, there were danger signs of personality clash between the MGI team founders and Henry and Dana. Although the founding members were close knit, they had problems with new team members in the past. As Roman said “Maybe we are not easy to work with. In the beginning we tried to make the company bigger by adding some people, but it didn’t work out. There was another composer who worked with us, but he left because he didn’t see a future in it. There was a guy with business management experience, but he couldn’t get along with Sasha. I don’t know why, maybe there were too young”. Would there be similar problems with Henry and Dana as they were younger? Sounded like it.
Nonetheless on the whole, we felt the team presented enormous potential for success together based on their knowledge, skill sets and expertise but personality dynamics could be the critical stumbling block.
Were the differences among the team members a liability or an asset? Why/Why not – give details.
We would evaluate if the differences amongst the team members were a liability or an asset from two perspectives. The first perspective using Bales & Hackman’s theory to examine if the team had accomplished the two goals of firstly, completing the task and secondly taken into the consideration of the socio-emotional needs of the team members in the process . The second perspective based on whether the team showed signs of an effective team.
Completing The TaskThe task at hand in the case study was to develop a business plan for Music Games International (MGI) to enter the HBS Business Plan Contest. Although the team assembled was highly motivated and committed to working together, the progress of the business plan was very slow. The team started their first meeting in early February 2002 and by mid March after several meetings; they did not even have the first draft of the business plan which was due in 3 weeks for submission. Although the case did not specify if the business plan was eventually developed within the timeline, based on the progress thus far and with comments drawn from the team members in the case, we determined that the progress in completing the task was far from ideal.
Socio-emotional Needs of The Team MembersAlthough the team was highly motivated and wanted to work together, their differences created a lot of negative emotions amongst them as evidenced in the case study. We began with Henry and Dana – they were frustrated during the first meeting when they were asked by Sasha to leverage on HBS alumni network to help market MGI products. This was further fuelled by the lengthy and disorganized meetings and slow progress to deliver the business plan. Dana was particularly upset with her conflicts with Sasha. They were also worried about the team’s lack of experience and the need for leadership. Both Henry and Dana were under a lot of stress juggling this project in tandem with their school work.
Sasha similarly felt frustrated. This was evidenced in the third meeting when his plans were ignored by Henry and Dana as he commented “I was always sending things to Dana and Henry, and I was producing material for the meetings, but it wasn’t being used much. That was another big frustration of mine”.
Alex was also frustrated but more with the slow progress of the business plan development. He had also noticed Dana’s frustration and made the effort to comfort her. Roman, Dav and Igor all felt the heat of tension between Sasha and Dana. Igor and Roman both noticed the animosity between Sasha and Dana with Roman commented, “Sasha and Dana had negative chemistry. They didn’t work well together. There was a lot of friction between them” . Dana alluded the tension due to “inherent friction between business and creative people'. The team members were divided in views and certainly these negative emotions generated did not satisfy the consideration of the socio-emotional well being of the team.
Signs of An Effective TeamThe signs of an effective team are; 1) meet their objectives, 2) stay on schedule and 3) produce quality work and within an effective team, team members work well together, think the workload is fairly distributed and know they are all working toward the same goal.
Even though the team had good debates about the direction of the company, they were disorganized, unstructured and did not lead to any fruition of plan and at the end of the day, the team was certainly behind schedule in development of the business plan. Even though Henry and Dana had researched the education market well and impressed Igor and Roman with their Power Point slides summarizing their work but they seemed to be the only one contributing thus far, no indication of quality work from other team members were evidenced in the case.
The team did not work well together as earlier indicated they had faced conflicts, frustrations and tensions. As far as Henry and Dana were concerned, they certainly felt they bore most of the workload “We were doing a huge amount of work for the business plan, especially on weekends, when there were many other things we needed to do”.
We felt that the team members did not have a common goal. Henry and Dana wanted to join the HBS business plan contest to test their abilities so for them the goal is to develop a business plan in time for the contest. The MGI founders wanted a business plan to develop their vision into a viable business and wanted somebody to help them to write one which led them to the HBS Business Plan Contest and we suspected that meeting the time line was not their first priority. Alex’s goal on the other hand was to assist MGI on marketing the Nutcracker game and Dave was roped in to participate in the MIT contest as well as working on the technical aspects of product design and on the patent application.
Hence, from the above analysis taking the two perspectives, we concluded that the differences among the team members were a liability.
Question 4What could Henry have done earlier to avoid the team problems?The first team problem identified was the lack of a leader. It was clear the team did not had a leader and no specific roles were assigned for the team members. Being a business student, Henry should have insisted on having a leader. Based on the leadership styles, Henry was a team leader. Henry viewed both tasks and people as equally important, he could have volunteered to be the leader.
The second team problem was the diversity and the multicultural background. The team comprised people of different cultures, background and experiences. Managing diverse groups was not easy, “Successful management of diverse groups requires knowledge of group dynamics and conflict management and an understanding and acceptance of differences among people”. Brett, Behfar, and Kerns stated that most successful teams and managers, dealt with multicultural challenges in one of four ways: adaptation (acknowledging cultural gaps openly and working around them), structural intervention (changing the shape or makeup of the team), managerial intervention (setting norms early or bringing in a higher-level manager), and exit (removing a team member when other options have failed. Henry could discussed thoroughly with Dana to adapt to Sasha’s style to avoid these conflicts.
The third team problem was that norms and values were not identified. Henry could have added norms and values for the team. Their main problem was the decision making process or lacked of it. Whenever they were about to come to a decision one of them would oppose and they would start the whole process again. They also did not state the objectives of their meetings. They did not manage their time appropriately.
Henry could have written the meeting objectives and communicated them clearly to the group prior the meetings. He could appoint a timekeeper and minute taker for the meetings to ensure schedule was checked and necessary post meeting actions were clearly stated and executed.
Finally, the conflict between the team members presented another team problem. From the first meeting there was a conflict between Sasha and Dana. They had stereotyped each other and one party always opposed the other party. Even the three founders had some conflict among themselves. McNamara stated that the major ways that people use to deal with conflict are as follows: Avoid it. Pretend it is not there or ignore it. Accommodate it. Give in to others, sometimes to the extent that you compromise yourself. Competing. Work to get your way, rather than clarifying and addressing the issue. Compromising. Mutual give-and-take. Collaborating. Focus on working together. Henry could have used preventative strategies to manage the conflict. To some level he had succeeded by taking the role of the compromiser to resolve the conflict between Sasha and Dana. He was using the compromising technique.
In summary, the team desperately needed a leader. Henry could have volunteered as he had shown the appropriate characteristics to be the team’s leader. He could control his emotions, was confident, a good listener and highly analytical. Most of the team members liked him. He could have reduced some of the diversity problems by setting norms for the team to follow such as ; setting deadlines for members, using voting system in the decision making process and using egalitarianism value where they consider everyone’s opinion equally. Henry took the role of compromiser to resolve the conflict between Sasha and Dana. He was using the compromising technique. He should have explained the need to give and take among team members.
Question 5At the end of the case, what actions could Henry have taken to increase the team’s effectiveness?With 3 weeks to go before the HBS Business Contest deadline, the challenges ahead are not insurmountable for Henry.
Firstly, Henry should caution to the team of the looming time line ahead and advise the team to appoint an effective leader immediately to align the team and integrate their works together. Noel M. Tichy, a professor at the University of Michigan Business School and the co-author of The Leadership Engine (1997) says: “Leadership is about change. It is about taking people from where they are now to where they need to be” .
Understanding that the decision-making process is slow or non-existent within the group, Henry could stepped up and appointed himself as the team leader. Although he could not create a high performance team overnight, as the first step he should try to establish a healthy relationship between himself and the rest of the team. Following this, he should specify the short term and the long term goals and these should be specific and realistic. Long-range goals set through strategic planning are translated into activities that will ensure reaching the goal through operational planning. The fact that the Christmas holidays had already passed, Henry could convince the MGI team to follow the educational market for its short term goal and chose the entertainment market as its long term goal and planned in advance for the next Christmas holiday.
Subsequently he should define each of the member’s roles, duties, team work norms and delegate the responsibilities. He should meet each of the team members individually and in group setting to determine the best fit. These decisions made should base on what a team member had produced in the past, and according to his/her work experiences. Jason Hiner, in his 10 tips for leading a team in 2007 states that an effective leader should make sure that the right people are at the right desks.
Henry should then keep a close watch in the next two weeks to ensure the team members communicate smoothly with each other. He should monitor the socio-emotional need of the team members to ensure that they were happy and were being productive.
The other alternative that Henry could do to increase the team’s effectiveness was to look for a neutral third party as the leader. Henry believed that a neutral leader with the industry expertise and teamwork leadership skills could help the team to move ahead much faster. Dana had also commented, “We need one more person to make the whole thing work: someone with seniority and a deep knowledge of the market…” . We observed that most of the team members were in deep conflicts with each other and they sometimes did not respect each other so a neutral party would be worth looking. But the time crunch meant that they would not have enough time to find a leader from outside. And the new leader would definitely not have the luxury of time to understand each team member’s skills and abilities. In conclusion, Henry should appoint himself as the appropriate team leader for the group.
 U21 Online Teaching materials, Segment 4.5 Group Process Jeffrey T. Polzer and Ingrid Vargas and Hillary Anger Elfenbein (2003) “Henry Tam and the MGI Team)” p13 U21 Online Teaching materials, Segment 4.8 Teams Jeffrey T. Polzer and Ingrid Vargas and Hillary Anger Elfenbein (2003) “Henry Tam and the MGI Team)” p15 Jeffrey T. Polzer and Ingrid Vargas and Hillary Anger Elfenbein (2003) “Henry Tam and the MGI Team)” p4 Jeffrey T. Polzer and Ingrid Vargas and Hillary Anger Elfenbein (2003)
“Henry Tam and the MGI Team)” p5 Jeffrey T. Polzer and Ingrid Vargas and Hillary Anger Elfenbein (2003) “Henry Tam and the MGI Team)” p5 Jeffrey T. Polzer and Ingrid Vargas and Hillary Anger Elfenbein (2003) “Henry Tam and the MGI Team)” p4 U21 Online Teaching materials, Segment 4.5 Group Process U21 Online Teaching materials, Segment 4.8 Teams Jeffrey T. Polzer and Ingrid Vargas and Hillary Anger Elfenbein (2003) “Henry Tam and the MGI Team)” p10 Jeffrey T. Polzer and Ingrid Vargas and Hillary Anger Elfenbein (2003) “Henry Tam and the MGI Team)” p7 Jeffrey T. Polzer and Ingrid Vargas and Hillary Anger Elfenbein (2003) “Henry Tam and the MGI Team)” p10 U21 Online Teaching materials, Segment 4.8 Teams Jeffrey T. Polzer and Ingrid Vargas and Hillary Anger Elfenbein (2003) “Henry Tam and the MGI Team)” p13 U21 Online Teaching materials, Segment 4.4 Leadership Champoux, J, Organizational Behavior: Integrating Individuals, Groups and Organizations. 3rd ed. Cincinnati, Ohio: South – western College publishing, 2006 Brett J., Behfar K., and Kern M. C. (2006) ‘ Managing multicultural teams’ Harvard BusinessReview McNamara C (2007) ‘Basics of Conflict management’ Field Guide to Leadership andSupervision.
 U21 Online Teaching materials, Segment 4.8 Teams Noel M. Tichy, Eli B. Cohen (Harper Business, 1997), Leadership Engine: How WinningCompanies Build Leaders at Every Level http://www.Builderau.com.au Jeffrey T. Polzer and Ingrid Vargas and Hillary Anger Elfenbein (2003) “Henry Tam and the MGI Team)” p8