My Understanding of Teamwork in the Analytics Workplace
An evolution through the UC Davis MSBA Practicum
This blog was initially written as part of my coursework for BAX 462 - Practicum Elaboration at UC Davis.
I’m sure that everyone agrees with the statement that teamwork is, at least to some degree, imperative to success. You can find journal papers and excerpts from books studying the impact of teamwork from the early 1900s to ones published just yesterday. The definition and requirement of teamwork is essentially the same whether you were a farmer and his agent in 1918, a player in a professional sports team fighting for the world championship, or a part of a contemporary firm and are working remotely due to the ongoing pandemic.
In this essay, I will be talking about my perspective on teamwork from the lens of a modern analytics environment and how it matured through my practicum at UC Davis.
For the uninitiated, a practicum, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is a course of study [..] that involves the supervised practical application of previously studied theory. The MS in Business Analytics program at UC Davis consists of a year-long practicum, a critical factor in my decision to join the program. As a part of it, I am currently working with Angel Flight West(AFW), a non-profit organization that leverages a fleet of volunteer pilots to provide non-emergency medical transport to patients at no cost.
Before joining the program, my experience working in large teams was limited. During my time at Manipal Institute of Technology and Impact Analytics, I was primarily in teams of 3 or fewer members, where everyone belonged to similar backgrounds and had identical job titles. This homogeneity made working with them very easy and efficient, as more often than not, we would share a common vision and approach to problem-solving. It gave me the impression that everyone within a team was an identical cog in a machine.
Looking back, I can see how naive my idea of a team was. While this might have worked in smaller groups, it is not scalable for larger, more complex projects with more people working on them. I know now that it is when we put multiple different gears together that we can do great things. You can’t build a watch with just one kind of gear. My practicum team consists of four batchmates from diverse walks of life, our mentor Prof. Sanjay Saigal, and the CIO and Operations Leads at AFW. Together, each of us brings our unique perspective to the table and have been able to leverage it to enable AFW to positively impact more people each day.
A prominent aspect of teamwork, particularly in the workplace, that I have come to realize through the practicum is that not everyone can be the star striker. In some sense, a modern analytics team is composed more like a sports team, where different people have dedicated roles. You cannot build a soccer team with 11 strikers and expect to score a lot of goals. A team also needs to have good chemistry and prioritize the common goal over the individual. We can take the example of Paris Saint-Germain, a soccer team with some of the biggest names in the sport, such as Messi and Neymar. However, they always fail to deliver at an international level and often have been in the news for internal conflicts. A team needs to be well-rounded and have good chemistry in order to be successful. Similarly, not everyone working on a project can be building models and tuning hyperparameters. This can be seen in the industry, where Decision Scientists, Data Engineers, Business Intelligence Analysts, and ML Ops Engineers all work together in tandem.
The students in a practicum team at the UC Davis MSBA are given the freedom to allocate roles and responsibilities amongst themselves as they see fit. While we all initially took up the title of Data Analyst, I soon came to realize that you can’t build a functioning team with everyone wanting to develop machine learning models. I ended up taking a role in Data Engineering, working on the data preparation and querying for the remaining analysts. I was initially bummed out about it, wanting to work on the “impactful” aspects of the project. This feeling was amplified due to the fact that the assignment had the potential to have such a direct positive impact on people in need and I wanted to do my best to enable it.
However I soon came to realize that my work also had its place; it might not have been the shiniest cog in the machine, but it played a crucial role, and without it, everything would have come to a halt. Besides my technical learning, my biggest takeaway was the perspective of a different role in an analytics team. This allows me to be a better team player by understanding the workflow of another role and anticipate potential issues that can arise from both perspectives. Going forward in the practicum, I am looking forward to working in as many different roles as possible, thereby furthering my holistic understanding of the modern analytics team. This also leads into my other key takeaway,the importance of clearly defined roles and their direct impact on teamwork. It was something that I learned both in theory, through The Secrets of Great Teamwork, a reading that was a part of the practicum course and in practice.
Through this experience, the practicum has enabled me to better understand the workings of an analytics team. It has transformed me into a well oiled cog, who works in a frictionless manner and I am grateful that I decided to enroll in the UC Davis MSBA program.